Ben Mathews on female genital mutilation (QUT research seminar series)

Today, at QUT Law School research seminar series, Ben Mathews made the argument that female genital mutilation is

more than just a human rights issue, it’s more than just a public health issue. What it’s really about is women’s place in that society.

Mathews Started this research as a result of a proposal in 2006 to legalise surgical ‘ritual nicks’ – a relatively mild form of female genital mutilation – in Australia. Mathews concluded that it would be both illegal and unethical for surgeons to perform these types of operations when requested to do so.

Mathews notes that the sociological consensus on FGM seems to be centre on its role in controlling virginal status at marriage. It’s a “broad and fundamental control on actual women’s sexuality and place and role in society.” Matthews notes that 100-140 Million women alive today have been exposed to some form of female genital mutilation, and 500-2000 girls in Britain are subject to FGM each year – often through travel out of Britain during school holidays. Worryingly, 97% of married women in Egypt have experienced FGM.

Ben’s most recent published work here is Mathews, Benjamin P. (2013) Legal, cultural and practical developments in responding to female genital mutilation: can an absolute human right emerge? In Maguire, Rowena, Lewis, Bridget, & Sampford, Charles (Eds.) Shifting Global Powers and International Law: Challenges and Opportunities. In this chapter, Mathews considers how other deeply embedded cultural practices have been changed in the past – drawing from the prohibition of slavery and the eradication of foot binding in China, for example. Looking forward, Mathews wonders whether there might be an absolute human right against female genital mutilation.

This is really interesting, complex interdisciplinary work. Mathews has had to draw on a huge range of work from health and sociology in order to avoid reducing this to a purely legal issue. Check out his publications here.