FGM/C Shifting Sands

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Some women are considered more equal than others in regard to genital modifications

Published 26 November 2023 Associated Categories Legal
Some women are more equal than others in regard to genital modifications

In Australia, some women can now consent to cosmetic genital modifications while others cannot.

In November 2023 an Australian Court of Criminal Appeal upheld that the offence of FGM does not apply to female adults. Except for those to whom it does!

Yes, you read that correctly. In regard to genital modifications, those considered to be cosmetic surgery are now allowed while others, considered FGM, are not. They remain illegal, even for adult females who consent to them.

In Australia as in the UK, double standards operate in this regard. 

The New South Wales Court found that Brendan Russell, a Body Modification Artist (BMA) who performed cosmetic labiaplasty on a woman, with her consent, should not have been convicted of FGM contrary to s 45(1)(a) of the Crimes Act 1900.

As a result, the appellate court concluded that ground 1 of the appeal was successful and the trial judge had erred in ruling that the offence of FGM under section 45(1)(a) of the Act applies to body modifications performed on adult women who have consented to such modifications. But only for reasons other than traditional or ritualistic practices, collectively known as ‘FGM’.

Other charges against him were upheld.

In Australia, FGM carries a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison. The BMA had initially received a 10 years sentence with a non-parole period of 7 years and 6 months following a Judge alone trial.

This has now been reduced to an aggregate sentence of 7 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 5 years and 3 months.

This is good news. And reflects that most adult females can and should be able to consent to having genital modifications carried out on their bodies without them being labelled FGM.

But that this applies to some women only is worrying and needs contesting. As in the UK, if it is perceived as being done for ritualistic or traditional reasons, the charge of FGM applies.

That’s because some women are deemed incapable of giving consent to genital procedures viewed as FGM. They are by law denied the right to exercise the agency that others can. They are treated as children.

This is unacceptable and the law needs to be  reviewed. Double standards which infantilise specific adults should not be legal.

And in my opinion trials like these are best heard before Juries.

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About the Author -

Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.


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