Parliament: Other Speeches

Female Genital Mutilation

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK Motions:

That this council—

  1. Commends the work of No FGM Australia in raising the awareness of the health and other risks to Australian women and girls of the illegal practice of female genital mutilation and its concerns that—

(a) there is a lack of awareness among Australian health and child protection professionals about FGM;

(b) no data is collected about prevalence of FGM in South Australian residents; and

(c) girls most at risk of FGM are those who come from FGM-affected communities and that in Australia, three girls a day are in the high-risk category;

  1. Notes that the World Health Organisation has described FGM as a violation of the human rights of girls and women and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women;
  2. Notes that FGM has no health benefits and can cause severe urinary, fertility and childbirth complications;
  3. Notes the review and recommendations of the Australian government’s 2013 Review of Australia’s Female Genital Mutilation Legal Framework Final Report; and
  4. Notes that Australia’s first FGM prosecution is taking place in New South Wales for alleged offences on two young girls who were at the time aged only seven years old .

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I rise to support the motion in an amended way. I seek leave to amend the motion as follows:

Delete paragraph 1(a) ‘there is a lack of awareness among Australian health and child protection professionals about FGM’ and replace with:

1(a) ‘recognising that there is a need to continue to promote awareness among Australian health and child protection professionals about FGM’ in lieu thereof. ‘

I move the amendment to recognise the ongoing work of the state and commonwealth governments to prevent and respond to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Australia. In proposing this amendment, I acknowledge the work of all governments across Australia, as well as service providers, community groups and the UN.

The UN, through a number of agencies, including the World Health Organisation, the Development Fund for Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has funded educational campaigns and resources. They have also passed declarations to stop FGM. In April 2013, a National Summit on FGM was held in Canberra, fulfilling one of the then commonwealth government’s commitments to raise awareness in order to end the practice. This summit brought together government and community representatives, health professionals and legal and policy experts.

At the summit, a National Compact on FGM was released, with a shared commitment to coordinate action. Consequently, the commonwealth government committed half a million dollars in targeted grants to support action to end FGM, including for educational campaigns by community organisations. In addition, a commitment was made that health and medical professional bodies would continue to educate and train health professionals in order to ensure effective and non‑discriminatory support and services for women with complex health needs resulting from female genital mutilation.

In February 2015, on Zero Tolerance for FGM Day, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, then minister assisting the Prime Minister for women, announced more than $265,000 in funding for the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health to deliver the National Education Toolkit for FGM Awareness (NETFA). NETFA facilitates a national centralised system for networking and sharing expertise between FGM service providers throughout Australia. NETFA is now available online.

In South Australia, the Women’s Health Service currently provides a service to refugee women to improve their health and safety, including those affected by FGM. I commend the work of No FGM Australia in educating the community and supporting the welfare of women affected by FGM. No FGM Australia is doing admirable work in ensuring FGM becomes a recognised form of violence against women, as it should be, and that girls are protected from the torture of this horrific practice.

No FGM Australia has made it clear that FGM is being performed on Australian girls in Australia or when they visit a country where the practice is still prevalent. It is very disturbing to hear that three girls a day are at risk of FGM. FGM is a vile practice which discriminates against girls and women. There are no health benefits and, indeed, many health risks and adverse outcomes, including fistulas during childbirth, which can subsequently lead to ostracisation of women from their community, especially in countries with limited access to health care.

In South Australia, the Office for Women within the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion is currently investigating how we can ensure better data is collected on the prevalence of FGM in our community. FGM is against the law in South Australia and is a form of child abuse. It is also illegal to take a child out of South Australia to another country to perform this practice. This is in line with the model code recommended in the Australian government’s 2013 ‘Review of Australia’s Female Genital Mutilation legal framework’ final report.

The state government has been following with interest the legal proceedings taking place in New South Wales in relation to FGM, which I understand has resulted in the first successful prosecution of offenders for performing FGM in Australia. It is the government’s aim to ensure that people subjecting girls and women to this practice are prosecuted and experience the full weight of the law.

The South Australian government will continue to work with relevant agencies, including No FGM Australia, to end this terrible violation of human rights. Further, the Office for Women will work to ensure that FGM is considered by relevant services as they respond to violence against women and promote gender equity. I strongly support the need to continue to educate health professionals about FGM and suggest that, although there is a growing awareness, too many women and girls are still at risk here in Australia. FGM is a violation of human rights and cannot be tolerated at any level. The South Australian government commends the efforts of No FGM Australia and looks forward to the day when no girl is at risk of female genital mutilation.

 

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I wish to say only a few brief words in obvious support of the Hon. Ms Lensink’s motion on female genital mutilation. The permanent altering of a child’s genitals, of course, holds no hygienic benefits. It is extremely painful and it can have lifelong impacts, as have been outlined by other speakers, including infertility and other long-lasting, very detrimental health conditions. We certainly do need to get rid of this practice.

Can I say from the outset that, like other speakers, we certainly do not support the government’s amendments to this motion which would seek to change the wording from talking about a lack of awareness within the health community and health profession about FGM and instead talk about the need to recognise that there is a need to continue to promote awareness among Australian health and child protection professionals about FGM. There are a few reasons to oppose this amendment to the motion, but, if I was to put it into one concept, I do not think the two groups of wording are opposing each other, because I have jumped on the Google and I have done—

The Hon. S.G. Wade interjecting:

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: It is what the kids are calling it; it will catch on ‘the Google machine’, and I have typed in the word ‘lack’ and what came up is a definition that reads:

Lack, noun

  1. The state of being without or not having enough [knowledge] of something.

I do not think we are implying that there is not already existing knowledge. We are simply saying that we need to recognise that we can and must learn more about what this practice is, what it looks like and how to recognise it, how to stop it, and how it impacts people’s lives for many years after the practice itself is undertaken. Given that it is very easy to find a definition of ‘lack’ as being either ‘a state of being without knowledge’ or ‘not having enough knowledge’ I do not think the work ‘lack’ should be frowned upon in this context. I certainly am not inclined to support the amendment to the motion because I think the original wording captures that intent very well.

Can I also say that as a woman with a disability in particular, who is all too familiar with medical and cultural norms in Australia which see people with disabilities in some respects, particularly women and girls, have decisions and information and rights around their reproductive organs and genitalia taken away from them far too often, or denied to them, in the case of knowledge or education. Given this, I find it really important to fight that lack of knowledge, that lack of awareness and the lack of the right information about one’s own body. It is really important to tackle it at every turn in this community.

In fact, as the original wording of the motion states, to my mind I think it is about saying that we all have a role to play, whether or not we are an existing health professional who may already have some knowledge but could learn more, or whether we are a member in this place or someone out on the street. We can all learn more and we can all do more to stop this abhorrent and unnecessary practice.

We need to take this extremely seriously, which is exactly why I was so disappointed to hear that this issue was not being dealt with more earnestly by some members in the other place during yesterday’s debate on the Children and Young People (Safety) Bill. I hope that is something on which we can work together in this place to rectify. With those words, we support the unamended motion.