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Female genital mutilation in Europe

Committee Opinion | Doc. 14148 | 04 October 2016

Committee
Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development
Rapporteur :
Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER, Switzerland, SOC
Origin
Reference to committee: Doc. 13736, Reference 4126 of 2 October 2015. Reporting committee: Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. See Doc. 14135. Opinion approved by the committee on 21 September 2016. 2016 - Fourth part-session

A Conclusions of the committee

The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development supports the report prepared by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and congratulates its rapporteur, Ms Béatrice Fresko-Rolfo, on her very comprehensive research concerning female genital mutilation, a most shocking human rights violation, and its continuous presence in Europe. The Social Affairs Committee also congratulates the rapporteur of the main report for specifically treating this important matter and fully agrees to the continuous need to address this urgent human rights issue as pointed out through its own work leading up to Resolution 1952 (2013) and Recommendation 2023 (2013) on children’s right to physical integrity.

The report explores a wide range of topics related to female genital mutilation, including human rights issues, physical and psychological consequences, as well as legal, social and medical responses to female genital mutilation in Europe. With the aim of efficiently fighting this human rights violation, the rapporteur seeks to understand the intricate and interconnected social, political, economic and cultural elements fuelling such practice. The goal of the rapporteur is to address complex challenges to be tackled in order to prevent female genital mutilation in Europe and to ensure appropriate care is supplied to its survivors.

In full agreement with this overall approach, the Social Affairs Committee only wishes to propose a few amendments to strengthen the draft resolution.

B Proposed amendments

Amendment A (to the draft resolution)

In paragraph 5.1, add at the end of the sentence:

“as well as publicly condemn female genital mutilation, including through relevant legislation;”

Amendment B (to the draft resolution)

In paragraph 5.9, after the words “detect female genital mutilation”, insert the words:

“and how to address it in a culturally sensitive manner without minimising the practice,”

Amendment C (to the draft resolution)

After paragraph 5.9, insert the following sub-paragraph:

“encourage the reporting of women or girls at risk by providing adequate legal protection to professionals where reporting is mandatory;”

Amendment D (to the draft resolution)

At the end of paragraph 5.10, add the words:

“, following a culturally sensitive approach;”

Amendment E (to the draft resolution)

In paragraph 5.11, after “recognise female genital mutilation”, insert the words:

“or well-founded fear of female genital mutilation”

C Explanatory memorandum by Ms Liliane Maury Pasquier, rapporteur for opinion

1. Female genital mutilation is a practice deeply entrenched in the social, economic and political structures of the communities that perpetuate it. It can play an important role in defining the cultural identity of girls and women, hence is perceived as a significant cultural determinant of the identity of the communities that practise it.Note However, although the right to participate in cultural life is protected by international law, Article18.3.of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that limitations to manifest one’s beliefs may be applied to protect the health or fundamental rights and freedoms of others.Note
2. Hence, considering that female genital mutilation is a harmful practice that violates several human rights and conventions as suggested in the explanatory memorandum of Ms Fresko-Rolfo’s reportNote and that is obviously not based on any medical indication or benefit as all medical experts will agree, there is no justification for pursuing this harmful practice. I would like to personally underline this based on my long-standing experience as a medical professional (midwife) in Switzerland. At Parliamentary Assembly level, the fact that female genital mutilation is a serious human rights violation was already pointed out through a report prepared by the Social Affairs Committee leading up to Resolution 1952 (2013) and Recommendation 2023 (2013) on children’s right to physical integrity.Note
3. Because they generally lack influence on the decision made by their family, girls are particularly powerless and the procedure is forced upon them. Furthermore, studies have shown that in some countries the age of girls who are coerced into undergoing female genital mutilation has been decreasing.Note Hence it is important to send out a strong signal about the condemnable nature of this practice (Amendment A). Girls and women at risk of female genital mutilation generally have no or few means and support to oppose the will of their family and rarely have someone to turn to in this matter. Therefore, to prevent female genital mutilation from happening, it is essential to provide girls and women with an opportunity to escape from their isolation. This opportunity may be offered by offices or institutions from which they could seek help, as rightly pointed out in the draft resolution (paragraph 5.7).
4. Because of the strong cultural forces driving the perpetuation of female genital mutilation, it is particularly important to develop a cultural understanding and sensitivity so as not to stigmatise the communities in which it is still performed and to ensure that positive attention be paid to any attempts to prevent the mutilation on the girls concerned. For this reason, it is particularly important for professionals in contact with potential victims and their families to be trained to approach families in a sensitive manner, to improve the chances of convincing them to abstain from the planned procedures and deal with the fear of stigmatisation of girls having escaped the practice (Amendment B). The same culturally sensitive approach needs to be followed for survivors of female genital mutilation to encourage them to search help and not stay isolated in their suffering following the procedure (Amendment D).
5. Whilst the draft resolution already points to the crucial role played by professionals of various backgrounds in contact with children, it is also essential that doctors, teachers, social workers and others, suspecting that a woman or a girl may have suffered or is threatened with female genital mutilation, receive adequate legal protection to report their suspicion without fears of backlashes from the families. Indeed, a lack of such protection may discourage reporting of suspicious cases, hence inhibiting the prosecution of crimes and preventing survivors from receiving adequate care (Amendment C). I recall that the Assembly had already addressed the crucial issue of reporting in the framework of another activity (relating to sexual violence against children) which then led to Resolution 1980 (2014) “Increasing the reporting of suspected sexual abuse of children”; I believe that the conclusions drawn on the principle of reporting also apply to the case of female genital mutilation.
6. Finally, as noted by the rapporteur, Ms Fresko-Rolfo, herself in paragraphs 39 and 40 of her explanatory memorandum, both the Parliamentary Assembly – in Resolution 1765 (2010) – and the Council of Europe as a whole – in its Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS No. 210, “Istanbul Convention”) – require that not only female genital mutilation itself be recognised as potential grounds for an asylum claim, but also the well-founded fear of female genital mutilation (Amendment E). This is all the more important since, as noted by the rapporteur in paragraph 41 of the explanatory memorandum, women wishing to emigrate are occasionally encouraged to undergo the practice.