Female genital mutilation : legal, attitudinal and practical reform

Mathews, Benjamin P. & (2011) Female genital mutilation : legal, attitudinal and practical reform. In Human Rights Colloquium, 24-25 November 2011, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD. (Unpublished)


Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice common in many Islamic societies. It involves the deliberate, non-therapeutic physical modification of young girls’ genitalia. FGM can take several forms, ranging from less damaging incisions to actual removal of genitalia and narrowing or even closing of the vagina. While often thought to be required by religion, FGM both predates and has no basis in the Koran. Rather, it is a cultural tradition, motivated by a patriarchal social desire to control female bodies to ensure virginity at marriage (preserving family honour), and to prevent infidelity by limiting sexual desire.

In the USA and Australia in 2010, peak medical bodies considered endorsing the medical administration of a ‘lesser’ form of FGM. The basis for this was pragmatic: it would be preferable to satisfy patients’ desire for FGM in medically-controlled conditions, rather than have these patients seek it, possibly in more severe forms, under less safe conditions. While arguments favouring medically-administered FGM were soon overcome, the prospect of endorsing FGM illuminated the issue in these two Western countries and beyond.

This paper will review the nature of FGM, its physical and psychological health consequences, and Australian laws prohibiting FGM. Then, it will scan recent developments in Africa, where FGM has been made illegal by a growing number of nations and by the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 2003 (the Maputo Protocol), but is still proving difficult to eradicate. Finally, based on arguments derived from theories of rights, health evidence, and the historical and religious contexts, this paper will ask whether an absolute human right against FGM can be developed.

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ID Code: 48303
Item Type: Conference Item (Presentation)
Refereed: No
Keywords: Female genital mutilation, Human rights, Law reform, International law, Practical reform
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES (180000) > LAW (180100) > Law and Society (180119)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Law
Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Health Law Research
Current > Research Centres > Law and Justice Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Law
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 Benjamin P. Mathews
Deposited On: 29 Jan 2012 21:49
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2015 01:48

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