Addressing female genital mutilation will need proper funding and attention: Editorial

The Canadian government, our frontline healthcare system and social service networks across the GTA need to address the issue of female genital mutilation immediately. Women in some ethno-cultural communities are already tackling this practice, but they need to be more effectively supported if Canada really wants to deal with what the government acknowledges is an “abhorrent practice.”As reported by the Star’s Jayme Poisson and Michele Henry, the practice of sending girls abroad for female genital mutilation occurs around the GTA, affecting potentially thousands of Canadians. Young women and girls have the surgical mutilation performed on them, sometimes by healthcare practitioners and sometimes by people with no formal medical training.According to the World Health Organization, FGM has no medical benefits but nonetheless has been practised in some 30 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, on more than 200 million women and girls alive today. It can cause severe pain, urinary problems, infection and even death. At the same time, the psychological impacts can be devastating. Some other countries, such as the United Kingdom, are ahead of Canada in fighting FGM. Britain has gathered data on the practice — an estimated 137,000 women in Britain have been affected. And a committee of the British House of Commons last year called it a “national scandal” that no one has ever been convicted under that country’s law banning FGM.Canada has no such statistics to even begin understanding the scope of the issue here. Whether legislative action like the UK’s Female Genital Mutilation Act, prohibiting any association with the practice on girls at home or abroad, is the right approach for Canada, is debatable (it is a Criminal Code offence to perform female circumcision). But more work to understand the complex issue here, and possible approaches to addressing it, is certainly needed.Article Continued BelowAs Corinne Packer, a public health researcher at the University of Ottawa, says: “We’re behind the ball.” Canada, she adds, is “putting (its) head in the ground” on the issue of FGM.A government that proudly professes itself to be feminist can and should do more. In response to the Star’s reports, the minister for the status of women, Maryam Monsef, and the minister for international development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, on Monday condemned the practice of FGM as “a form of gender-based violence that our government is committed to addressing both at home and abroad.” They promised that “anyone who commits these crimes will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”But the measures they pointed to in order to demonstrate the government’s opposition to FGM fall considerably short of what’s needed. Last month, they noted, the government announced $101 million for a strategy to fight gender-based violence. Part of that money should be directed at efforts to eradicate this extreme form of violence against girls and young women.