12 mars, 2024

Female Genital Mutilations: Were women liberated by globalization?

The 6th of February is the International day of Zero Tolerance for the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)[1].

Despite the actual proliferation of actions and initiatives to fight FGM and the global political importance it has, the classification of FGM as a human right violation and a global health problem is recent.

The consideration of FGM has been largely driven by globalization: FGM is one of the topics where the interests of different stakeholders, their ideologies and interactions[2] led to different health policymaking processes during time.

We will trace in this article how globalization provoked a shift in the international policy system through the modification of the normative basis of the WHO governance at many times in human history [3] and how the internationalization[4] of the fight against FGM led to actual policies and even the design and implementation of health programs aiming the “Sexual Reparation” for Women with FGM [5], implementing a globalized culture around women sexuality.

The 19th century was the era of colonial expansion. During this period, the spread of the European empires ignited the first waves of globalization[4]: the world witnessed the proliferation of Western norms in the conquered territories.

During the first wave of globalization, the missionaries and colonial administrators had pointed out the practice of FGM, which they described as barbaric. The colonizing authorities tried then to remedy these practices through education, but these initiatives triggered an “indigenous resistance”[6].

The political stakes pushed the colonizing countries to adopt a neutral view. This positioning was then supported by ethnological studies performed between the 19th and the 20th century qualifying FGM as “traditional cultural practice”[7], considered as rites of initiation or passage[8], with a consensual discourse on the inferiority or primitiveness of the savages who populated the colonized territories [9].

The question of FGM was dealt with for the first time, within the United Nations, in 1952[10]. But the WHO aligned with wealthy country interests[11] and declined any initiative aiming to act upon this issue[10].

In short, during colonization and despite the movement of populations and the transfer of norms due to the two first waves of globalization, economic interests of the colonizers prevailed and FGM failed to be considered as a health problem by the WHO[13]: the public health normative goals aiming a good population health, were undermined by the economic interests of the colonizers[12].

Yet, FGM started to be part of the WHO agenda during the 70s. This radical change in WHO positioning was due to several facts:

-At the end of the 2nd World War, several legal documents in favor of human rights were born and two social groups acquired a new importance: women and children[5].

-From the end of the 1950s, the process of decolonization launched the debate on the recognition of the autonomy of populations as well as the recognition of fundamental human rights, which changed the relationship between North and South. The emergence of decolonized African nations had a great impact[2], since new countries started taking part in the discussions as UN member-states which gave space to different voices to be heard, like the Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) which were strongly positioned against FGM [13].   

- At the same time, modern migratory flows starting in the 1960s had a significant impact on the representations and practices of FGM in host countries. FGM became an imported phenomenon in Western countries. Western governments feared homogenization given the spread of these foreign cultures and questions of citizenship, nationalism, ethnicity, difference[4] but also power and racism were lit : the former colonized migrating to the former colonizing countries cause these distant practices to become close and call into question the norms of migrant populations[10].  Thus, Western countries felt the urge to restore a normative infrastructure[4] through developing policies and pushing WHO to adopt a more proactive position.

-The interventions of white non-governmental organizations and Western activists were crucial: The Western feminist fight adopted the struggle against the FGM thus propelling the issue internationally and the movement of sexual liberation started using this topic as Trojan horse in advocating for more rights.

Under these conditions, WHO finally decided to consider FGM as a public health problem and to start taking actions in 1976 during the meeting in Cairo [10].  

Between 1990 and 1995, several conferences dealt with FGM: International community started by qualifying it as a form of violence during the Beijing conference and ended up defining it as a Crime [5].

Subsequently, there have been a plethora of International and National Legal Frameworks and countries were urged to implement policies criminalizing FGM[14] encouraged by The Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development initiated by the World Bank and accounting numerous and various partners[15].

Now, FGM is recognized as a human right violation and as a public health problem.

Many initiatives to fight FGM have been implemented by transnational civil society in countries with high rate of gender-based violence and FGM, which also became a subject for health policy aimed at repairing feminine sexuality since 2000. 

Nowadays, France has positioned itself as the leader country in Good Health Governance[3] when it comes to FGM. In France, women victims of FGM have the right to seek asylums[16]. France is also the only country that recognizes the right to medical healthcare for victims of FGM: the French mixed Bismarckian and Beveridgian social security system[17] extends coverage to non-contributing populations and started including migrant women victims of FGM since 2004 [10].

