At least a small victory for those of us who have been decrying the moral panic that surrounds Britain's draconian anti-FGM campaigns and measures over the last eight months or so. This is indeed a strange case as even some ardent anti-FGM bloggers contended. With all the noise about the prevalence of FGM in the UK and headlines featuring curious statistics about the numbers of girls who are being taken out of the country for FGM or "vacation cutting", it is indeed a bit bizarre that the only prosecution the CPS could come up with was of a medical doctor who performed life-saving stitches after delivering an adult Somali woman who had previously undergone infibulation in her home country.
Here are some of the problems that African Women are Free to Choose (AWA-FC) has with the reporting of this event, the prosecution itself, and the whole notion of FGM in the first place:
1. If anti-FGM campaigns purport to be about the rights of the child why is it that this case is focused on an adult woman? Well, because, according to British anti-FGM law there is no distinction between a girl under the age of 18 or an adult woman 18 and over. Here is the link to the Female Genital Mutilation Bill- under (6) Definitions: (1) Girl includes woman: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200203/ldbills/098/2003098.pdf
2. Again, if FGM is about child protection, then why leave out male circumcision or male genital mutilation? What about those adamant male activists who have been claiming for years that male circumcision is a violation of physical integrity, that it reduces male sexual function and infringes on the right to consent?
3. And again, if FGM is about child protection, why are there underage western (mostly white) girls - some as young as nine years old - receiving labiaplasties for free under the National Health System in countries such as the UK and Australia? Why don't these girls have protected status for their genitalia - like African girls? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2236675/Hundreds-girls-aged-14-having-designer-vagina-surgery-NHS.html
4. FGM is defined as the "all procedures involving partial or total removal of all or parts of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons". This definition would also include various forms of so-called female genital cosmetic surgeries including labiaplasties, but also clitoral reductions (clitoroplasty) and clitoroplexy (clitoral hood removal) that are gaining in popularity among well educated and well to-do white (and perhaps some non-white) women in western countries, including the U.S. Here is a link to a website that I like to use for my lectures because it shows in detail the before and after pictures of western women's genital surgeries and just how drastic and invasive some of these procedures are as compared with say Types I and II of so-called FGM/C which make up over 90% of the totality of cases in the 28 Sub-Sahara countries you mention. http://www.altermd.com/Female%20Genital%20Surgery/clitoral_reduction_examples.htm. The British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has declared that many types of FGM and FGCS are anatomically similar - so, why are there still legal distinctions between FGM and FGCS based on race, ethnicity, geographic origin, socioeconomic class etc...?
5. Whatever happened to evidence-based polices? The public is constantly fed anecdotal and exaggerated evidence from anti-FGM activists and youtube images about the horrors of FGM; but what do scientific studies tell us about the impact of these practices on girls and women? Well, I certainly wanted to know the answer to this and so I collaborated with 14 other researchers, scholars, physicians, lawyers who are experts in this field to put together over a period of years a white paper called Seven Things to Know About Female Genital Surgeries in Africa, which was published in a leading scientific journal, the Hastings Center Report (Nov/Dec 2012). http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Publications/HCR/Detail.aspx?id=6059. This paper contained a review of the highest quality studies that compared circumcised and uncircumcised women in sexual and reproductive health indicators as well as sexual response and the findings were quite extraordinary: there were hardly and significant differences. Nothing to write home about. Is there really a need for moral panic? Is it not possible for policymakers and other stakeholders to have reasonable debates and sound strategies to deal with this issue within a complete framework of child protection (and not one that simply singles out African girls)?
Hopefully, with this case over and done with in the UK, some folks will begin to raise some of these uncomfortable and difficult questions even if only superficially. But here in the United States where, apparently as the Huffington Post and Daily Beast have reported a few hours ago, lawmakers have introduced a Zero Tolerance for FGM Act of 2015 the African immigrant community will not be silenced about the skewed data and proposed ethnic profiling of girls and women from countries in sub-Sahara Africa.
So, as for Shelby Quast with Equality Now who is leading the anti-FGM propaganda based campaign in the United States, this time around African girls and women will be demanding our Equality Now with other girls and women as well as boys and men in the country in which we reside and call our home. Contrary to the media spin on the statistics so-called FGM rarely, if at all, exists in the U.S. (as is the case in the UK, which is most likely why there have been no prosecutions in decades since the first law was introduced). Girls are not for the most part at risk for "vacation cutting" because African immigrants have other pressing socio-economic issues and priorities and are pretty darned aware of the existence of anti-FGM policies and laws in the U.S.
As a born American who is a child of Sierra Leonean immigrants to the U.S. and voluntarily went back to my country of origin at the age of 21 with my female relatives to be initiated in accordance with our cultural traditions (before the existence of any anti-FGM law), I am especially proud to lead the battle to protect the dignity, integrity and equal rights of circumcised African women and girls in this country and in my country of heritage who do not see themselves as "mutilated", "victims", or "survivors". I am also aware that there are some others who feel differently and like Ms. Jahar Dukureh do not wish to continue this aspect of our traditions. I believe that in working together, without using unnecessarily derogatory and divisive language such as "mutilation" and zero-tolerance policies that are in no one's interests except NGOs like Equality Now (who are only concerned with their "allocation of resources") we can ensure the rights of all affected girls and women in the U.S. to choice, to individual and family privacy and to dignity.
Fuambai Sia Ahmadu, PhD
African Women Are Free to Choose AWA-FC