Australia: Protecting girls from genital mutilation

Of note on the limits to accommodation:

Outrage was provoked a few weeks ago by a new Islamic guide for parents fostering children. Reaction to an extremely controversial provision in the guide pointed up the fine balance that continually needs to be struck between religious diversity in a multicultural society and preservation of the norms and laws of a liberal secular democracy.

The Islamic Position on Foster Care, Adoption and Guardianship, published by the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC), contained a paragraph on circumcision for children — both boys and girls.

It stated that circumcision for boys is obligatory in Islam. However, it skirted around the highly contentious matter of circumcision for girls — better known as ‘female genital mutilation’ (FGM).

Critics, including the NSW Families Minister, pounced immediately on the statement, contained in the initial version of the guide, that there is ‘no obligation’ to perform circumcision on girls. And those critics had good cause to be angry. It may well be that FGM is not obligatory in Islam; that’s beside the point. FGM is actually illegal in Australia. Why did the ANIC fail to recognise this?

Soon enough, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) added its voice, firing a broadside criticising the ANIC for appearing to equate FGM with circumcision, and stating in plain language that there was no place in Islam for ‘the horrors of FGM.’ A revised version of the foster guide was subsequently posted stating that, ‘It is impermissible and forbidden to circumcise girls in Islam.’

It was a welcome amendment — although it addressed only Islamic doctrine without mentioning the law. But the damage had been done.

Foster care in Australia is tightly governed by a set of strict legal requirements with which all providers, whether faith-based or not, must comply. Ensuring that the well-being of the child is protected means there can be no exemptions from the law.

All Australians with religious beliefs want the freedom to order their own lives, and the lives of their families and communities, according to the teachings of their faith tradition. Such teachings often deal with dietary rules, dress conventions, and rules governing attendance at worship. Sometimes they also express clear positions on moral issues, such as opposition to abortion or euthanasia.

As a result, faith-based views and teachings are often out of step with what we are told our wider, secular society demands. This, in turn, can provoke calls for contentious religious opinions to be banished from the public square when campaigners, activists, and even policy makers consider them to be out of step with contemporary secular opinion.

Advocates of multiculturalism profess to welcome the cultural and religious diversity that is one of its principal characteristics. And in Australia, one of the world’s most cohesive multicultural societies, people of all faiths and none are free to go about their lives openly and without hindrance.

This freedom is part of Australia’s so-called ‘secular settlement’.

Under this secular settlement, private religious practices such as dietary customs are tolerated, and faith-based organisations retain certain privileges, such as specific tax advantages, on condition that religious groups do not rock the social or political boat.

The settlement depends for its success on two key requirements being met. First, it requires that those who seek accommodation for their beliefs demonstrate a tolerant acceptance of all other members of society. And, second, it requires members of minority groups to exercise restraint to ensure that their private, faith-based practices do not offend against principles shared by the wider secular society.

Clearly, one of the distinctive characteristics of any religion is that it marks its followers in the practices of their daily lives, such as in their diets, as being somewhat set apart from other members of society. But while religion can be a sign of distinctiveness and apartness from wider society, it must never become a sign of alienation.

According to the 2016 census, Australians claiming an allegiance to Islam comprise 2.6 per cent of the population. Muslims, along with Hindus (1.9 per cent) and Buddhists (2.4 per cent), represent part of the significant demographic change that has taken place over the past 50 years in a country where 52 per cent still retain an allegiance to Christianity.

Our different religious communities advance widely diverging conceptions of the good life. And Australia’s success as a multicultural society depends on the fact that it is a secular state committed to remaining neutral in regard to those conceptions. If multiculturalism is to remain successful here, it also requires demonstrating respect for diverse points of view.

At the same time, the secular state has authority — and an obligation — to intervene in situations where certain practices, whether faith-based or not, threaten not just the well-being of the community, but the well-being of the individual. No exemption can be afforded minorities whose wish to avoid the obligation to obey the law threatens that well-being.

Australia has taken a strong stand on some practices often associated with Islam, such as the marriage of children and FGM, and has declared them illegal. The unacceptability of these practices is not simply a matter of culture or conflicting opinions; it is a matter of law. No faith-based exceptions to law can ever be granted where religious practice threatens to put children at risk.

The ANIC’s perceived failure to condemn FGM signalled not merely an indifference to prevailing Australian norms about the well-being and care of children. It also signalled an apparent unwillingness to ensure that the practice of Islam in Australia always complies unequivocally — and without exception — with the law of the land.

Australian Muslims, and members of other faith communities, must be free to live in ways distinguished by their faith-based customs and practices. But they also bear responsibility for ensuring those customs and practices never contravene the norms and laws of Australia.

Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and author of Sacred & Profane: Faith and Belief in a Secular Society

Source: Protecting girls from genital mutilation

Is The Pandemic Causing A Surge In Female Genital Mutilation?


In early December, Christine Ghati Alfons taught a menstrual hygiene class to a group of girls, 10 to 15 years old, in the ethnic Kuria community in Migori County, an impoverished, rural area in southwest Kenya. Normally, she says, the class has 25 students. On this day, only 17 girls showed up.

“We lost some of these girls,” says Ghati Alfons, founder of the Safe Engage Foundation, a community-based group that works to end female genital mutilation (FGM).

