Analysis Of Female Genital Mutilation In Terms Of Multicultural Liberalism

Whether the state should intervene in consensual matters, depends primarily on present morals and beliefs influenced by factual and accurate information on those matters. A term that will be referred to in this essay is female circumcision, more commonly referred to in Western Countries as female genital mutilation (FGM), which is argued to involve any sort of damage or cut to the female genital. FGM is a refuted term as it takes on a prejudicial and political nuance and there have been many disputes on what constitutes “mutilation”, and what makes female circumcision unlawful and male circumcision an acceptable practice. Multicultural Liberalism refers to the humanistic approach to different cultures, and the terms liberalism and multiculturalism will be further explored in the essay as well the relationship between the two terms. Consensual practices may be seen as abominable and immoral in the view of the state and the community in which it governs, and such practices that are moral infractions require intervention by the state. However, cultural diversity is an inevitable outcome of free human reason and is something to be encouraged and accepted, not intervened. Multiple practices such as female circumcision is fundamental in the formation of cultural identities, and it is important that the state recognise the role played by different cultural groups that sustain our values and beliefs. Finally, there are implications of cultural diversity as it would be impossible for the state to embrace competing cultural ideals without conflict, and the state is most likely to intervene in matters in which the general public believe are offensive, even without accurate and factual knowledge of the matter.

Although consent is a fundamental concept that is used to decipher the rightfulness of practices, the state must also take into account the moral infringements of consensual but otherwise unlawful practices when intervening. Rules of marriage and deviations with respect to genitality have been taken into account in civil and religious jurisdictions and breaking these rules have been met with condemnation (Foucault 1926). Acts that have been “contrary to nature” and are on the list of grave sins are debauchery (extramarital relations), rape, adultery, spiritual or carnal incest, sodomy and mutual “caress” (Foucault 1926). In terms under the court of law, consensual acts which have been condemned in the past were homosexuality. However, it has been accepted that heterosexual monogamy is not the only form of sexuality and that it should not be amenable to the strict economy of reproduction. The prohibition of incest and infantile sexuality was an attempt to eradicate acts of moral infractions, although they could be consensual acts. Consensual acts may also cause bodily harm that are permanent and severe, and in these cases state intervention may be necessary. It can be viewed that consent is irrelevant when it comes to jeopardizing safety, causing grievous harm that will lessen the quality of life of a person and these are the beliefs and morals held by most people. When addressing the legality of female circumcision, the bodily harm, and the present morals and beliefs held by people must be taken into consideration despite the fact that most women do consent to this practise.

During an FGM trial in Sydney, three adults were trialled for allegedly performing female genital mutilation on two sisters, the woman known as KM who carried out the circumcision, the girl’s mother and the senior clerk of their community. Whether the girl was cut on the clitoris as part of the procedure “Khatna” or “touched” with a pair of forceps in a symbolic way was in dispute which was claimed by KM to leave no scarring, and whether that classified as mutilation (Jabour 2015). In addition to that, the girl whom the procedure was carried on was asked to have her eyes closed and asked to dissociate herself from what was happening, which had implied that they did not want the girls to know what the procedure consisted of (Jabour 2015). It is clear that mainstream news reports reflect upon female circumcision in a manner of accentuating the horrendous and disastrous health consequences of FGM, claiming it to be “the most widespread and deadly of all violence victimizing women and girls in Africa” (Hastings Centre Report 2012). It is also implied by current media reports that FGM is a non-consensual practice in which young girls are forced into, with the purpose to ensure virginity and destruction of sexual pleasure and thus a form of male dominance. This would perpetuate condemnation towards the practise, as it contradicts the current Western morals and beliefs that are held. Hence, although it would be the collective stance to allow state intervention on “female genital mutilation”, there should be greater accuracy and fair representation.

