Friday, October 01, 2004

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION

The African culture is alive and well in Australia. As new migrants and refugees continue to arrive in significant numbers since the dawn of the 21st Century, African literature, language, music, art, food, and fashion have made their presence felt in multicultural Australia.

But, in recent years, certain cultural practices, such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or “female circumcision”, have come under intense scrutiny - a development some fear would criminalize the practice and eventually cause the African population to be fully assimilated into the mainstream Australian society.

The point to note, however, is that FGM occurs in more than 40 countries around the world, and more than 28 in Africa. Although there is no documented evidence that FGM is currently being practiced in Australia, it is a highly sensitive issue in the emerging African community in this country.

Nevertheless, the struggle for women’s health is a global struggle that cuts across all cultures; and is closely associated with the fundamental issue of female circumcision.

In fact, there is an argument that sees FGM as a barbaric tradition, with debilitating physical, psychological, and sexual implications, that should be overridden by law. Another strand of argument sees the practice as a violation of basic human rights.

In South Australia, for example, the law says it is illegal to “aid, abet, counsel or procure a person to perform female circumcision or FGM on a woman , girl or female baby”.

This means it is against the spirit of the law to help someone circumcise a woman, girl or female baby (or get someone else to do the same thing).

Furthermore, the legislation preventing FGM in South Australia was enacted on the 26th April 1997. Under this legislation, a person who intentionally performs, arranges, or assists female genital mutilation on a person is guilty of a serious offence with a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

Meanwhile, emphasis is on effective education program for the prevention of female genital mutilation, and not punishment per se.

Thus, at the time of writing, there is a public health agreement funding for 5 men and 28 women to work as facilitators of the program in the emerging communities, and also helping the mainstream society come to terms with the implications of the FGM; issues the wider society does not fully understand.

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