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When Is A Genital Nick OK?

When I heard the recent May announcement by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), to take a neutral stand on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and allow doctors to do a genital “nick” on little girls, I remembered the girl I will call “Lily. “
She was a Hmong-American girl and one of my best friends when I was in college.
Lily came across as a cheerful and carefree person, but it was only when I got to know her closely that I found out that she had a deep and painful secret. When she was about thirteen years old, and living in the mid-west, a Hmong American man kidnapped her and held her hostage in his house, where he also raped her. In the eyes of the Hmong American community Lily was now “married” to this man. Read the whole article here
http://www.wordworth.com/editorials.htm

Comments

Carri Pence's picture

Turning a blind eye to issues

Turning a blind eye to issues to create a president of keeping women a second class citizen has tarnished the whole world, and I am thankful that you brought this issue up in the U.S. Furthermore, I am happy that you brought up the fact that so many countries and NGOs use "culture" as a way to place barriers on women to gain equality. I look forward to hearing more stories from you here on PulseWire because you are a huge asset to this community with your views about gender issues and your strong voice.

Rita Banerji's picture

Women as second class

thank you for your comment Carrie. I often observe how in these "cross cultural" debates, where two communities accommodate each other -- it is like the men shaking hands, while the women are the sacrificial lambs. The same debate had gone on initially with 'honor killings,' which now most countries in Europe and North American have zero tolerance for. But it is funny to me -- the Hmong in the U.S. had another tradition. Back in Laos and Vietnam, they used opium as a regular substance and grew it in their fields, and even used it as pacifier for their babies (in small doses). So when they began arriving in the U.S. -- they would start planting this in their backyards with other vegetables, for "domestic" use. And of course the police immediate put a stop to it :))

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

jadefrank's picture

traditions vs. human rights

Dear Rita,

Thank you for sharing this powerful story of your friend Lily and her mother's determination to seek justice for her daughter's abuse - to encourage her to stand up for her rights and follow her dreams to pursue her own life's path.

And thank you for highlighting this important issue that the US faces as a host to immigrant communities. When cultural practices infringe on human rights, it's up to our government to protect the safety and well-being of its citizens, rather than appeasing the immigrant community and allowing a harmful custom like FGM to go on.

Honoring cultural traditions is important, but honoring human rights is an obligation.

Rita Banerji's picture

Honoring Cultural Traditions

Hi Jade,

I have often argued that 'Cultural' Traditions are actually a smokescreen for a community to continue to do whatever it pleases without being accountable for its actions. So India is so proud of low rates of divorce. The tradition of The Great Indian Family. But if divorce was more acceptable -- at least 25000 young married women who are killed in dowry related incidents in India every year would still be alive! In many of these cases there is pressure on the woman to remain in the marriage even when there is violence, both from her own parents and the extended society. There is an old saying in India, "A daughter leaves the parents' house in a wedding palanquin. It is only in her coffin that she can return."

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rita Banerji's picture

Revoked

The important thing is that the Women's groups and the Human rights groups in the U.S. acted swiftly and strongly and very quickly the AAP realized its mistake and revoked its propasal!

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

JaniceW's picture

Human rights

This has been a controversial topic and the American Academy of Pediatrics initially suggested that American doctors be given permission to perform a ceremonial pinprick or “nick” on girls from these cultures if it would keep their families from sending them overseas for the full circumcision.

The academy’s committee on bioethics, in a policy statement said some pediatricians had suggested that current federal law, which “makes criminal any non-medical procedure performed on the genitals” of a girl in the United States, had had the unintended consequence of driving some families to take their daughters to other countries to undergo mutilation.

However, in initially endorsing the practice, the message they were sending to the world is that it's okay to disfigure female children with no medical reason to do so (disfigurement that can cause serious complications) and that permitting a practice that continues the subjugation of women is acceptable.

Fortunately, the AAP backed down and deemed all forms of genital mutilation unacceptable. We must, as a free nation, hold firm to our convictions and insist that all forms of female circumcision is an abuse of young girl's rights and the practice must be stopped worldwide.

Rita Banerji's picture

Absolutely!

Hello Janice,

Absolutely. What the U.S. does in it internal policies with immigrant communities and their traditions and cultures, does serve as a reflecting mirror back in their home countries. And a very strong message needs to be sent out to African/Arab nations with regards to FGM -- that there zero tolerance for FGM.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Horrifying

I am so glad to hear that the AAP backed down from this. Cultural relativity must not come at the expense of people's rights and well-being. Thank you very much for writing this article Rita.