According to Ghati Alfons, the eight missing girls had all undergone “the cut,” as FGM is often called; two of them had then been married off, the other six were home recovering. Nine other girls who attended the class had also been subjected to genital cutting in recent months, she says.

Ghati Alfons’ missing students are part of a massive wave of girls believed to have been subjected to FGM, and in many cases, subsequently married off, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s happening not just in Kenya but across East and West Africa, according to a September report from the Orchid Project, a London-based nonprofit that works with global partners to end FGM. The practice occurs in many parts of the world, though the Orchid Project’s report highlighted the pandemic-era surge in Africa. It also attempted to gather information about parts of Asia where FGM is prevalent but was unable to draw conclusions because of a lack of systemic reporting.

Anti-FGM activists say lockdowns and school closures during the pandemic left many girls at home, vulnerable to genital cutting in communities that see the practice as a prerequisite for marriage and, in some places, as a rite of passage. Girls who have not been cut might be shunned by the community or considered not fit for marriage.

“The girls are normally protected and shielded by the fact of being in school, which is an alternative to marriage,” says Domtila Chesang, founder of I-Rep Foundation, a community-based group aimed at eradicating FGM in West Pokot County in Western Kenya.

Economic pressures heightened by the pandemic have led many struggling parents to seek bride prices — the payment of goods such as cattle to a family for a bride.

“These girls are not just being cut. They are also being forcibly married off. And a girl that has had FGM is worth more. It’s seen as an investment into the girl and her ability to be married off,” says Nimco Ali, an activist who was born in Somaliland and subjected to FGM. She now lives in London, where she leads The Five Foundation, a global partnership to end FGM.

FGM can have long-lasting impacts on health, including scarring, urinary incontinence, painful sexual intercourse and complications during childbirth, as well as psychological consequences such as anxiety and depression.

In parts of West Africa, some former cutters who had abandoned FGM have returned to the practice “because it was a way that they saw that they could obtain income at this difficult time,” says Ebony Riddell Bamber, head of policy and advocacy at the Orchid Project. But the increase in FGM is particularly startling in Kenya, because the country, which outlawed the practice in 2011, was widely seen as making real strides toward eradicating it. Last year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made an ambitious pledge to stamp out FGM by 2022. Then came the pandemic, which redirected policing and other resources elsewhere, allowing local traditional leaders to flout the law.

Around 21% of Kenyan girls and women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM. But the prevalence varies dramatically. It’s nearly universal among some ethnic groups and practically nonexistent among others, according to UNICEF.

Ghati Alfons says FGM remains widespread among Kenya’s Kuria community, many of whom live in “abject poverty.” She explains: “They don’t even have something to eat, but here comes someone who is offering them some money in exchange for [marrying] their daughters.”

Ghati Alfons says that traditionally among the Kuria people, cuttings took place beginning in November, at the end of the Kenyan school year. But this year, school closures that began in March left girls exposed at home, and the cuttings began much earlier. As many as 2,800 girls — some as young as 7 or 8 years old — in Kuria are believed to have been cut between September and mid-October, when Kenyan schools partially reopened, according to estimates from the Five Foundation based on reports from activists on the ground.

“Normally they cut for two weeks, but this time they went for more than four weeks,” Ghati Alfons says. “So that means more girls were cut and many girls are now not even back to school.” She says many of the girls subjected to FGM have been married off, and many others did not return to school because they needed time to heal.

After being cut, Kuria girls are publicly showered with shoes, clothes and other gifts, which can serve as an enticement to other girls to undergo the procedure, Ghati Alfons says. “I grew up longing for the cuts because of the gifts,” she says. She says she changed her mind after her mother told her that her late father had been adamantly opposed to FGM.

Samburu County, a rural, pastoralist region of northern Kenya, also saw a sharp increase in girls being subjected to genital mutilation during the pandemic, says Josephine Kulea, founder and executive director of the Samburu Girls Foundation, which works to prevent FGM on girls as young as 7 by convincing their families to enroll them in school and supporting them through university.

Kulea says Samburu County has high rates of illiteracy, and the girls who do get educated attend boarding schools. But when schools closed in March, girls returned to their villages at a time when they were hosting mass circumcisions of boys. “So when the girls went back to the villages, it was an opportunity to cut them too,” she says.

Kulea says her group alone reported more than 500 cases of female genital mutilation and child marriages to the authorities from just three Samburu villages between March and July, but she estimates the number of Samburu girls affected may have been twice that amount. “You can tell who has been cut by how the girls are walking,” she says.

“I’m sure in January when schools reopen there will be very few girls back in school, because most of them got married,” she says.

Chesang says in Kenya’s West Pokot County, over 1,000 girls fell victim to mass cuttings earlier this year, though she says the government disputes that number. Her group is currently sheltering about 25 girls they rescued from FGM. “There are also some girls who have been forced into marriage that I tried to save but failed,” Chesang says. She, too, worries that many girls who were cut in her area will never return to school, because they’ve been married off or have become pregnant.

Chesang, Kulea and Ghati Alfons all say the cuttings in their respective regions have slowed down. In part, that’s because so many girls have already been subjected to FGM. But they all agree that the Kenyan government has stepped up its efforts to enforce anti-FGM laws and punish perpetrators in the wake of Kenyan media coverage of the spike in cuttings and the ensuing public outcry.

Some of that media coverage came in October, after Ghati Alfons and other anti-FGM activists shared videos on social media showing hundreds of Kuria girls being paraded and celebrated in the streets after being subjected to FGM.

