Female genital mutilation is one of the most horrific abuses that can be perpetrated on a young girl. It involves the excision of the clitoris, cutting of the labia and, in its most extreme form, sewing the vaginal lips shut.
It has no medical benefits and can lead to severe infection, urinary incontinence, complications in childbirth, death and — in all cases — extreme and unimaginable pain. All in the name of “purity”, of making a girl suitable for marriage by removing her ability to feel pleasure during sex.
One of the most depressing things about FGM is that often it is women who have it done to their daughters. Generation to generation, they perpetuate a cycle of abuse because they believe it is required by their culture or faith.
The experience of one victim, recounted to the Toronto Star, is sadly typical.
WATCH BELOW: UN working to end female genital mutilation by 2030: Ban Ki-moon
Yasmin Mumed was six years old when her grandmother took her to be cut in her Ethiopian village. Women held Mumed down as she struggled. “I just remember screaming … the whole floor was just blood.” Then after the cutting, came a celebration, neighbours bringing treats. “I felt kind of happy after … I felt I was at this different stage of my life.”
Only later in life, as a new Canadian, did Mumed realize that what had been done to her was a violation of her most basic rights — and her sexuality. “It’s like my whole life had been kind of a lie … I just felt like I wasn’t woman enough or I wasn’t whole. Like I wasn’t normal.”
Mumed’s story is far from unique. According to a 2015 e-mail from Global Affairs Canada to a consular official in Kenya, the department believes “it is possible that a few thousand Canadian girls are at risk, some of whom will be taken overseas for the procedure.”
South of the border, CNN reports that “since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the U.S. who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled. The increase is due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest.”
Just this month, a doctor in Michigan was charged with performing genital mutilation on patients in her clinic — two of them as young as seven years old.
You would think that in light of these facts, the Canadian government — which devotes considerable resources to protecting women and girls — would work to combat this kind of child abuse. You would think that a prime minister who is a self-avowed feminist would get involved — and that public education would be key to that effort.
Apparently, you would be wrong. According to a draft of Canada’s new Citizenship Guide, the paragraph which advises newcomers that female genital mutilation is not accepted in Canada — and that “those guilty of (this crime) are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws” — will be removed.
If I had to guess why, I’d suggest it’s because of three other words in that paragraph: “barbaric cultural practices.” That term became a lightning rod in the 2015 federal election, when the Conservatives pledged to set up a “barbaric practices hotline” to report these kinds of horrors — and were tagged as anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and intolerant as a result.
“My first reaction,” MP and Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel told AM640 radio in Toronto, “is that the prime minister wants this to become a divisive political debate where we’re talking about different communities …”
“To deny that we are going to talk about it because the problem is being done in immigrant communities is a big thing right now,” said Aruna Papp, an educator and an advocate on honour-based violence for 35 years.
Those communities include those of many African nations, such as Somalia, Djibouti, Guinea and Sierra Leone, where UNICEF estimates that over 90 per cent of girls aged 15 to 49 years and women have undergone genital mutilation between 2004 and 2015. Other countries practicing FGM include Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Mali. It is also performed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and other South Asian nations. Around the world, the World Health Organization estimates that 200 million women and girls have been mutilated.
When asked what needs to change, Papp is blunt: “The leadership should come from the federal government. And yes, this is barbaric. Period.”
In Canada, anyone who abuses a child — whether they’re members of the Christian sect in Bountiful who forcibly marry underage girls, or members of the Muslim faith who practice female genital mutilation — should face prosecution. There is nothing wrong with telling newcomers this. If our country stands for human rights — for the equality of men and women and the rights of children — this is a no-brainer.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen was not available for an interview, but IRC spokesperson Lisa Filipps said in an e-mail that “Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada is undertaking broader consultations with a wider range of stakeholders, including National Indigenous Organizations and subject matter experts, to ensure the revised content of the Citizenship Study Guide is representative of all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, minority populations, and francophone Canadians.
“Any content shared during the consultation phase is not yet final material. Until the revised guide is officially launched, the current Discover Canada remains the official study guide for the citizenship test.”
In other words, there is still time for the government to change its mind on the excision of this paragraph. Let’s hope — for the sake of every little girl — that it does.