How the Gillard Government Wants to Tackle Female Genital Mutilation

On Tuesday night Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government’s intention to attempt to cut down the number of people suffering because of female genital mutilation, or FGM. Julia Gillard, in making her announcement highlighted a number of elements in her government’s plan to cut down on instances of FGM happening in Australia.

First and foremost is a review of the legal framework. There will also be a national summit, cutting out the ritual will become a national health priority and grants will be offered to community organisations so that they can run education campaigns and increase community awareness about the illegality and barbaric nature of the procedure. And finally, the Gillard Government will seek to ensure that there is more research done on the ugly ritual and that better data collection procedures are in place.

The World Health Organisation defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The WHO goes on to say that FGM “involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child.”

Female genital mutilation is most commonly practiced by people in and from African countries, though it does exist in other countries around the world including in the Middle East and Asia.

It is important to note that conducting such procedures has been made illegal in all Australian jurisdictions, with the short operation being illegal when inflicted upon both children and adults.

With this in mind we should look at the individual elements of the package announced by Ms Gillard and whether or not they will be effective in the fight against FGM.

The first aspect of the government’s response to FGM is to review the legal framework.

There is probably little scope for any dramatic change to the laws and any potential changes are not likely to make the largely secretive practice easier to prosecute. And the consistency of legislation across state jurisdictions is not an issue with the practice illegal across the states and territories.

The best response in terms of the legal framework is to make penalties for those found guilty of this form of harm much stronger and perhaps even more clearly distinguished from other crimes involving physical harm. Making the criminal penalty nationally consistent might also help.

The Council of Australian Governments will provide the best forum to discuss changing state-based criminal laws which make FGM illegal.

Another part of the policy response offered by the Labor Government is a national summit on the outlawed act.

This is the most unnecessary and useless part of the policy puzzle when it comes to trying to prevent this type of harm to young girls and women. It will be an expensive exercise which will not in itself provide a catalyst for a dramatic change in the use of FGM techniques and practices in Australia.

Making tackling female genital mutilation a national health priority is, at the very least an important symbol of the government’s desire to try ensure that this vile and unnecessary act is stopped wherever possible. There are short and long-term health related consequences wrought by this particularly grotesque form of bodily mutilation which will also have a growing monetary cost if the problem is not effectively tackled.

Part of the package announced by the PM is the intention to offer grants to community organisations which will educate people about the harm caused by genital mutilation procedures.

Whether or not this kind action will result in a significant decrease in female genital mutilation is yet to be seen. The program will surely have some kind of impact on the number of procedures which occur when the negative medical and legal consequences are made clear. FGM is however a practice strongly entrenched in some cultures.

A further problem with this part of the response however is that the sum of money involved is too small. Only $500,000 is on offer under the proposal from Julia Gillard and that will not be enough for ongoing programs to educate particularly migrant communities about the negative effects of genital mutilation.

Research and data collection will continue to be difficult unless victims present to medical authorities with obvious signs of the effects of female genital mutilation. A nationally consistent reporting mechanism which takes into account both prosecuted cases of FGM and suspected cases should however be pursued.

The government appears willing to make a greater effort to rub out a practice that is very secretive. But there are gaps and unnecessary elements in the response that has been triggered.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on December 13, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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