“The airing of the issues on national television really worked,” Ghati Alfons says. “And that is one thing that I feel so proud of and so happy about this year.”

It’s one thing to have laws against FGM, Ali says, but you also need activists on the ground to hold local leaders accountable for enforcing them.

“Unless you’re within communities doing the work day in, day out, so when times like the pandemic occur, you can be there to actively prevent and protect girls, we will keep on seeing these peaks” in FGM, Riddell Bamber says.

And Ali wants to hold Kenya’s president to his promise to end the practice by 2022. That goal is “beyond ambitious,” she says. “Now, he has to step up to the plate to actually start to protect the girls in the rural communities.”

Source: Is The Pandemic Causing A Surge In Female Genital Mutilation?

Female Genital Mutilation Outlawed in Sudan

A start, but social and cultural norms take time to change:

Sudan’s new government has outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, a move hailed as a major victory by women’s rights campaigners in a country where the often dangerous practice is widespread.

The United Nations estimates that nearly nine in 10 Sudanese women have been subjected to the most invasive form of the practice, which involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia and leads to health and sexual problems that can be fatal.

Now, anyone in Sudan who performs female genital mutilation faces a possible three-year prison term and a fine under an amendment to Sudan’s criminal code approved last week by the country’s transitional government, which came to power only last year following the ouster of longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

“This is a massive step for Sudan and its new government,” said Nimco Ali of the Five Foundation, an organization that campaigns for an end to genital mutilation globally. “Africa cannot prosper unless it takes care of girls and women. They are showing this government has teeth.”

Genital mutilation is practiced in at least 27 African countries, as well as parts of Asia and the Middle East. Other than Sudan and Egypt, it is most prevalent in Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Djibouti and Senegal, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

“The law will help protect girls from this barbaric practice and enable them to live in dignity,” said Salma Ismail, a spokeswoman in Khartoum for the United Nations Children’s Fund. “And it will help mothers who didn’t want to cut their girls, but felt they had no choice, to say ‘no.’”

“Now,” she added, “there are consequences.”

Experts warn, however, that a law alone is not sufficient to end the practice, which in many countries is enmeshed with cultural and religious beliefs, considered a pillar of tradition and marriage, and supported by women as well as men.

“This is not just about legal reforms,” Ms. Ismail said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that society will accept this.”

In Egypt, for instance, genital cutting was banned in 2008 and the law amended in 2016 to criminalize doctors and parents who facilitate the practice, with prison sentences of up to seven years for performing the operation and up to 15 if it results in disability or death.

Yet prosecutions are rare, and the operations continue quietly, with 70 percent of Egyptian women between 15 and 49 having been cut, mostly before they reach the age of 12, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this year, a 12-year-old Egyptian girl died on an operating table at a private clinic as a retired doctor performed genital mutilation without an anesthetic. In February, the Egyptian authorities referred the doctor and the girl’s parents for prosecution.

As global and local campaigns to end the practice have grown in recent years, some communities have slowly begun to turn against genital cutting, which is often seen as a rite of passage in communities of various faiths. In some places, campaigners have come up with alternative initiation ceremonies.

One such program among the Maasai in Kenya, where cutting has been outlawed since 2011, has reportedly helped saved at least 15,000 girls from the practice.

Most Sudanese women undergo what the World Health Organization calls Type III circumcision, an extreme form of the practice in which the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, are removed. The wound is then sewn closed in a practice known as reinfibulation that can cause cysts, lead to painful sex and prevent orgasm.

Word of the new law has yet to reach many Sudanese, as a result of a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The timing has been unfortunate,” said Ms. Ismail, of the United Nations. “Everyone was preoccupied with Covid-19,” she added, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Still, attitudes had already been shifting. Six of Sudan’s 18 states enacted laws to restrict or ban genital mutilation, beginning in 2008, but the measures were applied with limited success and resulted in no prosecutions, according to a report by 28 Too Many, a campaign group.

In 2016, Mr. al-Bashir, the country’s ruler of three decades, tried to introduce a national law banning the practice, but the effort was quashed by religious conservatives. The transitional government that replaced Mr. al-Bashir, a power-sharing arrangement between civilian and military leaders who have agreed to steer Sudan to elections in 2022, has overcome that hurdle.

Under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, women ministers lead five government ministries, and the government has repealed unpopular Bashir-era laws that dictated what women could wear or study, or even where they could congregate in public.

Tensions between military and civilian leaders have led to political turbulence, and even stoked fears of a possible military coup, inside the transitional government. Even so, significant changes have taken place.

The minister for religious affairs, Nasr al-Din Mufreh, recently attended a ceremony marking International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. “It is a practice that time, place, history and science have shown to be outdated,” he said, adding that it had no justification in Islam.

The minister said he supported the campaigners’ goal of eliminating the practice from Sudan by 2030.

When will Canada take action for girls who endure FGM?

Unfortunately, the Conservative government’s efforts to reduce, if not eliminate, honour killings and FGM were hampered by their communications strategy of “barbaric cultural practices” labelling, whether it be in Discover Canada or the infamous tip line.

The Liberal government, following public pressure by Immigration critic Michelle Rempel, indicated that language on FGM will be included in the new (long-delayed) citizenship guide in likely more neutral language. .

