The interventions result in counterproductive results. Jonneke Koomen

Topics: CultureTradition


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Last updated: March 14, 2019

The highly controversial practiceof female genital cutting (FGC) has sparked widespread discussion between in-and outsiders, all with different stances.

In February 2017 the EuropeanCommission has reaffirmed its position to eradicate FGC globally. This essaywill discuss possible consequences of this position on FGC and put the silenceof the European Commission on male circumcision (MC) under scrutiny.In general, FGC is a human rights issue.In 1993, The Declaration on the Elimination ofViolence against Women clearly states in Article 2 that any woman has the right to befree of any kind of violence, inflicted for whatever reasons. Since humanrights are made to be universal, every state ought to respect, protect andfulfil these rights. On the other hand there are many states which would arguethat human rights are not universal, but encompass a Western standard, which is being forced uponcertain states (Arosemena, p. 312). FGC is present all over the world, but it ismost dominant in African cultures.

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In Article 4 of the African Charter of humanrights state that human beings have the right to their integrity. Critics ofthese charters, like Fuambai Ahmadu, argue that studies are biased and notunderstanding of the intricacies of the practice because they have mostly beenconducted by outsiders, who have either not undergone the procedure or are fromexternal societies. Due to that, she argues, they cannot possibly understandwhat this ritual means for insiders. For her FGC means the right of passage,the translation from human to a full woman.On the other hand, many reason in favour ofthe practice, like tradition, religion or myths are simply not justifying thepractice and are outweighed by the arguments against it (Slack, pp. 458-461). AllisonSlack emphasises negative medical consequences, but also argues against the otherreason justifying the practice. She strongly discourages the practice, whilealso acknowledging the deep traditional embedment of this practice in certainsocieties.

Furthermore she argues that outside values might result in adisruption of this delicate cultural balance. Therefore she suggests amultidisciplinary approach, containing legislation and educational programs.Through this she means to achieve the eradication of FGC.Nevertheless often interventions result in counterproductiveresults. Jonneke Koomen argues that anti-FGC campaigns oversee why theseprocedures are so dominant in these cultures. Reasons for this dominance areanti-colonial resistance and efforts to defend land and autonomy. Furthermorehe argues that if we demonize FGC all together, and legally restrict it, itcould result in a severe backlash.

He further argues that education isembroiled in politics, and therefore cannot be characterized as localknowledge, which then would help to stop the practice. He thus labels out theimportance of translation, from big hostile interventions to small sensitivecampaigns. But even initiatives, defined as culturally sensitive inevitablyencounter limits of translation. Interventions as small as they may be, willinvariably invoke far-reaching contestations of the meaning of bodilyintegrity, the relationship between community and the individual and theboundaries of community membership.Forthese reasons the statement of the European Commission cannot be referred to aswholly or effective, and thus is not yet justifying interventions against thepractice. Considering the vehement position of theEuropean Commission on FGC, one might ask why only selected practices are inthe aim of the European Commission and not every harmful practice, containingFGC and MC altogether.

 In Amelie Barrasand Dia Dabby’s paper Only Skin Deep,it is put into question to why MC is not seen the same as FGC. Freedom ofreligion seems to be the most present reason. In contrast to FGC, which isconsidered to be not “religious enough”, in that sense degrading it to acultural and traditional practice. They argue that as soon as a culturalpractice is not lenient with Western standards it is not acceptable.Furthermore they argue that MC has become to be associated with a secular,modern, and healthy body, ultimately seen as a ritual, a sort of humaneprocess. Even though they label out that both, FGC and MC, have started out aspractices to battle illnesses, they have been differentiated.

First it is saidthat historically speaking men were made to endure more pain, secondly theforeskin was seen as feminine and thirdly it was used to distinguish the richfrom the poor. All of these reasons do not seem to satisfy contemporary viewson MC. Though MC remains to be seen as “harmless ritual” while FGC is describedas “negative traditional practice”. This is mostly due to the religiousconnection of MC, which then raises the question of religious boundaries. If human rights were as universal as theyclaim, any violation of bodily integrity should be condemned, due to anyreason. Even though MC is deeply intertwined with certain religions, it is not avalid reason for European Commission to not condemn this with the same efforts. The statement does encourage theeradication of FGC, but nowhere even mentions MC.

That could be interpreted asa relativistic religious focus, which would undermine the universality of humanrights. Therefore a more unified stance on defending any violation of humanrights also deepens the universality of human rights. In SusanMarks article Human Rights and RootCauses, she discusses possible underlying patterns of injustice or harm thatcause human rights violations. Additionally she exemplifies how sometimesreports completely forget to address root causes of these violations. She proposesthat human rights should not only address “symptoms”, but also underlyingcauses of these violations (Marks, p.

59). That suggests that often violationsof human rights point to other deeper causes, other wrongs deeply entrenchedwith enabling conditions. While human rights put an emphasis on technical problemson technical problems and solutions, the issues are far more complex than theyappear (Marks, p. 71).RegardingFGC and MC, this suggests that we need to look at the underlying patters ofthese practices, being religious or traditional.

 The point thisstatement seems to dismiss, is that whether the reason for these practices arereligious, traditional or communal, they have certain gravity in a person’slife. Speaking from a Western perspective, it seems almost parochial that supposed’grass-roots level’ initiatives should fundamentally change societal, politicaland educational structure. We oversee the complexity, while we speak of the enforcementof human rights.

FGC and MC should be treated no different, but ought to bedealt with the utmost respect.

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