A voice for women's health

Crimes (Definition of Female Genital Mutilation) Amendment Bill

Crimes (Definition of Female Genital Mutilation) Amendment Bill


The Auckland Women’s Health Council (AWHC) is a voluntary organisation of individual women and women’s groups who have an interest in and commitment to women’s health issues. The organisation was formed in 1988 to provide a voice on women’s health issues in the Auckland region. The Council has a special interest in patient rights, informed consent and decision-making in health care, health consumer advocacy, the Code of Health Consumers’ Rights, the National Cervical Screening Programme, and ethics – issues that were highlighted during the Inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital in 1987-88 and in the recommendations contained in the report known as the Cartwright Report.

We are pleased to see this addition ( i.e. “including all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area”) to the definition of female genital mutilation (FGM) as it brings Aotearoa New Zealand’s definition into line with World Health Guidelines making all forms of FGM illegal. It will also prevent further cases of FGM that have been unable to be prosecuted because of the omission in the definition.

It is also pleasing to see that four women MPs across the political parties have united to bring this amendment Bill into being. AWHC are encouraged too that this Amendment Bill has the support of key members of the refugee and migrant communities for whom FGM has been an expected cultural procedure for their young women to undergo.

A recent qualitative study carried out in Aotearoa New Zealand suggested that legislation can be effective in stopping parents from having their daughters undergo FGM (Said, Conn and Nayar, (2018). They found that the legislation also appeared to legitimise the parents’ decision for their daughters not to be circumcised amongst their refugee/migrant community.

 

We wish to make the following comments 

AWHC is aware of the cultural significance of FGM for some refugee and migrant communities in Aotearoa New Zealand and that it can benefit a young woman’s acceptability within her community and her marriageability. We are also aware that while most types of FGM are illegal in Aotearoa New Zealand that incision of the clitoris currently is not.

From a health perspective all the types of FGM confer no health benefits. Rather they have the potential for physical health complications both immediate (such as pain, shock, and haemorrhage) and long term (e.g. infection, keloid scarring). Such damage also impacts on the woman’s sexual experience, her psychological and psychosexual health and affects her personal relationships (Klein, Helzner, Shayowitz, Kohlhoff & Smith-Norowitz, 2018).

The practice of FGM is performed on girls aged between four to 13 years. It is carried out often without their consent and as such is an abuse of their rights as a child and as a human being. As the World Health Organisation states “a violation of a human’s right to health, security and physical integrity” (WHO, 2018).

 

We wish to make the following recommendations

For both the impact on women’s health and the violation of their rights as children and as human beings, we support the addition of the type four classification to the Crimes Act.

We also recommend that this legislation be enforced through further education and advocacy. As Said, Conn and Nayar (2018) argue, while legislation can be effective in stopping parents’ from having their daughters undergo FGM, justifying this purely from a human rights perspective is not sufficient. It needs to be reinforced through education and advocacy and to draw more on health and wellbeing discourses. The use of peer educators can be particularly effective. AWHC therefore recommends that the government support such educative efforts amongst the refugee and migrant communities who have traditionally practiced FGM.

References

Klein, E., Helzner, E., Shayowitz, M., Kohlhoff, S. & Smith-Norowitz, T. (2018). Female Genital Mutilation: health consequences and complications – A short literature review. Obstetrics & Gynecology International, 28. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/736715.

Said, A., Conn, C. & Nayar, S. (2018). New Zealand should intensify efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation by 2030. The view of women from communities that practice FGM. Pacific Health, 1 (1). World Health Organisation. Female genital mutilation https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation. Retrieved 20 January, 2020.
 

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