What is the point of debating the use of anti-FGM legislation



The value of debating the use of anti-Female Genital Mutilation laws was questioned by members. Two main arguments were put forth.

Firstly, one of the members pointed out that any criticisms or arguments against anti-FGM legislation could apply to any existing law in the field of child protection or human rights in general. The law paves the way for social change but does not enshrine it. It is only a necessary step towards the elimination of the practice and a change in attitudes, which must be accompanied and complemented by education and awareness campaigns in particular.

“There are very few places in this world where a law is being implemented and respected just because it is law. Quality of prosecution, under-reporting, lack of resources and the resistance of local communities are universal challenges no matter the issue which is being legislated –drugs, human trafficking, gang violence, pedophilia, and no matter the location -Latin America, Africa, the US, EU! Laws don’t work right away and are rarely (if ever) easily implemented. 

A dangerous logic: if we are responsible for making justice function, does that mean we should renounce laws? Should all forms of abuse and all types of crimes become legal? 

As far as I know, laws are only the beginning of the social change process, not the only one, but the strongest signal that a specific abusive practice should stop. Whatever is not illegal, nor criminalized con be debated. FGM, child marriage, domestic violence, honor crimes, homicides, almost everything. I hope you can all see it is not just about FGM. It is about any country where justice may be (temporarily) deficient because of a lack of awareness and education, corruption, organized crime, religion / tradition or any other factor. Even if a law’s existence does not automatically guarantee the victim’s security, the lack of laws give abusers free rein and open a question to debate: “Why shouldn’t we cut (abuse / exploit / torture / kill)?”

Another member then stressed the importance of questioning the effectiveness and effects of the law. Indeed, through this debate it is possible to improve the quality of the law and to question the environment in which the law operates and which affect its application and acceptance by society:

“I believe that the discourse on the utility of anti-FGM laws is a healthy debate that we ought to have as proponents of the anti-FGM agenda without necessarily classifying it as a for or against argument.

I admit that the existence of laws criminalizing FGM is the beginning of the social change process, but we must also critically assess whether the law has been useful in ending FGM within our respective jurisdictions. The law doesn’t exist or operate in a vacuum. It is meant to – in one way or another – sanction, regulate and/or restrict; and the purpose for the applicability of anti-FGM laws is deterrence.

In this context and with the following question: ‘can social change be legiferated in order to put an end to FGM?’ I would like to challenge all the participants: if the answer is affirmative, we must raise our discourse “to what extent?” and “to what aim?”. Nevertheless, if the answer is no; we must then create safe spaces where we can objectively ask why (including the shortcomings or negative effects of these laws) and what are the hindrances and/or challenges we face in the implementation of these laws.

I am optimistic that the law has not failed and will never fail in the campaign to ending FGM and we cannot give up on anti-FGM laws.”

Following the same logic, a third member recalled the importance of environmental and external factors in the successful implementation of laws. Law is an important instrument for protection and advocacy but is not sufficient in itself and it’s success is not ensured by it’s mere existence but is fed by additional measures.

“Laws are important to protect women and girls, hold perpetrators accountable and provide redress for victims of FGM. Laws can be a powerful tool for women, girls and civil society to ensure that governments do not fail in their responsibility to establish measures to protect women and girls from FGM. Nevertheless, some non-legal measures (public awareness campaigns, community conversations, training on law enforcement, education, engagement of health professionals and men, ensuring safe spaces for women and their communities to discuss and report FGM cases) can help promote public awareness and community ownership of anti-FGM laws, which I believe are absolutely crucial for social change and for ensuring better enforcement of anti-FGM laws.”

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