Portenier’s call for greater government action is welcome. A help line is different in tone and substance than a tip line, the former targeting those most at risk.

Status of Women Canada should take a lead on developing a government-wide initiative to reduce the practice.

But maybe I have been missing this, but I have not seen much evidence that “cultural relativists – mostly white – who argue that FGM is a cultural prerogative” as she asserts or that anyone serious in government would listen to those arguments.

Silence within the communities themselves is another matter and finding ways to encourage more open discussion are needed (CCMW has worked in this area):

Not long ago, I sat with Hadija (not her real name), a young Canadian woman, tears streaming down her face, as she told me about her summer holiday back to her birthplace in Somalia, where she came face to face with a razor blade in a mud hut and was forced to endure female genital mutilation at the age of 14.

Wednesday is International Zero Tolerance Day for female genital mutilation (FGM) with activities worldwide, but in Canada it will again be greeted with a deafening silence. This, despite the fact that the Canadian government knows Hadija’s case is not unique; FGM is an issue here too. Government documents released to journalists under the Freedom of Information Act show that thousands of Canadian girls may be at risk of this torture.

There’s evidence girls are taken abroad for “vacation cutting,” and that “cutters” with their razor blades are entering Canada to do their dirty work here; and yet our government, much of civil society and the media remain silent.

FGM is the single worst systematic human-rights abuse committed against girls and women in the world today. It predates both Islam and Christianity and is defined as the alteration of the female genitalia for non-medical purposes. It’s an extreme form of sexual control of girls, and is a fact of life in 28 countries in Africa, and elsewhere too; in Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of India; pockets of the Middle East, including Egypt; pockets of South America; Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan; and now, with immigration from practising countries, in the West.

The most serious type of FGM, practised almost universally in Somalia where many Canadian immigrants hail from, involves removing the external part of the clitoris, the labia minora and majora, and then sewing everything shut, leaving only a tiny opening. It’s not difficult to grasp the serious health implications that result – post-traumatic stress, difficulty and excruciating pain passing urine and menstrual blood, complications in childbirth – even death. Never mind the right to pain-free, joyful sexual intimacy that every human being is entitled to.

According to the World Health Organization, there are 200 million FGM survivors worldwide, and more than three million girls at risk each year. Some of those girls are right here in Canada; recently a teacher in Greater Vancouver told me of a mother who confessed to having taken her own daughter to India to be cut; the teacher did nothing.

There’s been a law against FGM in Canada since 1997, but there hasn’t been a single prosecution. Unlike other Western countries, in Canada there are no protocols to save girls from FGM; no training for teachers, no systems in place to spot girls – and save girls – who are in danger. For survivors who came here already cut – and that includes young women who arrived here as small children – there is virtually no specialized help. No specific counselling, no specially trained doctors, nurses or midwives. Nothing. Contrast this with other Western countries: In Britain, survivor activists have forced the government into action. There are now helplines for girls at risk; specialized clinics for survivors; training for teachers to spot vulnerable girls; a mandatory reporting requirement of FGM cases for all health and social-services professionals and teachers. And just last week, they had their first conviction, of a mother who forced her three-year-old daughter to undergo FGM.

In Canada, there aren’t even any official statistics analyzing the scope of the issue.

An informal analysis of the 2011 Canadian Census looking at immigration from affected countries and UNICEF statistics on the prevalence of FGM indicates there may be upward of 80,000 survivors of FGM in Canada, and yet this is not an issue addressed by any government department. This distinct lack of action is fuelled in part by fear of stigmatizing the communities involved, and is encouraged by the adults of the communities themselves, who enforce a strict code of silence. The silence is also the by-product of cultural relativists – mostly white – who argue that FGM is a cultural prerogative, when in fact it’s an unacceptable abuse of a girl’s human rights, plain and simple. Indeed, in Africa the campaign to end FGM is driven by Africans themselves.

So far, no Canadian survivor has galvanized action on FGM. But that is no excuse for inaction. We are completely failing Canadian girls: those at risk, and young survivors such as Hadija crying out for help. It is a disgrace. By worrying so much about the cultural sensitivities of the adults, we are sacrificing the human rights of the children.

Source: When will Canada take action for girls who endure FGM? Giselle Portenier

PATEL: Don’t use Islam as excuse to carry out horrors of female genital mutilation

Good column:

Earlier this week, a federal judge in the United States dismissed charges against two doctors and six others involved in the genital mutilation of nine girls at a suburban Detroit clinic.

While many are disappointed the case had to be dropped because of state-federal complications, what outraged me the most was that the accused in this case claimed female genital mutilation (FGM) was a ‘religious’ act and that it should, therefore, be above the law.

As a young Muslim woman, I am tired of hearing about medieval and regressive social behaviour that supposedly has some kind of religious justification; especially when it concerns my faith of Islam.

Muslim women like me are caught between Islamophobes who condemn Islam and every Muslim for anything that moves – and our own medieval zealots who use Islam to justify practices like FGM, forced marriages and domestic violence.

It should be clear to all that FGM has absolutely no basis in any of the Abrahamic religions – and there is no mention of it in the Quran. In fact, we find quite the opposite: That the Quran strongly condemns ‘mutilating the fair creation of God’ as being something inspired by the Devil himself.

But, despite this clear directive, FGM continues to persist in many countries around the world.

