Wednesday, June 23, 2010

cultural compromise and genital integrity

a hot button issue for intersex activists lately has been the recent change in the protocol of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This change is the AAP's recommendation that the US permit doctors to "nick" the genitals of their female patients as a compromise for their African patients seeking their ritual genital cutting. They have said this is justified on three grounds.

1. nicking is very minor, the equivalent to a pin prick or an ear piercing.

2. it demonstrates a cultural sensitivity for immigrant populations

3. it is a compromise that could prevent the parents from preforming more extreme genital cutting.

This is unusual since AAP's previous statement on the subject states (rightly so) that female genital cutting is a form of gender based violence. Even if this nicking sound harmless, it is important to not quibble over severity, if something is wrong, then milder forms of it are still wrong. Many anti-FGM activists fear, rightly so, that this recommendation opens up shades of gray which will muddle and ultimately set back their movement.

FGM is very similar to the way intersex people are treated in America, our genitals are cut up to satisfy a sociocultural requirement. The similar lack of respect for bodily integrity and sexual autonomy due to culture is striking Many intersex activists petitioned congress to add intersex to the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, citing these similarities. Obviously Congress was not persuaded. I think it is very important to understand understand other cultures, but it is also important to realize that cultures are not static, they change all the time. There are many African activists working to stop female genital mutlation in their culture. I think the American Academy of Pediatrics did these activists a great disservice by stabbing them in the back with this recommendation. In any case, no child should be put in harms way just because of cultural norms, that is deeply unethical, and suggests a norm that needs to be changed.

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