Rosie Duivenbode: "From Bedside to Court Bench: Medical Expertise and the Unwanted Consequences of Female Genital Cutting Legislation and Policies"

National Seminar Series in the Medical Humanities

Research presentation by Rosie Duivenbode, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health and Centre for Medical Humanities, Uppsala University. The seminar is part of the Medical Humanities National Seminar Series.


Background. Medical experts play a central role in the enforcement and implementation of female genital cutting (FGC) legislation and safeguarding policies worldwide. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that legal and policy efforts designed to protect young women and girls have unexpected harmful consequences. Experts increasingly question whether existing policies are proportional and just. Medical experts involved in clinical surveillance and the provision of criminal evidence who share these concerns might find themselves caught between law and clinical practice, balancing various harms and goods that reach well beyond their disciplinary expertise. Objective. This study aims to provide a holistic assessment of the role of medical experts in the implementation and enforcement of FGC laws and policies. It will pay specific attention to how they balance their duties to the state and public interest with their other, at times conflicting, professional duties – such as equal and person-centered care.

Methods. The combination of a medical and legal ethnography will follow the healthcare professional in all her FGC-related roles, from bedside to court bench. The first part of the study will be conducted in clinical settings in the United Kingdom, a country with arguably one of the strictest FGC surveillances in the world. The second part, the legal component, will be international involving a select number of FGC legal trials over the past decade in various Western countries.

Implications. In addition to practical implications for FGC safeguarding policies and expert witness testimony in legal trials, this project will provide insight into the potential impact of (academic) activism on healthcare provision and the relationship between the state and independent medical professionals when the latter become, willingly or unwillingly, involved in legal prosecutions and the pursuit of political objectives.

Project supervisors

Birgitta Essén (International Materal and Reproductive Health, Uppsala University), Jameson Garland (Medical Law, Uppsala University), Sara Johnsdotter (Social Anthropology, Malmö University), and Richard Shweder (Human Development, University of Chicago).


This presentation will also function as the post-registration seminar requirement for PhD students at the medical faculty of Uppsala University. As such, the format is as follows: a 20-minute presentation of the research plan by Rosie Duivenbode will be followed by 20 minutes of questions from the Claudia Merli (Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and the reviewer) and 5-10 minutes of questions from Karin Enskär (Professor of Paediatric Nursing and the examiner). After a short break, the rest of the seminar time is dedicated to questions from, and conversation with, the audience and supervisors.