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Rita Banerji's picture

Cultural Relativity

Hi Rachel,

Things like 'honor killings,' and FGM actually do not fall in the realm of cultural relativity. Because the intention from the start is to (even within the culture) subdue women through the use of violence. Maybe food, and clothing, etc. like wearing turbans or beards for religious reason could be debated or accommodated and are culturally relative.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Cultural Relativity

Hi Rita,

What I meant by my comment, was that many harmful practices that oppress women (and are not as extreme as FGM, such as clothing, religious practices as you mention), over the years, have been accepted on the basis of cultural relativity. My point was that things like FGM (which have been argued to be part of 'culture') are just a very, very extreme example of the argument for cultural relativity. I actually am quite opposed to most arguments for cultural relativity, from the minor examples to the extreme, because I feel that almost always, it is an argument used as an excuse for a practice or belief which degrades a person (almost always women). So, we are in complete agreement, except for the use of the term it seems!

Cheers,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Rita Banerji's picture

I know what you mean

Dear Rachael,

I figured that is what you meant :)

The reason I wrote that is because I know, for eg. even within India that people use the excuse of 'cultural differences,' to perpetuate horrible crimes. Right now there is a debate going on about 'honor killings' in India. Every other day, in villages a young couple that falls in love and marrys against their family's wishes are gang lynched by their own families. They are gruesome stories. And in the intellectual and political circles there is a discussion going on that we should not label these as 'barbaric' or 'illegal' because they are cultural practices. In fact there is now a group that is formed that intends to move the Supreme Court to "illegalize" these marriages so they can continue to implement their own brand of "justice." 3 months ago I was giving a seminar, where a High Court judge from the city also spoke. And he essentially told me that he has attended many international conferences and they all agree that 'human rights' must be taken in a 'cultural context.' And I said "What exactly does that entail?" And he just evaded my question.

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Complete agreeance

How amazingly frustrating to hear a High Court Judge speak like that. When I hear of an instance where 'cultural context' is actually used to support women instead of suppress them, then I will reverse my stance! Part of the issue is that if you are a white woman from the US, this stance against 'cultural context' or 'cultural relativity' is sometimes labeled as cultural imperialism, making it a fine line to walk. However, I think this is in large part because the women who are affected by these cultural practices in particular don't necessarily have the ability to speak out for themselves. I am sure most women, given the chance, would condemn harmful 'cutulral practices'. One more reason why World Pulse and the Pulse Wire forum is so incredibly important: to bring all our voices together for a united front of women's empowerment.

Kind regards,

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

Rita Banerji's picture

Valid point

It is a valid point you have there Rachael. That when white women address the issue they are accused of 'cultural imperialism.' The same thing actually is true for many other human rights issues. All it is is defensiveness. Offense is the best form of defense! But like I say -- take an argument only if it is logical, sensible and coherent. Otherwise throw it right back on their faces.

thanks for engaging,

hugs
Rita

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

sunil's picture

A powerful movie on the subject

I am reminded of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene’s powerful work Moolaadé (2004) which deals with FGM. The movie is set in a village in Burkina Faso, and as the ceremony of so-called purification approaches, four young girls who don't want to be cut run for sanctuary to a woman named Collé, known in the village as a rebel since she refused to have her own daughter cut in the ceremony. Collé invokes the tradition of "Moolaadé," a spell of protection which cannot be broken without incurring retaliation by the spirits. Tying a string of colored yarn across the entrance to her home keeps the girls safe within the sanctuary and the angry village elders and ceremonial followers out. (The word ‘Moolaadé’ literally means ‘sanctuary’)

According to Wendy Harcourt (Body Politics in Development- Critical Debates in Gender and Development; ZED Books, London, 2009), “Sembene’s film underlines how important it is to have respect for and knowledge of a community, but also how important it is not to be caught in tradition and to look at how to support women’s own agency to lead change. Sembene shows how the patriarchal culture of the village-bound women in servitude marked their bodies in many ways…Sembene presents a very useful to think about and respond to FGM…it certainly helped me think…why it is still important to keep asking questions about such highly difficult and controversial subjects as FGM.”

A must see for all!!

Hope springs eternal

Rita Banerji's picture

That is in Africa.

thank you Sunil for the comment. I think this is the way in Africa. But countries like U.S. and U.K. which have strong laws protecting children from sexual abuse -- this should be absolutely forcefully implemented. This is worse than rape! Just imagine the psychological trauma and the physical trauma this girl lives with for the rest of her life that is if she survives at all. I think sometimes U.S. for eg. with the recent Guardian report on how hundreds of girls this summer were taken to africa and mutilated, and not one case was charge. Why? Because they are being culturally sensitive!!! The point I make in this article is that sometimes a country is more worried about its image (for eg. do i appear culturally sensitive) than about protecting the basic right of a child in this case from this unimaginable sexual torture! I think it is ok to debate with things like veils etc. but not this!!

Rita Banerji
www.ritabanerji.com

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