Back to Annual Meeting
Back to Annual Meeting
APHA Scientific Session and Event Listing

It is Not About the Cut: New Approaches in Protecting the Human Rights of the Girl-Child in Communities That Practice Female Circumcision

Joel Ngugi, Prof, School of Law, University of Washington, William H. Gates Hall, Rm. 315, Box 353020, Seattle, WA 98115, 206-543-7611, jngugi@u.washington.edu

The fight to “eradicate” “female genital mutilation” has become a hot-button issue in human rights and public health discourses. The chief reason for promoting global norms against the practice is health: the practice needlessly exposes millions of women to health risks and psychological harms including short-term and long-term health. Concentrating on the medical reasons alone has not been an optimal method for changing the attitudes of societies that practice female circumcision, however. In part, the reason is that the purported medical implications of female circumcision, while serious, are not widespread. The risks might also seem, in context, to be minor compared to the putative benefits of circumcision. Recognizing this, some community-based organizations in Kenya are pursuing novel approaches to deal with the issue. Rather than focus on the “cut” itself, these organizations are using the female circumcision discourse as a lever to pry open discourses on the socio-economic conditions of women in these societies. These discourses ultimately do more for interrogating the material conditions of women in these societies. In particular, these discourses give the women in these societies “agency” in determining what is appropriate for their children. In Spivak's words, rather than “speak for” these women or “give” these women voice, these organizations only clear the space to allow them to speak. This method of “doing” human rights activism is most likely to succeed in dealing with issues such as female circumcision.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the session, the participant (learner) in this session will be able to

Keywords: Human Rights, Female Genital Mutilation

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No

Promoting and Protecting the Rights of the Child

The 134th Annual Meeting & Exposition (November 4-8, 2006) of APHA