by SENATOR MICHAELIA CASH
Female genital mutilation.
As Australian women, these three words make us recoil in horror.
However for millions of young girls around the world, these three words represent an abhorrent act which will change their lives forever. And no, not for the better.
Just one week ago, West Australian police charged a couple with subjecting their baby daughter to genital mutilation. Today news has emerged that two Sydney residents have been charged by police in connection with the genital mutilation of two young girls, aged 6 and 7. This from the Daily Telegraph:
Police arrested the Sheik, 56, from Auburn and the 68-year-old nurse earlier today. The children’s parents were charged last Friday with two counts of female mutilation.
NSW Police Force’s Sex Crimes Squad began investigating the allegations earlier this year and set up Strike Force Longfield and have been been working closely with NSW Health and the Department of Family and Community Services.
Police will allege the two girls had the procedure, which is also known as female circumcision, performed on them in NSW when they were aged six and seven.
The practice of female genital mutilation, or FGM, is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women and is illegal in Australia.
The practice, which varies from country to country and between regions, involves partial or total removal of the clitoris, or excision of any other part of the genitals including the labia majora and labia minora, or any other kind of mutilation of the genitalia.
Perhaps one of the worst aspects of this practice is that it is mostly carried out on girls up to the age of 15. An estimated 100-140 million women have experienced genital mutilation worldwide and three million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedure every year. Deformed and in pain, these girls are denied any kind of real childhood.
There are no benefits that come from this violent procedure. None. What it can cause is infertility, severe bleeding, infection, trouble with urination, cysts, fistula, the need for further surgeries, complications in childbirth and increased risk of infant mortality.
As someone who values gender equality, it is impossible to imagine the pain and the horror that women and girls subjected to this brutal practice experience. But that immediate pain is replaced with a lifetime of both physical and often psychological suffering. It is impossible to comprehend the lifetime of suffering these girls and women experience and the trauma they go through.
Consider the case of Faduma, who was subjected to FGM at the age of 6. She told SBS in an interview:
‘You bleed, you just cry, you can’t defend yourself…imagine having an operation live without anything. Somebody is cutting your body and you are just lying there hopeless.’
World Health Organisation estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM, and a UN Women report confirms that:
‘a growing number of women and girls among immigrant communities have been subjected to or are at risk of female genital mutilation in Australia and New Zealand, as well as in countries in Europe and North America.’
In 2010, the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne reported it was seeing between 600 and 700 cases of women each year who were victims of FGM – and keep in mind this is only the women who both needed and sought medical attention.
It is fair to say that Western society, and in particular Western women, have been too reluctant to point out and too slow to condemn the plight of women outside the West for fear that any censure of anti-female practices would be seen as culturally insensitive.