Alberta announces Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Alberta

Earlier this month, Alberta’s multiculturalism minister declared 6 February as the annual Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Alberta.

Earlier this month, Alberta’s lieutenant governor proclaimed 6 February as the annual Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Alberta.

The proclamation came at the recommendation of Leela Aheer, the minister of culture, multiculturalism, and status of women.

The preamble claims that some reasons for the proclamation are that genital mutilation “is an issue” in over 30 countries and recognized by the UN as child abuse and a violation of human rights.

According to a brochure published by UNICEF in 2016, 31 countries in Africa and Asia had the highest concentration of girls and women between 0 and 49 years old who had female genital cutting performed on them between 2004 and 2015. Prevalence ranged from 0.2% for 0–14 years old and 9% for 15–49 in Benin and 98% in Somalia for those between 15 and 49 years old.

The proclamation cited the UN’s goal of eliminating FGM by 2030 as another justification for the proclamation.

The provincial government also “recognizes and supports the immense courage of survivors who have experienced [FGM]” and joined other nations in recognizing the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

Finally, the government felt that a proclamation could “raise awareness of [FGM] as a criminal act of gender-based violence and to acknowledge the commitment of Albertans involved in eradicating this unacceptable practice”.

So-called female genital mutilation has been against the law in Canada (including Alberta) since May 1997, when the federal Liberals added it to the Criminal Code:

For greater certainty, in this section, “wounds” or “maims” includes to excise, infibulate or mutilate, in whole or in part, the labia majora, labia minora or clitoris of a person

Criminal Code, 268(3)

Anyone who’s convicted in Canada of “mutilating” female genitalia faces a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

For Aheer, however, that’s not enough. In a Global News article back in November, she was quoted as saying that FGM should be classified as child abuse in the criminal code, rather than as aggravated assault, as it currently is.

In 1994, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta issued a directive to its members that they must not perform FGM.

She also wants a national action plan in place to address the practice of FGM in Canada, where Aheer claims it’s “under-reported and often kept secret” and that “parents and doctors sometimes collaborate to have the procedure performed”.

Last year, two researchers—Brian D. Earp, the associate director of the ethics and health policy programme at Yale University, and Sara Johnsdotter, a professor of medical anthropology at the Centre for Sexology and Sexuality Studies at Malmö University—published a study in the International Journal of Impotence Research, reporting how recent research in this area has criticized the term “female genital mutilation” as being imprecise, inaccurate, misleading, harmful, ethnocentric, and even sexist.

They found that the phrase—particularly the use of “mutilation”—is more often applied in non-Western contexts and virtually exclusively to women and girls.

For example, the researchers claim the term is never used to refer to more palatable procedures in Western cultures, where instead they might be called “labiaplasty”, even in cases where it’s purely cosmetic, or “clitoral reduction”, when performed on intersex children who were assigned female at birth by parents and doctors.

Likewise, the researchers point out that champions of the fight against FGC never refer to circumcision as mutilation.

Further to the points of ethnocentrism and sexism, the researchers had this to say “about the characterization of non-Western FGC as being rooted primarily in male dominance, sexist discrimination, or a controlling desire to undermine female sexual enjoyment”:

The characterization seems to reflect longstanding racist and colonial stereotypes of “primitive” African societies, in which black and brown women, constructed as passive victims of male-oriented cultural practices, need to be rescued from the men in their own villages, who are believed to be brutal and barbaric.

They go on to claim that “virtually all societies that practice medically unnecessary FGC also practice medically unnecessary MGC, usually in a parallel ceremony serving similar social functions”, yet only female genital cutting is ever seen as barbaric.

Plus, depending on the community performing the practices, either female or male genital cutting could be the riskier of the two practices, and cultural desires to control sexual impulses are just as present in the practice of male cutting as in female cutting.

In a similar fashion, Sada Mire, a Somalian archaeologist specializing in researching the history of female genital cutting and someone who had herself experienced FGC as a child, published an article last year explaining how claims that “the tradition is mainly about virginity, chastity, paternity confidence, or control of women’s sexuality” are misguided and result from a lack of cultural awareness and how “this lack of knowledge has hampered efforts to tackle the issue.”

In an interview with Global News shortly after the declaration on the new Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Alberta, Aheer stated, “We’re not going to by quiet anymore about this—about any sort of gender-based violence.”

Speaking of which, there was no word on whether Alberta would be pursuing any changes to the legal practice of cutting the foreskin off the penises of baby boys.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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