The UN estimates that around three million girls are mutilated every year – with a sizable portion of these being Muslim women and girls; (the others being mostly Christian or animist communities).

This is because some communities and individuals prefer to ignore their own revealed book and follow cultural dogmas disguised as religion instead.

These spurious ‘religious’ arguments are also buttressed by dozens of other oppressive reasons, as to why a community will persist with the abomination of FGM – such as poverty, patriarchy and culture. But the supposed religious justifications may, in fact, be the bedrock upon which all the other causes depend.

Debunk that and the other justifications may well fall away.

That’s why in my work with the international NGO, Islamic Relief Canada – we feel it is our duty to counter these cultural and pseudo-religious justifications.

This is done through, for example, our advocacy work to end FGM here in Canada and all around the world with our sister offices and partner organizations.

From our research here in Canada, we know that FGM is carried out in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and we have anecdotal evidence that children are being taken abroad and even across the border to the U.S. to be forcibly subjected to FGM procedures.

We also know that there is a lack of resources available to families who have undergone the trauma of FGM and are in need of education and support.

We welcome the Canadian government’s investment and commitment towards ending FGM, both overseas and here in Canada.

But we also recognize that more needs to be done to understand the extent and context of the problem in Canada, so that organizations like ours can work alongside other agencies and communities to build awareness of the extremely harmful effects of this totally anti-Islamic practice.

Reyhana Patel is the head of Communications at Islamic Relief Canada. She’s a former BBC journalist and former writer for The Huffington Post U.K. and The Independent newspaper in the U.K.

Source: PATEL: Don’t use Islam as excuse to carry out horrors of female genital mutilation

Federal Judge Rules U.S. Ban on Female Genital Mutilation Is Unconstitutional

Disturbing although the case seems to hinge on federal vs state authority. Will see if leads to an appeal (hopefully it will, but not sure how the current more conservative Supreme Court would rule):

In a historic ruling that strikes a chilling blow to women’s rights, a federal judge in Michigan declared unconstitutional the U.S. law against female genital mutilations (FGM), and dropped charges against two doctors for carrying out the procedure on underage girls.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman said Tuesday that Congress lacks the authority to outlaw the procedure, and insisted only states can make such a decision, the Detroit Free Press reports.

“As despicable as [FGM] may be,” Friedman said, Congress “overstepped its bounds” by banning the practice.

The trial was the first federal case to involve FGM, which is common religious practice in some cultures, but is internationally recognized as a human rights violation. The defendants, including three mothers, are all members of the Indian Muslim Dawoodi Bohra community.

Friedman dismissed the main charges against Jumana Nagarwala, a doctor who prosecutors said may have performed the procedure on up to 100 girls. Another doctor who allowed Nagarwala to use his clinic, that doctor’s wife and five others also saw their charges dropped. The doctors continue to face lengthy prison terms on conspiracy charges.

According to the court records, two of the mothers tricked their 7-year-olds into thinking they were going to Detroit for a girls’ trip. Instead, they had their genitals cut.

FGM typically involves cutting or even wholly removing the clitoris. The World Health Organization calls it “a violation of the human rights of girls and women” that “has no health benefits.”

In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution to ban the practice, which affects an estimated 200 million women and girls worldwide. It has also been outlawed in more than 30 countries, including the U.S., which passed a law in 1996 criminalizing FGM with a 5-year prison term.

Twenty-seven states separately passed similar measures, including Michigan in 2017. But the defendants in this case are not retroactively subject to the new law.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney in Detroit said the government would review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

Michigan State Senator Margaret O’Brien, who backed the state ban on FGM, said she was “appalled” by Tuesday’s ruling.

Yasmeen Hassan, executive global director for gender rights group Equality Now, warned the ruling sends the message to women and girls that “you are not important.”

Source: Federal Judge Rules U.S. Ban on Female Genital Mutilation Is Unconstitutional

Arrest Of Doctor In Detroit For Female Genital Mutilation Fuels Debate By Muslim Sect In Pakistan : Goats and Soda : NPR

More on FGM, this time with respect to Bohra:

For generations, women of a secretive Muslim sect have removed what they call “forbidden flesh” from their girls. They were told they had an infection, or an insect, that needed to be cut out. The girls were ordered to never speak of it again. Others knew to stay quiet, understanding that anything involving their genitals should stay secret.

But now the community is talking.

The arrest of a Bohra doctor in Detroit for performing FGM has given added impetus to a quiet movement in the community against the practice. The Bohra call it khafz or khatna — removing the hood of the clitoria and sometimes part of the clitoris itself when a girl is about 7 years old.

“It’s forced us to have a conversation,” says Leena Khandwalla, a 44-year-old Bohra woman who divides her time between Pakistan and New Jersey.

“It’s also created some kind of reckoning in the Bohra community.”

The Bohras are an offshoot of Shiite Islam that is headquartered in Mumbai, with prosperous communities scattered across the globe. They number several hundred thousand. The community of some 35,000 in Karachi is one of the largest in the world, according to Bohra members.

It is unclear how the practice emerged in the community. The Bohras say the prophet Mohammed sanctioned it — and cut his daughter Fatima, who is revered by Shiite Muslims. Few Muslims hold such a belief.

Ultimately it’s practiced because the sect’s leader in Mumbai, Mufaddal Saifuddin, says so.

