Cultural tolerance is no excuse for harming kids
Last week I gave birth to my second child – another beautiful daughter. Like most new mothers, in between the very physical challenge of adjusting back to sleepless nights and the many other wonderful changes wreaked upon the body, I was during a quiet moment filled with a sense of great hope and optimism for her future.
I am thrilled that the opportunities that lie available to my daughters (and I am also blessed to have 2 step-daughters) are vastly more varied than the choices their grandmothers had. The world has evolved so much, in terms of what women can achieve – even just in the past 40 years.
Yet for all the advancement of women in our nation, the same week that I gave birth, there were calls to allow Australian doctors to perform a form of female genital mutilation (FGM), citing “cultural reasons” as a mantra for tolerating this barbaric practice.
I find it hard to believe that I gave birth to a daughter in an Australia where we would even be entertaining debate about such an issue. I find it hard to accept that the notion of “cultural tolerance” has a much higher premium in some circles than even basic human rights.
Have we really become so timid about casting a critical eye on the practices of other so-called cultures that we could become apologists for such a pointless, brutal and frankly, entirely sexist practice? And where are all the traditional feminists on this issue?
New migrants to this nation bring with them a rich cultural background. But I firmly believe we must be vigilant to ensure that, where such an obvious clash occurs between their culture and the ideals we hold dear, then Australian values must prevail. Pure and simple.
I am an Australian-born child of Greek migrants myself. I know that in the strong traditional Greek culture that existed in many similar families, girl-children were not always afforded the same educational and social opportunities as male heirs.
That their daughters could complete a degree in law or be elected to the Federal Parliament would not have even entered the minds of many Greek migrant parents in the late 60s or early 70’s.
Yet these were the opportunities that being born into the “fair go” culture of Australia afforded me.
These are opportunities that, even if some don’t yet realise it fully, most migrant parents coming to this nation dearly want for their children. That is why people make the choice to begin a new life here – the opportunities that our way of life presents.
And while we welcome those aspects of any migrant’s culture that enrich our nation, we must categorically reject any aspect that diminishes our existing rights and freedoms.
That includes not just female genital mutilation – but also honour killings, forced arranged marriages, under-age marriage and any other form of “culture” that is implicitly violent, not to mention entirely sexist in its nature.
I get the harm minimisation argument – but it is so entirely flawed. Any action that implies tolerance of such a barbaric practice fosters its continuation. What we need is to assert that such practices are not tolerated in our nation – whether carried out in the name of “tradition”, “culture” or anything else.
Those who chose to live here must obey the rules we have in place – and, whether we have explicit laws outlawing FGM or not (in fact, in the nineties most states did enact specific laws) - as criminal law stands, the violent act of cutting or piercing a young girls clitoris is well and truly child-abuse of a terrible kind.
And as for the excuse proffered for doing so – it’s not medical, nor is it even religious – it’s a “cultural thing”.
Of course, it used to be part of our own western culture that women were strapped into chastity belts and their choices did not extend to even voting, let alone working or being elected to Parliament. “Traditions” we have rightly abandoned.
Our culture has evolved to recognise the basic human rights of women – and it’s essential that all cultures do. We should demand nothing less.
While I sympathise with the feminist struggle to have more women on boards and address the pay-gap inequity, the priority of modern feminism must be to ensure that women around the world are not violently subjugated in the name of culture or religion.
Because there is a real chance in today’s culture of political correctness, that western nations will become too afraid of being labelled “intolerant” to voice opposition to such atrocities against women.
As I gaze at the cherubic face of my baby daughter, I can’t help wondering about the other baby girls throughout the world who will not enjoy the freedom and choices that she has as her birthright.
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