Condemn the practice, not the people

13 December 2012

Women’s Health West would like to commend the Gillard Government on its announcement to implement a raft of measures designed to respond to female genital mutilation (FGM).

Since 1996, the Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program has worked to prevent FGM in Victoria. The state-wide program coordinates community education and professional development training to ensure culturally appropriate and sensitive interventions aimed at eliminating the practice.

Women’s Health West, CEO Dr Robyn Gregory, said that women from FGM affected communities have been instrumental in creating social and cultural change through community ownership and a strong desire to abandon the practice.

‘In Victoria for over a decade now, we have been highly committed to ending FGM. One of the greatest strengths of the Victorian model is that women affected by the practice lead and are at the centre of community development programs designed to eliminate FGM’, Dr Gregory said.

In the wake of the 7.30 Report and the Gillard Government’s plan to boost community awareness and education campaigns, Women’s Health West recommends proceeding with caution.

‘In recent weeks, we have seen highly emotive language used to describe what is being termed a “barbaric practice”. The politics and public debate that surrounds FGM runs the risk of further stereotyping, stigmatising and marginalising minority migrant and refugee communities’, Dr Gregory said.

A strong body of international research shows that to eliminate FGM strategies must be culturally sensitive and encourage community engagement and ownership. Successful approaches also promote the elimination of FGM through a sexual and reproductive rights policy agenda that prioritises gender equity and increased decision-making power for women.

‘We know from international literature and more than a decade of experience in Victoria that if the practice is to cease, strategies must be non-directive, prioritise the human rights of women and girls, and sit within an integrated approach to sexual and reproductive health policy, program and service delivery.’

MEDIA: For more information contact Nicola Harte, Communications Manager on 9689 9588 or email nicolah@whwest.org.au