The recent Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity, held from December 7-9, 2000, at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, represents in my opinion the maturing of the movement for genital integrity for all human beings. We are reaching out to new geographical constituencies, such as South Korean activists DaiSik Kim, Myung-Geol Pang, and Sae Chul Kim, who each received the Human Rights Award at the symposium and who delivered a spellbinding address entitled, “The Short and Bizarre History of South Korean Circumcision”. Their work to combat the startling ascendance of circumcision in that country has gained substantial media attention in Korea and elsewhere around the world, based in large part on the award from NOCIRC. (In 1998, Dr. Margaret Somerville’s receipt of her award at the Oxford Symposium generated a similar media buzz.)
Our movement is also receiving increasing media attention. This Symposium was covered by many media outlets around the world including ABC News, the Associated Press, CNN International, the Sydney Herald, the Melbourne Age, the Independent (South Africa), the Times of India, the Malaysia National News Agency. Keynote speaker Gregory J. Boyle of Australia’s Bond University ably summarized the principal ethical, psychological and legal considerations and helped draw Australian media and popular attention to the symposium. Zenas Baer supplied a fascinating overview of the two equal protection cases relating to circumcision in which he has been involved as well as a legal overview.
We are branching out, reinforcing and expanding our alliance with the movement against female genital mutilation, which indeed has always been an integral part of the biennial symposia (as well as a small but important part of ARC’s work). At this conference, valuable and mutually benefical connections were formed with such anti-FGM activists as Juliana Nkrumah of the New South Wales FGM Program and Martha Teshome of Western Australia.
New faces were very welcome in Sydney. We are expanding our connections in other ways, bringing in brilliant, incisive new thinkers such as the impressively credentialed Professor Michael Katz (“The Urge to Circumcise Seems Constant, The Reasons for It Keep Changing”) and Professor Leonard B. Glick, who provided an unforgettable historical perspective on Jewish circumcision. While everyone present joined Shane Peterson’s sorrow over his own personal circumcision tragedy, we all admired his unspeakable courage in sharing with us his saga of medical disaster followed by endless struggle and, ultimately, legal victory. Daniel Bollinger drew fascinating connections between circumcision and other forms of violence in the United States.
We are also reaching out to look at the connections between our cause and other issues present and past. Frederick Hodges delivered a typically superb review of historical revisionism in recent medical history, and Robert Darby provided an illuminating and original discussion of the rise of preventive circumcision from 1880-1930 in Australia. Seham abd el Salam wrote a paper delivered by Marilyn Milos which analyzed in detail common ground between activists against male and female genital cutting.
Closing keynote speaker John W. Travis delivered a passionate plea for a holistic vision of transforming the lives of children through a comprehensive program of inter-related life-honoring practices. The spirited discussion stirred up by John’s presentation reaffirmed to me our vitality as a movement, our ability to disagree and yet merge head and heart in a collaborative dialectic. My talk, entitled “Comparative Legal Analysis of Body Mutilation Practices on Children,” drew connections between and suggested lessons to be learned from such disparate child body modification practices as Chinese footbinding, infanticide in Nineteenth Century India, artificial cranial deformation of infants, male genital mutilation, and female genital mutilation.
The variety of the offerings was virtually limitless. George L. Williams suggested that Sigmund Freud may have suffered from circumcision-related post traumatic stress disorder. Duane Jorde contributed a heartening, at times moving collection of photographs of fathers “in rebellion” to promote a new wave of protective and nurturing fatherly instincts.
The session on “The Role of Women in Ending Genital Mutilation,” conducted by all of us present with leadership provided by Jeannine Parvati Baker (who has also done the closing of EVERY symposium to date), Mary Conant, and Marilyn Milos, offered all of us an all too rare opportunity to let our hair down and explore together the feelings underlying our own connections with genital integrity issues. Many of us learned things about each other which we never knew despite years of working side by side. Truly an unforgettable part of the Symposium.
Sydney is a breathtaking beautiful city, with water everywhere and a remarkably efficient multimodal public transportation system. Marilyn Milos probably outdid herself this year with her masterful organization of this event.
We are Africans and Europeans, North Americans and Asians. We are young and we are young-at-heart. We are women and men, gay and straight, intact and not. We are united as champions of genital integrity. As the past millennium comes to its actual close and the new one is ready to go, it is heartening that we have two promising legal cases in progress (a posting on the Stowell and Price cases will be coming soon) and exciting that we can come together to collectively dream of a better future. What happier holidays could all of us who support genital integrity possibly have than living to see and help make our wish start to become true?
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child