Call to ban female genital mutilation in Ireland

 

IT IS the equivalent of social and economic suicide if a girl does not undergo female genital mutilation in a community where the practice is widespread, a seminar on the issue has heard.

Eileen Morrow of World Vision Ireland, which works to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa, said campaigns against the practice could only be successful if people understood its cultural significance.

She said people carried out the practice to fit in with their communities. Women who were not circumcised were bullied and told they were only children. “They can’t find a husband prepared to marry them,” she said, adding that they were denied access to land and resources. This was because people believed female genital mutilation ensured the chastity and fidelity of a future bride.

The practice was a cultural tradition that people were proud of, so merely telling them it was wrong would not work, she said.

Ms Morrow said criticism of female genital mutilation could be seen by the community as a criticism of their entire culture. A campaign to end the practice must be led by the community.

Ms Morrow was speaking yesterday at the seminar held to mark International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM. The seminar heard calls for a stepping up of the campaign for a new law banning the practice in Ireland.

The Government’s legal advice has indicated that female genital mutilation constitutes an offence under assault laws but speakers at the seminar said distinct legislation was needed.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said there was a lack of clarity as to whether a parent could use the defence of consent if they were charged with assault arising out of allowing female genital mutilation to be practised on a daughter.

While it is not thought to be widely practised here, it has been estimated that more than 2,500 migrant women living in Ireland have been subjected to it. Ms Bacik said legislation would send out an important signal internationally.

She said there should also be a provision to charge someone with an offence if they were resident in Ireland but travelled abroad to have a daughter circumcised.

Asked about plans to introduce legislation, a spokesman for Minister for Health Mary Harney said: “The question of introducing specific legislation to ban female genital mutilation remains under review. However, we cannot be specific on a timeframe for this review at this stage.”

The seminar was hosted by the National Steering Committee on Female Genital Mutilation, which includes organisations such as African women’s network AkiDwA, Unicef and Amnesty International. The ambassador of Lesotho, Mannete Ramaili, said female genital mutilation was not a big issue here but it was happening more than people thought.

Somalian Ifrah Ahmed, who underwent female genital mutilation and now campaigns against it, said that while women spoke about their experiences in private, they were petrified that anyone else would hear about it. Some Somalians criticised her for drawing attention to the practice, she said.

Asiya Altawash of the Islamic Cultural Centre stressed that there was no connection between Islam and the practice. She said there was no reference to female circumcision in the Koran and Islamic leaders should be proactive in telling Muslims that their religion did not require it.

AkiDwA director Salome Mbugua said international solidarity was vital if zero tolerance of the practice was to be achieved.

“In addition, practising communities should be empowered and encouraged to be at the forefront of efforts to end FGM.”