“We obey him,” says Mrs. Ali, a 30-year-old Bohra woman who supports cutting. She has asked us to use only her surname. She described him as a father who knew best. “Why would he harm us?”

A survey of Bohra women in India in February led by an anti-FGM advocacy group suggested up to three-quarters of Bohra women were cut.

Although Bohras believe cutting women is necessary, it is not enforced by religious leaders. It is community pressure that keeps the tradition going, one Bohra follower says — often from in-laws to young mothers.

In that way, the continuing practice signals how Bohras embrace an extreme form of conformity.

That was apparent in the Bohra enclave in Karachi on a recent Friday. Male worshippers turned up for prayers in the Bohra mosque in identical clothing. Men wore white skullcaps, pants and long shirts with three buttons — imitating the dress of their ancient religious leaders. Women wore distinctive, colorful, matching skirts and headscarves — all cut in the same style, with ribbons tied under the chin.

And underscoring that conformity, most of the dozen Bohra men and women interviewed asked to only use their first names, or stay anonymous, to protect their identity. Some worried about being excluded from community events. One woman, interviewed in her house, peered from the windows to see if anybody could see the NPR reporters from the street.

But there is a paradox in this community. Bohra followers lead lifestyles that are astonishingly liberal in conservative Pakistan, making their support of FGM more startling. Bohra followers comfortably talked about their sex lives and bodies. They discussed parent-supervised dating and pre-marital sex and marital sex — but not FGM.

The silence around the Bohra practice of FGM began collapsing when Mariya Karimjee, a Pakistani-American writer, wrote of her FGM experience in 2015. It quickly went viral. Another woman, Maryum Saifee, described her experience in The Guardian. That new openness dovetailed with Bohra activism against FGM that began emerging, with groups like Sahiyo: United Against Female Genital Cutting and We Speak Out.

At the same time, an Australian court sentenced a former midwife and two Bohra community members to 15 months in jail over FGM-related crimes. Then in 2017, prosecutors brought the first criminal indictment related to FGM under U.S. law. They arrested Jumana Nagarwala, a Detroit-area Bohra doctor, for cutting at least two girls. Seven other defendants have been charged with related crimes. The case is still ongoing. (Any form of FGM on girls is a federal crime.)

The case in Detroit, in particular, gave new impetus to the conversation about FGM in the Bohra community. And it unleashed something rare in this close-mouthed community: discord.

Khandwalla, the 44-year-old, says the case in Detroit pushed her to do something she had never considered before: go public about her own experience.

And S., a 36-year-old teacher, whose name we are withholding for her anonymity, says the Detroit incident encouraged women like her, once quietly queasy about FGM, to voice their views, sharing articles on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Arguments ensued among pro-and-anti-FGM supporters.

“On social media, it created a huge crisis,” she says. She met with NPR in a café across town, so other Bohras wouldn’t see her.

Then S. took another step. She was pressured by her in-laws into having her oldest daughter cut years ago. Her youngest girl was meant to undergo it last year — but she quietly refused to do it. “Social media made me realize how wrong this is.”

The secrecy surrounding the practice helped her maintain the impression that she had cut her youngest daughter.

S. says she wasn’t the only mother quietly rebelling against FGM. “I know for a fact a few of them will not do it.”

One religious Bohra merchant says the media furor triggered angry debate about FGM during regular Q&As with spiritual leaders. He recalled women asking, “if it’s symbolic, can’t we do without it?”

His own daughter confronted him, demanding to know why she was cut. “She questioned it a lot,” he says. “Why did you do it? Why do we have to do it?” He says after months of discussion, his daughter now supports the practice.

(The merchant spoke to NPR to explain Bohra beliefs and why they supported cutting. Religious leaders declined to comment.)

Mrs. Ali, who supports cutting, says the debates were turning people against the practice.

“They are like a pinch of salt in flour,” she says — a minority spreading through the community, changing its flavor.

The merchant and Mrs. Ali described female cutting among Bohras as a symbolic ritual, akin to male circumcision. Mrs. Ali had her own daughter cut by a Bohra gynecologist, she says.

She compared the clitoral hood to extra clothes in a crowded closet. “You just move them out of your closet,” she says. “It’s like that.”

Cutting was meant to reduce a woman’s libido and keep them away from pre-marital sex. “It’s just to control your sex drive, that’s it, but it doesn’t destroy your sex drive,” Rasheeda says. “I am married, my sex life is — thank God — perfectly alright.”

But Khandwalla says she had never shaken off the trauma of FGM.

She was 7 when her aunt told her they were going on an errand. She was taken to a dingy apartment. “The next thing I knew, my panties were being taken off and I was sort of just splayed on the ground,” she says.

“Then something really sharp happened,” she adds.

Her aunt ordered her to kiss the hand of the woman who cut her — a traditional sign of respect. For years, she thought the painful procedure was a punishment for some mysterious wrong.

As a teenager, she tried to discover what a normal vagina looked like — pre-Internet. She and her cousin compared their genitalia, but they were both cut. “My cousin looked the same as I did.”

In her early twenties, Khandwalla began having sex. She felt flushes of arousal but struggled to orgasm. She married about a decade ago. She says the experience of FGM left her feeling that her body was dirty and that sex was shameful.

Many of the women who do not oppose FGM did not cite its pain or trauma as a reason. They said they were angry because they had not consented to the procedure. They believe they should have not undergone FGM as a child, but rather should have been asked as an adult if they would consent to it.