Cultural diversity should be broadly understood and respected, as some cultural practices are required to form cultural identities, in which state intervention is contested. Laws made to supress these cultural practices are examples of Australian culture domination, managing others to define them in a way that conforms to Australia’s social and political sphere. Implementation of these restrictive acts on cultural practices accentuate the assertion of legal, social and political agendas in this regard. Female circumcision represents “others” in the discourse of the social, political and legal as objects, or even non-citizens that require management. Rogers (2007) argues that this is a process called domestication, also known as assimilation into objects in need of management. The “other” displaces and disturbs their representation of the Western self and in the West, with the “whole” woman being a Western individual and the “mutilated woman” (Rogers 2007). The legislating of “FGM” in Victoria was ultimately a process of manipulation and subjugation that was supposedly essential in protecting Australia from “barbarous practices” which enabled the construction of the “other”, “mutilated” and barbaric social agents who did have entitlements to citizenship. There is vitality of cultural activities, practices and dialogues that remain prevalent within African communities in Victoria, and henceforth contradicts the notion that those who embody such “diversity” are monolithic individuals whose distinctiveness are only reflections of a Western outlook, and in regards to “FGM” they are damaged objects to be managed.  Groups such as the AWWG – African Women’s Working Group and the EWG— Eritrean Women’s Group were silenced in the matter of female circumcision, establishing their position in a “reasonable” and “civilized” manner, accepting their status as “mutilated” rather than differently embodied and hence seen as manageable by law. This moral plurality is rooted in cultural differences and is furthermore a test on the capacity of liberalism dealing with plurality when societies consist of fundamental moral diversity arising from cultural and ethnic diversity (Seth 2001). With diversity, there are different conceptions of the good which are desired by different cultures and should nonetheless opt for the same conception of justice to regulate the interactions made to each other (Seth 2001). Furthermore, female genital surgeries should be addressed worldwide in a much larger context such as religious and cultural freedom, gender parity, female empowerment issues, health promotion, parental and children’s rights and female empowerment issues, and not just solely influenced by global activist and advocacy movements who have established a stance opposed to the practice. Additionally, the practice of male circumcision in not a refuted practice in Western society and does not face the condemnations as female circumcision although the majority of these practices are both done for aesthetic enhancing and the enhancement of gender identity by the removal of bodily signs of masculinity or femininity. However, due to the fact that “mutilation” being subjected to being recognizable and representable within the discourses of FGM, it is managed and henceforth intervened by the state as it is not readily assimilated to or domesticated within (Rogers 2007). Hence, diversity is not an experience that is encountered with respect as it is a divergence from the Australian population, and subject to state intervention.

Although diversity should be met with respect, the outcome of such cultural differences will lead to the intricate of moral plurality and hence state intervention is necessary. The issue of multicultural liberalism is that with such diversity in the world, it would be difficult to determine what liberal values merit laws, and which ones serve the prevailing regulative role in relation to the others (Seth 2001). Especially in the time of mass immigration and population transfers, liberal states can only do so much to accommodate for moral pluralism and seek to include people of different cultures without privileging a culture. John Rawls (1993) states that in a democratic society, the political culture is always marked by the diversity of opposing and irreconcilable moral, religious and philosophical doctrines and is the inevitable outcome of free human reason. It had been found that liberalism tends to be more procedural rather than substantive, in the pursuit to find rules that would regulate and mediate conflict rather than emphasising and developing what values constitute good (Seth 2001). As a consequence, Liberalism then become another Sectarian regime, as even autonomy and individuality would mean to privilege someone’s preference of their notion of good, and no neutral criteria can be provided to evaluate the different notions of good. In Procedural liberalism, it is ultimately impossible to structure liberal politics solely around substantive moral and political claims, as established before it would always represent one’s notion over the other (Seth 2001). In order to avoid this predicament, it essentially becomes an “empty”, procedural space in which different morals and religious notions can debate and form assumptions and claims, However, social assumptions can have formed into individuals and have a predisposed notion of certain types of moral visions and what constitutes as good.

Although there are diverse cultural identities and beliefs, Australian courts tend to have a predisposed notion of what is right and morally correct in determining the legality of “FGM”. In their view, it was imperative to enable to management of these complicated, dangerous cultural diversities. Due to all the media coverage on African female genital surgeries, there would already be a preconceived notion of female circumcision, even if the state were to take a neutral stance. The recognition and value of diversity is only made possible if all differences are brought under the same method (Seth 2001). However, decades of media reporting which relate female circumcision and the meanings of infibulation as associated with child abuse, violence and barbarism will influence the notion of whether it is a lawful practice despite the information being strongly biased. In saying that however, the practice of female circumcision may go against other cultural beliefs and morals, and liberalism cannot prevent one notion from being privileged over the other. There is no doubt of incommensurability, and a different approach to the work may be required as the ideas and morals are not the issue, and diversity can be respected, but having already being misconstrued and domesticated (Seth 2001). Hence, it is one of the implications of multicultural liberalism, and why state intervention in these matters, may be necessary.   

16 December 2021
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