Clinton says “culture” is no excuse for female genital mutilation

At the first State Department event marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday that there is no cultural justification for female genital mutilation/cutting.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on a new UN report, which found that FGM/C is on the decline in Africa. This conversation always elicits complicated arguments about cultural sovereignty and in her remarks, Secretary Clinton came down on one side of the issue.

“We cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition.  There are many cultural traditions that used to exist in many parts of the world that are no longer acceptable.  We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications.  It has no medical benefits.  It is, plain and simply, a human rights violation”

Importantly, UN leaders pointed out that this is an issue beyond Africa, as well. Nafissatou Diop, Director of the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF joint program against female genital mutilation, informed the day’s attendees that FGM/C is not limited to the African continent — the Middle East, Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines , Northern Iraq and in some of the immigrant communities in Western European countries.

Zeinab Eyega, the Executive Director of the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women in New York City,  addressed the question of immigration:

“We can’t assume that because they have emigrated, they have brought the same social norms here.  How do parents make decisions about marriage?  What is the transnational connection between here and back home, and how is the information being shared?  Dialogue about what values and social norms do they want to continue and which ones do they want to let go?”

At the State Department event, Clinton said the Obama administration is joining the University of Nairobi to establish a Pan-African Center of Excellence to advance African strategies to address female genital cutting.  It will focus on developing local solutions and to offer medical training on how to support women who have experienced it.

According to Secretary Clinton, there are many cultural traditions around the world that we should respect — but this isn’t one of them. I think she’s right – using cultural or national sovereignty to obfuscate human rights violations happens in every country all over the world, and we’re not going to take it anymore. I think perhaps this lens should be turned upon the US as well: death penalty, anyone?

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