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Magtoto, Ma. Kimberly T.

FGMS BLURRED LINES: WHERE THE RIGHT TO CULTURAL INTEGRITY ENDS


AND WHERE THE RIGHT TO HEALTH BEGINS
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a prevalent practice among ethnic
communities in certain areas of the Philippines, particularly in the region of
Mindanao. Among the cultural communities that practice it are the Yakans, Tausugs,
Samals, Maranaos, and Badjaos. The practice of FGM is deeply rooted in tradition
and is supported by a wide range of deeply inculcated beliefs among such ethnic
communities. Among others, it is thought of as a means to maintain social cohesion,
to preserve familial honor, to increase a womans marriageability, and to keep a
womans chastity.
As part and parcel of their culture and tradition, it is these ethnic
communities right to practice such act. After all, no less than the 1987 Constitution
is replete with provisions that guarantee respect for cultural integrity of ethnic
groups and encourage cultural diversity within the framework of national unity and
development. Moreover, various international instruments to which Philippines is a
State-Party ensure the right of individuals to take part in cultural life.
However, medical research shows that FGM causes permanent risk/s to
health. Among others, it is established that FGM can cause difficulties in sexual
intercourse, menstrual problems, chronic infections of the uterus and vagina,
infertility, incontinence, prolapses, chronic vulval abscesses, difficulty in using
contraceptive methods, and sexual dysfunction. Following these harmful findings,
the governments obligation to protect and promote the health of its citizens,
pursuant to Article II, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution, comes in.
In such a situation, there arises a conflict. This is between the ethnic
communities right to cultural integrity on the one hand and the obligation of the
State to protect and promote its citizens rights to health on the other. Which right
has more weight? Shall one right prevail or may the rights be reconciled?
Without favoring either right, this Study will attempt to strike a balance
between the two seemingly conflicting rights by positing that (1) the depth of
inseparability and interdependence between the practice of FGM and the way of life
of ethnic communities should serve as a standard or guideline in determining
whether the State may curtail the practice of FGM and (2) the female members of
such ethnic communities should be able and empowered to exercise control over
their body, hence, their right to give consent as regards the infliction of FGM upon
them should be respected.