Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fear of Genital Mutilation Doesn't Warrant Refugee Status

Teresia Muturi and Grace Gichuh sexuality and lives are currently hanging in the balance of the Australian Immigration Department. Both women fled Kenya before they could be genitally mutilated and arrived in Australia for World Youth Day 2008.
Interviewed by Yuko Narushima for the Sydney Morning Herald, Grace reportedly sobbed while explaining the process,
"They use a knife. Just a knife, no medicine...10 men hold the woman down... while another brandishing the knife cuts off the clitoris.''

Grace had refused being mutilated in the same fashion that killed her mother prior to arriving here., resulting in threats to her life. Similarly, Teresia ran away after being sold to a 70 year old man for 10 cows.

The women have been told to pack and be ready for deportation, after their application for refugee status was denied and their appeal was dismissed by the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Evans.
The women have launched another appeal, and Evans is being called to intervene on the basis that under pending legislation, the women would be covered by 'complementary protection.'

Typically, the Opposition couldn't restrain itself, with the Opposition Immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone stating she would oppose the bill, as it would "open the gates" to fabricated asylum claims:
"It could be an honour killing, it could be a genital mutilation like this, it could be a whole range of other quite complex and one-off situations where the person doesn't meet the refugee convention criteria."
However, Stone has supported the intervention of Evans within this case.

Legal Background: Australian Immigration Practice
The women have been refused refugee status as their situation is not covered by current law, which states that persecution must be based on:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a particular social group or political party.
Thus, women who fear genital mutilation are deported.
Clearly, the law as it currently stands is deeply problematic. As developing countries are increasingly threatened by globalisation, we are going to continue to see the emergence of social and religious customs that not only denigrate women, but threaten their lives. Further, isn't it arguable that women who are threatened by genital mutilation actually do form a particular social group?

Demonstrating the ineffectual nature of current immigration policy, it has been noted that women with similar cases have been granted refugee status. However, the outcomes of these cases have been dependent on the judgement of an individual Immigration Officer. So let's get this straight,
  • The law is recognised to be disproportionately narrow by some Immigration Officers, who are judging cases contrary to the letter of the law.
  • Resultingly, the lives of women are therefore dependent on the individual judgement of an Immigration Official, providing plenty of room for the entry of bigotry.
Clearly, the law is ineffective - if Immigration Officials aren't following it - and it allows for individual power over the fate of another; of which the entire point of bureaucratising the process is to prevent.
Which makes you wonder why the Liberal Party is opposing the introduction of a law that would make cases such as these so much more clear cut. Personally, this didn't come as a surprise. The Liberal Party have long latched onto the xenophobic fears that are attached to immigration in this country.

Cultural Background - The Mungiki
Judging by the media reports, both women face attack by their family members who are a part of the Mungiki tradition. Originating in the 1980s, the criminalised group is steadfastedly anti-modern and anti-western; seeking to return to the indigenous traditions untouched by colonialisms taint. As is typical with any group that steadfastedly rejects the present (fundamentalist Christians, anyone?) and aims for a return to the more innocent and pure past; shitty gender roles also come into play.*

So, get out your pens, pick up the phone and chat to your federal member about supporting this bill.
*Please note: I believe that all cultures that diminish the status of women deserve relevant criticism. I do not agree with rampant cultural relativism that embraces any non-western cultural aspect and scorns criticism on the basis of it being ethnocentric. Further, the same traits that have led to the re-entrance of genital mutilation into Kenyan society, are also present in the western religious and cultural world - but that would be for another post.


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