Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity

The recent Sixth International Symposium on Genital Integrity, held from
December 7-9 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

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 collections 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

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?

Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child


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