Female circumcision happening in Australia
By Emily Bourke for AM
Posted Sat Feb 6, 2010 11:15am AEDT
Updated Sat Feb 6, 2010 11:37am AEDT
Illegal custom: experts say ending female genital mutilation will be a slow process (stock.xchng: Vivek Chugh)
Audio: Female genital mutilation in Australia (AM)
Health authorities in Australia say they are concerned about the growing number of women who have undergone some form of genital mutilation.
Female circumcision is illegal in Australia, but experts say there is evidence that it is being practised here.
More and more migrant women are also seeking help after having the procedure in their home countries.
Across Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, female genital mutilation is practised on about three million girls and women each year. The centuries-old custom has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s.
But that has not stopped it happening here, according to Dr Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
“There is some evidence to suggest that it does happen in certain parts of Australia,” he said.
“It's hard to gauge the actual numbers because it's prohibited by legislation and it's something that is performed in an underground way.
“But certainly there have been reports of children being taken to hospital after having the procedure done with complications from that procedure.”
Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital says it is seeing between 600 and 700 women each year who have experienced it in some form.
Somali-born Zeinab Mohamud, from the hospital's Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program, says much of her work involves untangling some outdated cultural traditions and religious misconceptions.
“Some questions that we ask the women is 'why were you doing it?' and they will tell you, 'because of my religion',” she said.
“We bring imams or priests to convince them that there is nothing from both books that says you have to do circumcision to girls. So why are you doing it?”
Ms Mohamud is optimistic the practice will end, but she fears migrant communities or individual women will be demonised.
“Some people when they hear they say, 'how can that happen?' It's when something is cultural and the people have been doing it for so long, it's not easy to either eliminate it or to say, 'you have got a bad culture',” she said.
“You have to work with them, listen to them. You have to know where they are coming from in order to help them.”
Dr Ted Weaver agrees and he says ordering people against the practice would be inappropriate.
“If we try and dictate and pontificate about this and not provide culturally appropriate care, we'll further disenfranchise those women,” he said.
“Any progress will be incremental. I don't think that it's something that will stop overnight.
“But I think all we can do is advocate against it, speak out, try to educate women, try to empower women, certainly in this country, and we should do our best for international organisations that are also espousing the same message.”