And they said they could not find any proof in Islam to justify it.

After the furor surrounding FGM cases in Australia and the U.S., the Bohra spiritual leader issued letters to communities in the West telling them not to undertake the practice if it was illegal.

If it didn’t have to be done in the West, why did they have to do it in Pakistan, asked Alina, a 20-year-old Bohra student. It was a double standard, she argued.

She started doubting the practice after she began dating in high school. She realized being cut hadn’t prevented her from having pre-marital sex. It just made it more painful.

She confronted her mom: “if the only reason you did it is this whole idea of control — it doesn’t do that. So why the hell did you get this done to me?”

The debate surrounding the cases in the U.S. and Australia inflated her doubts and encouraged her to speak out. She saw that her “woke” university friends were all fighting their own liberal causes in Pakistan, and it inspired her.

“If I can make a change, then I should do it,” she says. “I will literally try to convince everyone I know, I will do any research required, to actually show there’s no backing for this.”

She was speaking out against FGM in her community — but she wouldn’t speak out to women from other religious groups — at least not in a way she could be identified, she says. She didn’t want to be seen as publicly trashing her own community, and she feared that Bohra women would be less likely to listen to her if she went public.

She wanted to be that secret minority in her community, spreading doubt about FGM.

She was going to be that pinch of salt in flour.

via Arrest Of Doctor In Detroit For Female Genital Mutilation Fuels Debate By Muslim Sect In Pakistan : Goats and Soda : NPR

New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation

Good. Now the question remains how this will be presented and what language will be used.

Hopefully, the guide will place this in the context of spousal and child abuse, sexual assault, and a short summary of the evolution of women’s rights in Canada, without the identify politics label of “barbaric cultural practices.”

While one would have hoped that the government would have done this in any case, one has to give credit to Conservative Immigration Critic Michelle Rempel for pressing the issue:

Canada’s updated citizenship guide will include a warning to newcomers about the illegal practice of female genital mutilation.

In a statement provided to CBC News, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen called it an “abhorrent practice” that is against the law in Canada.

“While the content for the new guide is still being developed, Canadians can be assured that the new document will include information on Canada’s laws against gender-based violence, including FGM,” he said.

“We would normally not comment on a product still under development, but given the interest in this specific issue, I felt it was important to update Canadians on where we stand.”

The issue has become politically charged, with the Conservatives suggesting the revamped guide would drop a reference to the practice.

Immigration critic Michelle Rempel has repeatedly pressed Hussen on the topic, and sponsored an e-petition in the House of Commons that calls on the government to ensure the new guide condemns the practice.
Petition E-1310, which is open until Feb, 3, now has nearly 25,000 signatures.

On Nov. 28, 2017, Rempel urged people to sign the petition in a tweet that said: “Trudeau is removing references to female genital mutilation as being a harmful practice from Canada’s citizenship guide.”

Rempel was citing a report from The Canadian Press, which said a draft copy of the revised citizenship guide removed the reference to FGM. The current guide, brought in by the Conservatives in 2011, stresses that men and women are equal under the law in Canada.

“Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, “honour killings,” female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence,” it reads. “Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”

via New citizenship guide to warn against ‘abhorrent’ practice of female genital mutilation | CBC News

The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Martin Patriquin on Michelle Rempel’s raising the issue of FGM and its inclusion or not in the revision of the Discover Canada citizenship guide:

The procedure by which a woman’s clitoris is surgically removed is usually performed without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions. Unnecessary, retrograde and associated with a host of physical ailments, the surgery also can saddle a woman with a lifetime of psychological issues.

The very purpose of the surgery — to deprive a woman of sexual pleasure — is religiosity at its worst. Only a monster would support such a thing.

A monster — or the Liberal government, according to the blinkered thinking of Conservative MP Michelle Rempel. She seems to believe that the 23rd prime minister of Canada, along with its 20th immigration minister, are in favour of the practice.

Why? Because the Liberal government (she suggests) plans to remove from the pending new citizenship guide a reference to female genital mutilation, which is listed among other “barbaric cultural practices,” including honour killings and forced marriage.

“Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws,” the current guide helpfully points out.

In fact, ‘plans to remove’ is too strong a statement, as the Liberals have yet to release the new citizenship guide, which newcomers use to study for the citizenship test. Nor have the Liberals said that the reference would be excised from the guide, despite the leak of a draft copy this summer that didn’t include it. Whenever he is asked about it, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen typically spouts the words “consultation” and “stakeholders” ad absurdum.

Rempel, who serves as the party’s shadow minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, sees something altogether nefarious in all this bureaucratese. And should the Liberals indeed remove the mention of female genital mutilation, it will be a “tacit message to people that perhaps the Canadian government is OK with it,” Rempel recently said during a radio interview.

open quote 761b1bRempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested Hussen was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

So, there you have it. Canada’s current government is in favour of the forced, ritual removal of a part of a woman’s anatomy, according to the Official Opposition. To be clear, Rempel says she doesn’t know why the Liberal government would be gung ho on such a thing. But that hasn’t stopped her from speculating — on the record.

During a recent parliamentary committee hearing, Rempel lobbed loaded questions at Hussen, the apparent goal of which was to suggest the Prime Minister’s Office had asked for the reference to be removed. After Hussen said the PMO hadn’t instructed him to do anything, Rempel aimed for the jugular — or rather, below the belt. “What is your personal view?” Rempel asked Hussen, before the committee chair mercifully cut her off.

