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Female Genital Mutilation: A Violation of Human Rights

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George Washington University
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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) entails all surgical procedures that are conducted on women to enhance partial or total removal of the external genitalia or cause injuries on the females genital organs for cultural rather than medical purposes (Kalev 336). Conferring to UNICEF report released in 2016, more than 200 million women and girls are believed to have undergone FGM while at least 15 million others are at a high risk of undergoing the cut by 2020 (Kalev 324). Despite the increased sensitization to eradicate this barbaric practice, the current efforts have proved to be insufficient in effectively curbing the number of women who undergo FGM, and the capacity to respond to health concerns of millions of women already affected by the vice are estimated to be below average. Notably, international efforts have overly concentrated on preventing the practice while paying less attention to treating the health complications that arise from FGM (Richter 39). Moreover, these institutions fail to address the human rights violated by this vicious cultural practice. As a result, this paper endeavors to situate the practice of FGM and its violation of human rights in both local and international contexts. Moreover, the paper will shed light on the international bodies and organizations that have been in the forefront in eliminating female genital mutilation while at the same time advocating for human rights. Some of the human rights that are infringed by practicing FGM include the right to be free from all forms of discrimination, the right to physical integrity and life, the right to health, and finally the right of a child.

The Right to be Free from all Forms of Discrimination against Women

Conferring to Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that was adopted in 1979, women discrimination is defined as any exclusion, restriction, or distinction that is made on basis of sex and which is conducted with a purpose of impairing the enjoyment and recognition of women, despite their marital status. From this perspective, FGM is presented as a form of discrimination against women that infringes the human rights instruments since the practice is exclusively directed towards women and girls with the intention of interfering with their right of enjoying the fundamental conjugal rights (Karunamoorthi 33). Notably, FGM has profound long-term and short-term physical and mental effects that harm the individuals who are mutilated and further perpetuates the discriminatory belief that women should hold subordinates roles in the society. Essentially, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights accentuates that all human beings are entitled to all rights, freedoms, and privileges that are outlined in the declaration irrespective of their color, race, and gender. The practice of FGM is more pronounced in some parts of Africa and Asia, regions in which FGM is highly advocated for as an important rite of passage (Oba 31). Often, the practice is prerequisite to marriage and is viewed as a requirement for an individual to be considered a full member of the society. Therefore, is vital for the international organizations and the local governments to realize that prohibiting FGM may further increase discrimination since uncircumcised women may be ostracized or be forbidden to marry. As such, governments, in association with other stakeholders and well-wishers should address the issues of women status in the family and general society by promoting womens access to proper education, quality health services, and the overall social norms that tend to encourage the practice of FGM.

The Right to Life and Physical Integrity, including Freedom from Violence

The right to physical integrity entails other aspects such as the freedom from torture, the inherent dignity of an individual, the right to privacy, and finally, the right to security and liberty. Notably, this category of human rights is protected by human rights instruments such the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1 and 3 of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and finally, Preamble Article 9 subsection 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (Karunamoorthi 47). The practice of FGM is associated with severe physical pain and interference of privacy since the practice is conducted in social gatherings. Remarkably, the pain endured during this surgical practice, that sometimes leads to excessive bleeding and infection may result in death. Therefore, this barbaric act interferes with a womans right to privacy, physical integrity, and freedom from violence.

Right to Health

All humans are entitled to live and acquire proper medication and be protected from potential harms that may affect both physical and mental health. FGM is associated with severe pain and mental trauma since it is an invasive procedure that is conducted on healthy body tissues without any medical justification. Therefore, the practice is a gross violation of human rights on health (Oba 23). According to the International Covenant on Social and Economic Rights, the social and cultural subsection recognizes that all humans should have access to the highest attainable standards of mental and physical health. Moreover, the World Health Organization incorporates the aspects of physical, mental, and social well-being in the definition of health, the organization upholds that health does not merely mean the absence of disease or infirmity but rather involves the human inflicted wounds. Notably, the program of action of the International Conference on Population and Development that was held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 includes the upholding of sexual health among women to enhance life and personal relations. Moreover, CEDAWs general recommendation no. 24 that was adopted during the 20th session in 1999 recommends the governments to consider the needs of adolescents and girls who may be defenseless against customary practices such as FGM (Richter 39).

The Rights of Child

FGM is predominantly conducted on young girls who are aged below 18 years; thus the practice violates the fundamental rights of children. Conferring to the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), the role of parents in deciding on behalf of children is acknowledged. Nevertheless, Article 5 of the CRC places the ultimate responsibility of taking care of children on the government institutions. FGM is therefore recognized as a violation of the best interest stands established by the CRC and thus acts as a violation of children rights. Moreover, the CRC, in Article 24 subsection 3 mandates the governments to criminalize traditional practices that are prejudicial to the health of children (Richter 52). Moreover, the concluding observations of the CRC that was conducted in Togo explicitly sensitized and urged governments to enact legislation that will lead to the eventual abolishment of the FGM practice since it is one of the most prevalent forms of violating human rights. Other than the recognition that FGM violates the fundamental human rights, numerous instruments have embarked on radical campaigns to sensitize governments to adopt legislation that prohibits FGM while protecting women and girls who are prone to this vice.

Cultural Relativism Perspective on FGM

Despite FGM being banned in most of the western nations, an alarming number of women undergo the cut, globally; at least 125 million women have had some form of FGM performed on them (Fernando). The sociological perspective of cultural relativism is well illustrated through FGM. Cultural relativism notes that different cultures hold different perspectives regarding what they consider as right or wrong and the standards adhered to vary from one place to another. Since there is no standardization, it is; therefore, wrong to criticize the practice that is upheld by another culture. Conferring to the tenet of cultural relativism, FGM is not viewed as either being a wrong or a right practice (Fernando). The mutilation may be wrong based on the western beliefs but may be permissible according to societal values and customs held by other societies. Nevertheless, it is vital to note that there exist numerous critics against the perspective of cultural relativism. Notably, the tenets of cultural relativism are logically flawed, and the conclusions based on this perspective do not abide by the established premises (Fernando). Conferring to this perspective, cultural values should be given as much weight as other factors; thus some forms of FGM should b allowed due to their cultural importance and as a way of reducing societal discrimination on girls and women who fail to participate in the ritual. Finally, the Emile Durkheim functionalist perspective insinuates that people are a product of their social environment. As such, the limits of human potential are influenced and controlled by social and not biological factors. From this perspective, female genital mutilation is not a biological part of human life, and thus it is the social constructs that facilitate FGM.


Works Cited

Fernando, Mayanthi. Cultural Relativism. Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets, 2013, doi:10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0003.

Kalev, Henriette Dahan. Cultural Rights or Human Rights: The Case of Female Genital Mutilation. Sex Roles, vol. 51, no. 5/6, 2004, pp. 339348, Doi:10.1023/b:sers.0000046617.71083.a6.

Karunamoorthi, Kaliyaperumal. Female Genital Mutilation: A Violation of the Human Rights of Girls and Women a Call for Concrete Policies and Renewed Actions. Journal of Socialomics, vol. 03, no. 01, 2014, doi:10.4172/2167-0358.1000e121.

Oba, Abdulmumini A. Female Circumcision as Female Genital Mutilation: Human Rights or Cultural Imperialism? Global Jurist, vol. 8, no. 3, June 2008, doi:10.2202/1934-2640.1286.

Richter, Johanna. Female genital mutilation (FGM). Human Rights Education through Cine Debat, 2016, pp. 3558., doi: 10.1007/978-3-658-12723-7_2.


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