UK girls are being flown to Kenya to have their genitals mutilated but the British have no moral right to complain about this practice when we continue to turn a blind eye to unnecessary male circumcision says Glen Poole.
Wealthy Somalis living in the UK are flying their daughters to Kenya to undergo ritual FGM (female genital mutilation). There they are handed over to traditional practitioners like 80-year-old Dubey Sankader, who uses a support team of 10 women to pin down the girls while performs female circumcision in a temporary shelter made of sticks, wood and leaves.
In an interview published by Bloomberg this month, Sankader is reported to have said: “It’s painful and most of them faint in the middle of the rite, while others make loud noises and cries, but they are subdued by my permanent staff”.
While FGM has been illegal in Kenya since 2011, the practice is still commonplace and the UK is powerless to act when it comes to protecting Somali girls whose families have made Britain their home.
We aren’t legally powerless. Taking a girl out of the country in order to mutilate her genitals is against British law and today the prime minister, David Cameron has announced that new measures will be introduced meaning parents who fail to stop their daughters undergoing FGM will face prosecution.
However, rather than empowering ourselves when it comes to making a difference for women and girls, we disempower ourselves by becoming moral hypocrites who apply one rule to women and girls and another rule to men and boys. We essentially tell parents from other cultures that their tradition of performing rituals on boys' genitals is tolerable and but performing rituals on girls' genitals is intolerable---one act is good and right , the other is bad and wrong.
Men are being forcibly circumcised in Africa
Meanwhile in Kenya, a man was dragged by a gang of men into his local church clinic and forcibly circumcised this weekend, according to media reports. After the operation, the Kenyan Post reported that his wife was overheard saying that she is “now assured of total satisfaction in bed”.
The forced circumcision of men and boys is neither uncommon nor illegal across Africa. There are many forms of ritual circumcisions which kill scores of young men every year, there are incidents of forced circumcision where men belonging to tribes who don't circumcise are chased and forcibly circumcised by men from tribes who do circumcise and then there is the bizarre importation of circumcision to prevent AIDS by the World Health Organisation, a campaign that has been heavily criticised.
The situation for men and boys in the UK is less severe and yet many boys in African families living in the UK are at risk and unlike their sisters, their parents don't need to take them abroad to have their genitals mutilated. High profile incidents of African boys being subjected to forced circumcision in the UK include Goodluck Caubergs who died aged just 27 days old after being circumcised by a midwife and Angelo Ofori-Mintah who died aged 28 days old after being circumcised by a Rabbi. Earlier this month we also reported the story of a trainee doctor who divorced her African-born husband after he had their son circumcised without her consent or knowledge.
Moral double standards
There is a moral double standard at play here. While we essentially tell people of African heritage that they are wrong to perform rituals on their daughters genitals both in the UK and in Africa, we stand silently by while African men and boys in the UK and Africa are dying as a result of being subjected to ritual circumcision. Worse still, we support the highly contentious export of medical circumcision into Africa in the fight against AIDS.
And therein lies our moral dilemma. Anyone who has spent time studying the different types of male and female genital mutilation knows that the following statement holds true---male circumcision in all its forms is different and sometimes worse than the many different forms of female circumcision (and female circumcision is different and sometimes worse than male circumcision).
If we are serious about protecting the genital autonomy of African girls (and girls of all nationalities), then surely we'll get there a lot quicker---and with far greater moral integrity---if we also take a stand to preserve the genital autonomy of men and boys in Africa, the UK and the rest of the world.
Photo: Courtesy of DFID shows the UK's government minister for international development Lynne Featherstone supporting the "FGM or excision can kill" campaign in Burkina Faso.
Article by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men