Hussen hails from Somalia, where the rate of female genital mutilation is the highest in the world, according to UNICEF. He is a refugee who fled war and strife to become a Canadian citizen and eventually a federal cabinet minister. Rempel’s line of questioning strongly suggested he was a cypher, using his position to foist the practice of ritual mutilation on an unsuspecting Canadian public.

The reference to female genital mutilation in the citizenship guide is similarly loaded. Telling potential citizens that cutting off another person’s body parts is illegal and will be punished is … redundant. Worse still, the inference is clear, and is aimed squarely at a certain subset of would-be Canadian citizens: Muslims.

Not coincidentally, female genital mutilation is carried out in roughly 30 countries, nearly all of them in Africa and nearly all predominantly Muslim. The inclusion of the phrase in the 2011 citizenship guide, much like the Conservative’s “barbaric cultural practices hotline” gambit during the 2015 election, is the stuff of cynical wedge politics meant to leverage revulsion against an identifiable religious group.

It conveniently ignores the fact that immigrants and refugees often flee their countries of origin specifically because of such practices. And it vastly overstates the scope of the problem in Canada.

As in Europe, instances of genital mutilation in this country remain isolated tragedies, and often come to light as a result of arrests. Moreover, the rate of female genital mutilation among those 30 countries has decreased by 30 per cent since 1985, according to UNICEF.

Meanwhile, other types of crimes in Canada are far more common. There were 1,409 police reported hate crimes in 2016 — an increase of 20 per cent since 2013. The homicide rate has also increased by 20 per cent in that time period. There were over 220,000 assaults across the country in 2016, and roughly 159,000 instances of breaking and entering.

One wonders why Rempel isn’t pushing the federal government to remind potential citizens that murder, assault, thievery and race-based aggression are illegal in this country and will be punished. Because it’s obvious, perhaps?

via The cynical roots of Rempel’s female genital mutilation crusade – iPolitics

Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide

Of course, the citizenship guide should maintain a reference to FGM.

But this needs to be placed in the broader context of violence against women and the history of how Canadian society has evolved in terms of women’s rights, definition of sexual assault, employment equity and the like, not just with an identity politics bumper sticker of “barbaric cultural practices”:

Federal Conservatives are pressuring the Liberal government to ensure that the final draft of the new citizenship guide includes a warning that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a crime in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak to the guide when pressed about the issue in question period Wednesday, but said he is committed to ending the “barbaric practice” around the world.

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel noted in the House of Commons that the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — better known as UN Women — tweeted about FGM as part of its “16 days of activism.”

The UN group called FGM — the intentional cutting of female genital organs for non-medical reasons — a human rights violation that has been perpetuated against 200 million women and girls.

“Canada’s citizenship guide informs newcomers that FGM is a crime in Canada. However Canada’s prime minister has decided to delete this information,” Rempel charged.

The MP was referencing a working copy of the new citizenship guide the government is preparing. The draft, which was obtained by The Canadian Press in the summer, reportedly omits lines stating that certain “barbaric cultural practices,” such as FGM and honour killings, are illegal in Canada. The previous Tory government included those warnings in their overhauls of the guide.

Rempel urged Trudeau in the House to stand with FGM survivors and the UN by reversing what she called his “decision.” She made similar comments on Twitter shortly after question period.

Trudeau responded that he “personally brought up this issue” during a visit to Liberia last year, “challenging local leaders and governments to step up on the fight against FGM.”

Then he said something that drew an immediate reaction from Tories.

“We will continue to lead the way pushing for an end to these barbaric practices of female genital mutilation everywhere around the world. This is something… and here in Canada… this is something we take very seriously.”

Tories bashed Trudeau over comments in 2011

The use of the word “barbaric” harkens back to a controversy in 2011, when Trudeau was serving as the immigration critic of the then-opposition Liberals. He initially took exception to the way the Tories’ revamped citizenship guide described honour killings as “barbaric.”

Trudeau said at the time that the government should have instead called all violence against women “absolutely unacceptable” and made a better “attempt at responsible neutrality.” Top Tories, including then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, relentlessly blasted Trudeau over his remarks.

Trudeau later apologized and retracted his initial take on the guide.

“I want to make it clear that I think the acts described are heinous, barbaric acts that are totally unacceptable in our society,” he said in a statement at the time, according to CBC News.

The debate over so-called “barbaric cultural practices” also factored heavily in the 2015 election, when the Tories famously pledged to create a tip line for Canadians to call if they suspected a child or woman could fall victim to forced marriage, FGM, or polygamy. Liberals said then that the Conservatives’ campaign pledge was really about stoking “fear and division.”

PM brings up lessons from 2015 election

Trudeau referenced that ill-fated Tory promise in the House Tuesday while responding to Conservative questions about how his government is handling suspected ISIS terrorists after they return to Canada. The prime minister said Tories have learned nothing from the results of the last federal vote.

“They ran an election on snitch lines against Muslims, they ran an election on Islamophobia and division, and still they play the same games, trying to scare Canadians,” Trudeau shouted.

“The fact is we always focus on the security of Canadians, and we always will. They play the politics of fear, and Canadians reject that.”

via Tories Push Trudeau To Keep FGM Warning In Citizenship Guide