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“How can Western public health officials, global health institutions and feminist organizations maintain a straight face in condemning African female genital surgeries as FGM and yet turn a blind eye, even issue guidelines for the performance of very similar and sometimes more invasive female genital surgeries on Western women under the guise of cosmetic surgery?”
This argument was highlighted on Wednesday by Sierra Leonean medical and symbolic anthropologist Fuambai S. Ahmadu, PhD at the commencement of the 111th Annual Meeting of The American Anthropological Association (AAA) held at the San Francisco Hilton (Union Square) in San Francisco, California.
This year’s program which runs from November 14 – 18, 2012 features 717 sessions, 34 workshops, 13 innovative events and 183 special events.
Dr Ahmadu, who is also a senior research fellow and public health advisor at the Office of the Vice President in The Republic of Sierra Leone and a staunch advocate of female circumcision organized a special session yesterday titled THE PRACTICE THAT CAN’T BE NAMED: A PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY ADVISORY ON FEMALE GENITAL SURGERIES IN AFRICA.
During her presentation: Free to Choose? Unraveling Gender, Power and Sexuality in Global Policies Concerning African Female Genital Mutilation Versus Western Female Genital, Dr Ahmadu maintained “the question of choice, our freedom to choose what to do with our own bodies has become all the more poignant in the last few years, given the sudden rise in demand for genital modifications by Western women that, at least in terms of final appearance and psychosexual motivations, are very similar to the procedures labeled by WHO as Female Genital Mutilation and declared as a human rights violation.”
The 111th Annual Meeting of the AAA commenced a day after the Hastings Center Public Policy Advisory Network on FSG in Africa – an informal group of anthropologists, feminists, geographical legal scholars, medical researchers, and physicians with expert knowledge about female genital surgeries in Africa who claim that they are concerned about the accuracy, objectivity, fairness, and balance of current media representations of the practice released a policy statement “Western media coverage of female genital surgeries in Africa called ‘hyperbolic’ and one sided.”
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as it is widely called by its opponents is a very contentious issue. The United Nations and its agency the World Health Organization (WHO) describe the practice as procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons or provide any health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths
According to WHO, FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women they say the practice which is “nearly always carried out on minors” is not only a violation of the rights of children but also “violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”
As part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996.17, the United States Congress on September 30, 1996 enacted a provision criminalizing the practice of FGM. The law provides that “whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person under the age of 18 years shall be fined or imprisoned for 5 years.”
Meanwhile, at her closing statement Dr. Ahmad challenged public health researchers or practitioners to disseminate information based on evidence and accuracy “that reflect real risks and benefits; and, for heaven’s sake, we need to stop judging, demonizing and criminalizing African women for upholding their culture while rewarding Western predominantly male doctors who appropriate, rebrand and gain financially from African women’s ancestral traditions and at the expense of Western women’s own sexual insecurities.”
WHO estimates about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM, approximately 92 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone circumcision in Africa.
By Dennis Kabatto
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