“Why it is important to integrate human rights into international policy-making”

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From Equality Now:

The Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has just returned from a business trip to Britain, where she met President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.  In Liberia, more than 58% of women have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), where the Sande secret society promotes and carries it out without hindrance.  This is in spite of President Sirleaf’s pledge to make women’s rights a national priority.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, although FGM was banned in 2006, 2010 legislation [No. 1636/MENKES/PER /XI/2010 regarding “Female Circumcision”] has taken a huge step backwards by permitting it, as long as it is performed by medical professionals.  According to a 2003 study surveying girls aged 15-18 in six provinces in Indonesia, 86-100% had been subjected to some form of FGM, which commonly involved cutting into or injuring the clitoris.

The World Health Organisation, of which Indonesia is a member, has stated that FGM refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and that “under no circumstances should FGM be performed by health professionals or in health establishments”.  Some proponents argue that the forms of FGM which are carried out in Indonesia are less invasive than in parts of Africa.  However, irrespective of the extent of the procedure, FGM reflects a deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination and violence against women and girls.  Moreover, it promotes the stereotype that there is something inherently wrong with the female body, which needs to be altered.

Further evidence is also emerging in post-Mubarack Egypt, where a new draft constitution has been heavily criticised for failing to protect women’s rights, that some social conservatives are considering a similar approach to Indonesia.  In a recent F1000 research publication, Dr. Mohamed Kandil from Egypt suggests that “the procedure [clitoridectomy] should be offered to parents who insist on it; otherwise, they will do it illegally”.  This absolutely ignores current knowledge of the reproductive, sexual and psychological health risks and complications associated with FGM.  Dr. Kandil also conveniently disregards the Hippocratic Oath, which he has taken as a trained medical doctor and which specifically requires him to keep his patients safe from harm and injustice.  Furthermore, he omits any reference to the fact that the previous ban on medicalised FGM in Egypt was due in most part to the death of a twelve year old girl in 2007, following an FGM procedure performed by a trained medical professional.  The medicalisation of FGM does not work on any level – apart from providing financial benefit to those who perform this dangerous and unnecessary procedure.

Some of those in favour of FGM argue too that it is a cultural or religious requirement, although no reference to this can be found in any major religious text.  Any attempts by politicians to gain votes from religious and cultural traditionalists by turning a blind eye to FGM are unacceptable.  Similarly, medical professionals who encourage this form of child abuse directly contradict their core responsibility to protect rather than harm their patients and should be struck off the medical register.  As minors, those who undergo FGM should not be expected to defend themselves, particularly as some, including Indonesian girls, are less than six weeks old when the procedure is carried out.  Like all victims of child abuse, they look towards both political leaders and medical professionals for help and support, as opposed to putting them at further risk of harm.

However, moves are being made in the right direction in some African countries.  Encouraged by UK and international support, the new Somali constitution includes a ban on all forms of “female circumcision”.  The global effort to stop FGM has also taken a critical step forward at this year’s United Nations General Assembly with the official presentation by the Group of African States of a draft resolution to intensify global efforts to eliminate the practice.  This significant development has created a scenario whereby the human rights of women and girls are being brought centre-stage at last and African governments should be commended for their leadership on this issue at the UN. …

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