This specific sexual reparation program proposes interventions aiming the reinstitution of “normal female sexuality” [5].

It seems to be an attempt to regulate feminine sexuality through promoting universal norms about female sexual normality which happens to be Western. Indeed, the notion of normality or “abnormality” [5] seems to be linked to the pattern of migration with a dominant model portrayed in the media which has been reported to reinforce the social stigma [5]. 

Globalization seems to be, as Denis Altman says, liberatory and oppressive at the same time [18] when it comes to women sexuality.



[1] EQUINET EUROPE. 2019. 6 FEBRUARY: INTERNATIONAL DAY OF ZERO TOLERANCE FOR FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM). [online] Available at: <https://equineteurope.org/6-february-international-day-of-zero-tolerance-for-female-genital-mutilation-fgm/> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[2] Brown, T., Cueto, M. and Fee, E., 2006. The World Health Organization and the Transition From “International” to “Global” Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 96(1), pp.62-72.

[3] Lee, K., Kamradt-Scott, A. The multiple meanings of global health governance: a call for conceptual clarity. Global Health 10, 28 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1744-8603-10-28

[4] MCGREW, A., (2014) ‘Globalization and global politics in The Globalization of World Politics’ London: Oxford University Press. p16-31

[5]  Valliani, M., 2017. Reparative Approaches in Medicine and the Different Meanings of “Reparation” for Women with FGM/C in a Migratory Context. [online] Diversityhealthcare.imedpub.com. Available at: <https://diversityhealthcare.imedpub.com/reparative-approaches-in-medicine-and-the-different-meanings-of-reparation-for-women-with-fgmc-in-a-migratory-context.pdf> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[6] Kenyatta, J. and Malinowski, B., 1953. Facing Mount Kenya. London: Secker and Warburg.

[7] Père Daigre and Tastevin, C., n.d. Les Bandas de l'Oubangui-Chari (Afrique Equatoriale Française). [online] JSTOR. Available at: <http://www.jstor.org/stable/40446310> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[8] de Villeneuve, A., 1937. Étude sur une coutume Somalie : les femmes cousues. Journal de la Société des Africanistes, 7(1), pp.15-32.

[9] Vasquez, J. and Prudhomme, C., 2007. Une cartographie missionnaire. [S.l.]: [s.n.].

[10] Villani, M., 2014. Médecine, sexualité et excision. Sociologie de la réparation clitoridienne chez des femmes issues des migrations d’Afrique sub-saharienn. [online] Tel.archives-ouvertes.fr. Available at: <https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-02150806/document> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[11] Ruger, J., 2014. International institutional legitimacy and the World Health Organization. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 68(8), pp.697-700.

[12] Kapilashrami, A 2022,Understanding Global Health Architecture, Queen Mary University, London. 

[13] Refugees, U., 2002. Refworld | Sudan: The Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) including activities, roles, organization and problems faced in Sudan. [online] Refworld. Available at: <https://www.refworld.org/docid/3df4bea84.html> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[14] Openknowledge.worldbank.org. 2021. Compendium of International and National Legal Frameworks on Female Genital Mutilation. [online] Available at: <https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/35112/Compendium-of-International-and-National-Legal-Frameworks-on-Female-Genital-Mutilation-Fifth-Edition.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[15] Globalforumljd.com. 2022. Partners View | Global Forum on Law, Justice and Development. [online] Available at: <https://globalforumljd.com/new/partners-view> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[16] Ofpra.gouv.fr. 2022. Demander l'asile en cas de mutilation sexuelle féminine | OFPRA. [online] Available at: <https://www.ofpra.gouv.fr/fr/asile/la-procedure-de-demande-d-asile-et> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[17] Vie publique.fr. 2022. Comment la France se situe-t-elle entre le modèle bismarckien et le modèle beveridgien d'État providence ?. [online] Available at: <https://www.vie-publique.fr/parole-dexpert/24117-france-quel-modele-detat-providence-bismarckien-ou-beverigien> [Accessed 17 February 2022].

[18] Altman, D., 2004. Sexuality and Globalisation. [online] Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/4066674> [Accessed 17 February 2022].


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BetsAmigo a dit…

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