FGM/C Shifting Sands

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The prosecution of Dawoodi Bohra women: some reasonable doubts

Published 30 April 2021 Associated Categories Featured, Legal, Responses
prosecution of Dawoodi Bohra women

Two court cases in 2019 involving Dawoodi Bohras (a Shia Muslim sect), one in Australia and one in Detroit, USA have raised important questions about FGM/C, the nature of its prohibition and lawful practice in regard to it.

The Australian High Court confirmed, on appeal, that it is unlawful to perform FGM/C through acts akin to ritual nicks to the clitoris or clitoral prepuce.

Defendants in the U.S. were acquitted because the judge concluded Congress does not have the authority to make FGM/C illegal, and that U.S. law preventing it is unconstitutional.

Dr Richard A. Shweder’s paper “The prosecution of Dawoodi Bohra women: some reasonable doubts” is written in response.

In summary he says “Muslim women of the Dawoodi Bohra community have recently been prosecuted because they customarily adhere to a religiously based gender-inclusive version of the Jewish Abrahamic circumcision tradition. In Dawoodi Bohra families it is not only boys but also girls who are circumcised. And it is mothers who typically control and arrange for the circumcision of their daughters. By most accounts the circumcision procedure for girls amounts to a nick, abrasion, piercing or small cut restricted to the female foreskin or prepuce (often referred to as ‘the clitoral hood’ or in some parts of Southeast Asia as the ‘clitoral veil’). From a strictly surgical point of view the custom is less invasive than a typical male circumcision as routinely and legally performed by Jews and Muslims. The question arises: if the practice is legal for the gander why should it be banned for the goose?”

Key messages include:

  • Wherever there is female circumcision there is male circumcision – the custom is gender-inclusive.
  • The tradition of gender-inclusive Abrahamic circumcision has broad support among Dawoodi Bohra Muslim women.
  • Female circumcision as practised by Dawoodi Bohra women is less invasive than male circumcision as legally practised by Muslims and Jews.
  • Why should girls be excluded from the Abrahamic circumcision tradition? If it is legal for boys why shouldn’t it be legal for girls?
  • Has the time come to rethink the expression ‘female genital mutilation’? Is it a ‘no brainer’ or has it made us ‘brain dead’?

The paper is Open Access.

Correspondence welcomed by Dr Shweder at rshd@uchicago.edu

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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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