Female Genital Cutting, human rights and religious freedom

Female Genital Cutting, human rights and religious freedom

This talk looked at issues of negotiating independence and the politics of knowledge production in the case of Female Genital Cutting.

As a result of concerns about discrimination arising from the publication of Understanding Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community (Sahiyo, 2017), representatives of the orthodox Dawoodi Bohra (a small Ismaili sect within Shia Islam) commissioned an independent review from the Tavistock Institute. The Sahiyo report argued that the Dawoodi Bohra form of cutting or ‘khafd’ contravenes women and girls’ human rights.

The Dawoodi Bohra claimed that Sahiyo’s research misrepresented the views of the majority of their community, conflating the traditional practice of female circumcision with invasive forms of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A further argument being heard from their community was that criminalising the practice is counter to the right to religious freedom. With very little research available on the Dawoodi Bohra practice and in the absence of a new primary study of impact or cultural context, we identified the need to locate any review within a synthesis which constructed evidence-based hypotheses from relevant studies of similar types of cutting practices and the cultural context of female circumcision in other Muslim groups.

Seemingly straightforward, this process took us, as authors, into the very deep differences in views about FGC presented by the orthodox and those who describe themselves as reformist Dawoodi Bohra, resulting in a polarisation of the debate. By identifying and openly articulating these positions as well as asking critical questions, we entered a political and cultural landscape and in this talk, we will reflect on:

  • where we recognised that gender roles were ascribed to fit the context (and the contradictions of modernism and orthodoxy);
  • where being women was our strength and may have been our weakness;
  • how we challenged a community, known for maintaining its privacy – sometimes seen as secrecy – but increasingly exposed to the world at large, to open its doors further in order to set out a route to a less polarised – albeit still complex – understanding of their current situation and the debate on FGC.

Recording of the talk

Dr Sadie King is a Principal Research & Consultant at the TIHR. Sadie trained in anthropology at UCL and has worked on a diverse range of research and consultancy projects in her career from mental wellbeing in the workplace to youth conflict in West Africa. Sadie has previously worked in local government as part of a policy and strategy team and in a mental health promotion department. Over the past 4 years, Sadie has been involved in a number of projects evaluating and supporting parts of the looked after children system. This series of talks is a space to ‘take stock’ of this work.

Prof Georgie Parry-Crooke joined the Tavistock Institute at the beginning of 2016 as a Principal Researcher/Consultant. She has been involved in many and varied projects, with a particular interest in and leading on evaluations from services for women with mental health difficulties including high secure hospitals to programmes which address social isolation in older people.  Georgie is Professor Emerita in Social Research and Evaluation at London Metropolitan University and in addition to evaluation practice, teaching and training, in 2012, she co-founded Project Oracle, Evidence Hub for Children and Young People, becoming closely involved in youth sector policy and practice.

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