Sara Johnsdotter “The Bike Accident and the FGM Fantasy”

  • Date:
  • Location: Engelska parken
  • Contact person: Sara Johnsdotter
  • Föreläsning

Wednesday 23 September 10.15–12.00 Sara Johnsdotter (Malmö Universitet) “The Bike Accident and the FGM Fantasy” EP3-2028/CG B43

The introduction of this seminar will focus on a case mentioned in the article “Meaning well while doing harm.”* The case is described in one of almost 200 police files in Sweden regarding suspected “FGM” (‘female genital mutilation’ [kvinnlig könsstympning], ‘female genital cutting,’ or ‘female circumcision’). It is about a young Swedish Somali girl who had a bike accident, damaging her genitalia, and the aftermath of that incident.
I find the case worth discussing because it plays out at the intersection of several policy aims. A kind of trade-off takes place between the political will and legal obligation to identify illegal cases of “FGM” and the political will and legal obligation not only to give all citizens equal access to good care but, in more general terms, treat them as equal subjects before the law.
This trade-off, in turn, takes place in a wider socio-political context which has some defining features: in the public discourse, it is widely believed that “FGM” is a practice upheld among many Swedish Africans. With only two cases of illegal FGM taken to court in the last forty years, the prevalent assumption is that the scarcity of reported cases can be explained by failure to report. Furthermore, with ideas about secretively illegal practices comes a kind of standard tale of FGM, which has also been called the “FGM fantasy.” Arguably, this standard tale or fantasy of FGM is what guides authorities in Western countries when they encounter girls and families from areas where circumcision of girls is practiced, and this will have repercussions for how the handling of the suspected cases unfolds. 
This discussion is part of an ongoing study funded by Forte. I and my co-worker Lotta Wendel (PhD, lawyer) analyze how the authorities have handled suspected cases of FGM. Theoretically the project has its starting point in a legal perspective focusing the principle of proportionality. The following questions guide the study: How much state invasion of privacy of individuals, according to the professionals, is proportionate to the interest of checking for an inadmissible practice? How do officials balance between conflicting laws when they handle cases of suspected FGM? How do public ideas about the scope of the problem in Sweden affect the choices made about actions in the specific cases?
* Johnsdotter, S (2019). “Meaning well while doing harm: compulsory genital examinations in Swedish African girls.” Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters27(2): 87–99.