Forum: FGM/C and Forced Marriages
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is illegal in Victoria and there is little evidence of practice across the state. However, with 34,000 people living in Victoria from countries where FGM/C is concentrated, it is critical that health and community services understand the issue and are prepared to address it.
On August 11, the Communities’ Council on Ethnic Issues and the Women’s Friendship Group hosted a forum for community leaders, health workers and social support agencies. The session provided legal and health perspectives and an overview of available resources and assistance, with speakers from the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, FARREP, Australian Red Cross, Victoria Police and the Australian Federal Police.
“FGM/C can fly under the radar because frontline services workers aren’t aware that the issue may affect people their local communities, and don’t know what to do to address it,” said ECLC’s Sonia Vignjevic, a member of the forum’s organising committee.
“This forum provides health and community services with the information they need to effectively and sensitively assist women and girls, and the communities already working to identify solutions.”
The World Health Organisation defines FGM/C as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Regina Quiazon (Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health) said the intention of those who conduct FGM/C procedures is not to harm women or girls but the result is a gross violation of their human rights. With this in mind, she says FGM/C must be addressed by taking a human rights and gender equality approach.
FGM/C has no health benefits and it can cause severe and ongoing physical, psychological and social harm to girls and women.
According to UNICEF, FGM/C affects at least 200 million women and girls across the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated.
FARREP’s Nigisti Mulholland and Medina Idriess said health professionals should be confident to ask their patients about FGM/C but must ensure these conversations are non-judgmental, culturally sensitive and safe for women and girls in that they are not made to feel ashamed of their experiences.
More broadly, community-based work that focuses on “the empowerment of women and girls, the involvement of men and the use of a human rights and sexual and reproductive rights agenda” provides best practice approach for preventing and addressing FGM/C locally and globally. (source: Women’s Health East).
Similar to FGM/C, the issue of forced marriage must be reframed as a matter of human rights and gender equality, rather than a racial/cultural problem.
Forced marriage is “when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived, or because they are incapable of understanding the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony, for reasons including age or mental capacity” (source: Attorney-General’s Department).
David MacGregor of the Australian Federal Police provided an overview of the legal definitions of forced marriage, as per the Criminal Code (Cth), and links to broader human trafficking legislation. While investigative responses are critical, he said the most meaningful work was delivered at a community level, where education is successfully working to change community attitudes and prevent incidences of forced marriage occurring in the first place.
Indeed, Sara Shinkfield of the Red Cross Forced Marriage Capacity Building Project effectively illustrated how NGOs and community-based organisations can empower and collaborate with affected communities and leaders to strengthen solutions to FGM/C and forced marriage.
For more information visit:
NETFA.org.au – the National Education Toolkit for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting Awareness
FGM/C Fact Sheet by Women’s Health East
FARREP – Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program
Red Cross Australia
Attendees and organising committee members at the community forum on FGM/C and Forced Marriage, August 11.