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Female Genital Mutilation: Why Legislation Is Not Enough.

4368 words - 17 pages

In the context of the current Western Australian debate on criminalising female genital mutilation, I argue that specific legislation prohibiting the procedure will in itself be insufficient in eradicating the process. To effectively combat FGM it is important to understand the underlying gender assumptions and cultural representations that inform the practice. Instead of using legislative reform, education leading to social and cultural reform will be more effective. Although various education schemes are currently in place, these have not achieved the desired result either. A shift in focus from viewing female genital mutilation as purely a women's medical issue to dealing with it within its cultural context as an issue that is influenced by men as well, is likely to be more successful.I begin by exploring what Female Genital mutilation actually is by looking at the types of FGM which occur and the terminology used to most appropriately describe it. I go on to interrogate the reasons cited for the continuation of the practice of FGM to reveal the underlying gender assumptions and power imbalances beneath the practice. I follow by looking at the desirability of the use of specific legislation in Western Australia to combat the practice and conclude that legislation alone is problematic and specific legislation is undesirable. I then examine the current education schemes in place and identify their limitations, I conclude by suggesting changes to the current education scheme which allow a more culturally sensitive approach and will therefore lead to more effective results.WHAT IS FGM?The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as `all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. It is estimated worldwide 130 million girls and women are already circumcised and at leat 2 million a year are at risk.TYPESTogether with the definition, WHO has also produced a standardised classification system of four different kinds of FGM. The first involves removal of the prepuce (clitoral hood), sometimes together with part or the entire clitoris; in the second, the clitoris and prepuce are removed, together with part or all of the labia minora. These two are the most common forms of FGM, making up around 80% of instances. The third type, commonly referred to as infibulation, is the most extreme and comprises about 15% of instances. It involves removal of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening.TERMINOLOGYIn light of the variations that exist within the practice itself, it is important to assess the appropriateness of the term Female Genital Mutilation. The term FGM was first used by feminists, human rights activists and women's groups. It was formally adopted by the International African Committee on Traditional and Harmful Practices meeting in Addis Ababa 1987...

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