Pretty good article in the Sunday Boston Globe today, Rites and Wrongs, about attempts to outlaw female genital mutilation in the U.S, and whether it's effective in stopping FGM. I'm glad to see coverage of this issue, and overall, it's quite informative and "balanced." But there are a few misfires. The article begins with this case:
"Last November, Khalid Adem, an Ethiopian immigrant living in Atlanta, received a 10-year prison sentence for cutting off the clitoris of his 2-year-old daughter. (He pleaded innocent, accusing the girl's mother, his ex-wife, of orchestrating the cutting.) The case, hailed as the first conviction for female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States, has renewed attention to the practice a decade after federal legislation was passed to ban it."
Dymphna over at Gates of Vienna has written about this particular case, and there is doubt that Khalid Adem was indeed guilty of this crime (men don't do the cutting, women do; it was in the middle of an ugly divorce, etc.). Rantings of a Sand Monkey wrote about that case, be sure to read the comments there.
Back to the Globe story.... there are quotes from Dr. Nawal Nour, a Sudanese-American doctor who runs the African Women's Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. That center is tracking the practice of FGM in the U.S., something the Centers for Disease Control is also doing. There are an estimated 168,000 to 228,000 girls/women in the U.S. who have had their genitals cut off. It's not known whether the FGM is performed here or in immigrants' home countries. Some folks think that legislation is not the way too go, they'd rather see "outreach," but Dr. Nour disagrees:
"There are certain families who feel incredibly relieved that the law exists, because they can say, 'We can't circumcise our daughter -- it's against the law.' "
Roger that. A fantastic reason to publicly enforce this law a few more times and really get the message out. Naturally, there are those who oppose the legalistic approach, fearing it will drive the practice underground, or discourage girls and women from getting needed health care.
"...some experts are asking whether prosecutions like the one in Georgia, which may be viewed as discriminatory and alienating to the immigrant communities in question, are really the best way to end the practice."
It surely is a discriminatory practice - we dicriminate against any and all people (of any race, of ethnic origin) who chop off the clitoris and labia from their little girls. Not all discrimination is bad. The article really made me groan with this one:
"A few Western countries have not only outlawed FGM but also actively stepped up enforcement. In Sweden, for example, some girls have undergone genital examinations -- in a few cases forcibly, by the police, but more often by social workers with the consent of parents. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliamentarian, has advocated compulsory annual examinations of girls from high-risk countries."
"In the United States, however, even anti-FGM activists are reluctant to call for similar measures. In part, that's because FGM is at once a matter of women's rights and of cultural self-determination -- many who are disturbed by the practice are also troubled by the idea of passing judgment on another culture's customs. "
Whiskey tango foxtrot?? I understand the hesitation to conduct genital examinatons, but not for those "reasons." This is the sort of warped "moral relativism" that is utterly irrational and so dangerous to our society. Pope Benedict has famously criticized this sort of thinking by western liberals. What the heck is "cultural self-determination" supposed to mean anyway? That immigrants from Somalia (as an example) should be able to practice their backwards practices here in the U.S.? Explain to me, please, how torture and mutilation can be construed as "cultural self-determination"? Would these anti-FGM activists have said the same thing about sati, the Indian practice of widows throwing themselves on a funeral pyre? If there was ever a time to pass judgement on another culture's customs, this is it. We're there. It's a brutal, deadly practice, it needs to stop now. It is - dare I say? - wrong.
Lest anyone forget the consequences of FGM, read my earlier post on the medical consequences to women and the children they bear. From a Lancet study published in 2006:
"The first large medical study of female genital mutilation has found that the procedure has deadly consequences when the women give birth, raising by more than 50 percent the likelihood that the woman or her baby would die."
That's "cultural self-determination"?
Aside from that, it's a very good article, please read the whole thing.