Tag Archives: female genital mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation: the first prosecution

Somalia’s Attorney General Ahmed Ali Dahir announced the country’s first ever prosecution in July 2018 against female genital mutilation (FGM) following the death of a 10-year-old girl, a government adviser said…[T]he girl, Deeqa, who suffered severe bleeding after her mother took her to a traditional cutter. …Deeqa’s death prompted campaigners to renew calls for Somalia to pass a law on FGM, which affects 98% of women in the east African country – the highest rate in the world, according to UN data.

Somalia’s constitution prohibits FGM, but efforts to pass legislation to punish offenders have been stalled by parliamentarians afraid of losing votes.Global campaigners against FGM, which affects around 200 million girls and women worldwide, welcomed the news. Many girls in Somalia undergo the most extreme form of the ancient ritual in which external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is sewn up.

Deeqa was taken by her mother to a traditional circumciser on July 14, 2018 in central Somalia’s Galmudug state and died in hospital two days later.   Her father was quoted by international media as defending the practice, saying he believed his daughter was “taken by Allah”.

Excepts from  First prosecution for female genital mutilation in Somalia, Reuters, July 26,  2018

How to Cut a Girl

 

genital_mutilation

Of all the ways in which women and girls are made to suffer because of their sex, infibulation is perhaps the worst. Each year 400,000 are subjected to this atrocity in which the external genitals are excised and the vagina stitched almost completely closed. More than 4m undergo some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) each year—a range of practices, from infibulation at one end, through incisions or pricks that hurt but cause no lasting damage, to the merely symbolic, such as rubbing the genitals with herbs.

For three decades campaigners, led by the UN, have tried to end all FGM. They have pushed for bans and prosecutions; trained medical practitioners to refuse requests for it; lobbied religious leaders to oppose it (though FGM is not mentioned in the Koran, many Muslims regard it as part of their faith); and tried to persuade parents of its dangers. They have had some success. Between 1985 and 2015 the countries where FGM is most common saw the share of girls cut fall from 51% to 37%.

There are good arguments for a blanket ban on FGM. One is that medical procedures with no possible benefit are unethical—especially when inflicted without consent, on children. Another is revulsion at FGM’s misogynist roots: the motive is generally to cleanse the girl of some supposed impurity and tame her sexual desires, thus ensuring her virginity until marriage and fidelity thereafter. But progress has been slow, especially in the African countries where the worst forms are common. On current trends, most girls in Somalia and Djibouti will see their own daughters mutilated, too.

Excerpt from , Female genital mutilation: An agonising choice, Economist, June 18, 2016

Groups Against the Individual: human rights

When one category of citizens is singled out for privileged treatment, are the rights of others infringed? Phil Eidsvik, a Canadian salmon-fisher, thinks the answer is yes. He hopes his country’s newly re-elected prime minister, Stephen Harper, recalls a pledge he made five years ago: to oppose “racially divided fisheries programmes”, in other words, giving special fishing rights to indigenous groups.

But given the storm that Mr Harper’s comment provoked—he was accused of stoking white nativism—he is likely to proceed cautiously. And legal moves are now afoot to broaden the rights of indigenous fishermen. At present Canada upholds the rights of aboriginal groups to engage in traditional, subsistence fishing; hence regulators often open a fishery to a particular indigenous group for a limited time before a commercial catch begins.

One tribe, the Lax Kw’alaams, is fighting a legal battle for special rights in the field of commercial fishing, too, challenging the government’s contention that commercial harvesting only began with the arrival of whites, and so is not a traditional activity of Canada’s first inhabitants. All this horrifies Mr Eidsvik, who argues that the rights of other fishermen (including indigenous ones) are violated when a stretch of water is allocated to a particular tribe. “The individual is completely lost in the conflict over group rights,” he says, speaking for the British Columbia Fisheries Survival Coalition, an NGO.

Among the world’s liberal democracies, Canada stands out for the entitlements it grants to one group of citizens and for its open acknowledgment that there are hard trade-offs between individual rights and group rights. From South Africa to India, many countries have “affirmative action” policies, with the aim of correcting past wrongs by allocating a disproportionate share of jobs or educational places to groups that apparently need a leg up. But critics of the Canadian system say it goes further; it creates two levels of citizen by excluding indigenous people from conservation rules, and by exempting tribes from the accountability rules that other groups must follow. It is one thing to offer benefits to citizens who are felt to need them, another to water down the principle of equal citizenship.

Canada may be egregious, but, in one form or another, most democracies have to weigh the demands of groups against the rights of individuals—and getting the correct balance has become harder in the age of identity politics, when arguments about culture and even religion have replaced older ones over economics and class. Ostensibly at least, France has remained at the far end of the spectrum from Canada. French officials like to contrast their own policy of equal citizenship with the sloppy communautarisme—rights for specific groups—that some countries, including multicultural Britain, tolerate.

Whatever lies behind that French rhetoric, the question of group entitlement has been thrown into sharp relief in all rich democracies by the recent arrival of migrants whose “cultural practices” are at odds with any liberal understanding of rights. Extreme examples include the stigmatising of children accused of witchcraft; the practice of female genital mutilation; domestic violence; and forced marriages with partners in distant lands. Whenever those practices are tolerated, the victims are deprived of basic human rights—and the perpetrators enjoy a peculiar leniency.

As countries wrestle with those problems, realities often differ less than theories do. At least in the recent past, the French authorities turned a blind eye to polygamy among north African migrants. And if there are British inner cities where the Queen’s writ (in respect of equality of the sexes, say) hardly runs, something similar applies to the ghettos of Marseilles…

If the Arab uprisings prevail, will the resulting elected governments impose the will of the majority group—Sunni Muslim in Syria or Tunisia, Shia in Bahrain? Or will they be genuine liberal democracies, with guarantees that members of minorities will be treated no better and no worse than anybody else? That question is impossible to answer in advance, though there are many vulnerable groups, from the Christians of Syria to the Tuareg nomads of the Maghreb, who have reason to fear they might fare worse under free, universal suffrage than they did under secular despots.

Compared with the chaos that could accompany any regime change in the Arab world, decision-makers in stable places like Canada or France have an easy time of it; they are free to experiment and negotiate. And in any lively democracy, groups—defined by language, religion or simply voluntary association around an idea or a pastime—will bargain vigorously over things like language teaching or zoning rights for mosques. But a dangerous line has been crossed, and a bad signal sent to other places, if, in the name of group rights, the principle of equality before the law is openly breached.

Excerpt from Group rights v individual rights: Me, myself and them, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 75