UGANDA: Female circumcision hurts women’s dignity

By Lule Joseph

Despite visible progress in the battle against female circumcision (genital mutilation), the practice is yet to go away. In some rural areas, victims continue to painfully nurse wounds from the cultural practice that has affected the physical integrity of women and children.

The right to life and physical integrity are considered core human rights. These rights, while often associated with the right to freedom from torture, encompass a number of broader human rights principles, including the inherent dignity of the person, the right to liberty and security of person, and the right to privacy. Acts of violence that result in death or severe bodily harm obviously interfere with a person’s rights to life, physical integrity and privacy.
Physical integrity is the right to make independent decisions in matters affecting one’s own body. An unauthorised invasion or alteration of a person’s body represents a disregard for that fundamental right.

Female genital mutilation violates the right to life in the event that death results from the ritual. Since the practice is premised on the notion that women’s bodies are inherently flawed and require correction, it does not respect women’s inherent dignity. Respect for women’s dignity implies acceptance of their physical qualities natural appearance of their genitalia and their normal sexual function. A decision to alter those qualities should not be imposed upon a woman or girl for the purpose of reinforcing socially defined roles.

Similarly, because female genital mutilation is an intervention into one of the most intimate aspects of a woman’s life, her sexuality, the practice violates her privacy rights. It is also a form of violence against women because it may be against the victim’s will or be carried out before she has attained age of consent (18 years).

Deprivation of liberty is obvious when girls are forcibly restrained during the ritual. Young women are highly susceptible to coercion by adults. The child may also feel coerced due to various types of persuasion. Children are also unlikely to understand and have access to information about the consequences of the practice and potential complications.

Refusing to undergo the practice may jeopardise a woman’s family relations, her social life and her ability to find a spouse. The fear of these consequences, make meaningful consent impossible.

Therefore, a woman may consent not because she accepts the tradition but because she fears the repercussions of refusing.

The UN regards the practice as an act of violence against women. The Torture Convention defines torture as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person. This definition does not reflect the mental state of most genital mutilation practitioners and parents procuring genital mutilation for their daughters.

Family members may procure the ritual for girls with hope of securing their acceptance in society or meeting culturally-defined obligations. Pain and suffering are not inflicted solely to cause harm or for the purpose contemplated in the Torture Convention’s definition.

Can the practice be regarded as “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as per the definition of torture above? If such treatment requires intent to harm, the practice cannot fall within its parameters.

The writer is a volunteer with Uganda Voluntary Development Association

SOURCE: New Vision Online
DATE: 2/18/2007
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