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Monday, June 29, 2009

A Mother's Nightmare: A Senegalese Woman Struggles to Save Her Daughters

By Karen Yi From the June 26, 2009 issue Having survived female genital mutilation when she was three years old in Senegal, Fatoumata does not want her four U.S.-born daughters to face the same violence. But as an undocumented immigrant at risk of deportation, the past Fatoumata fought to leave behind might be catching up to her children. Fatoumata, who requested that her last name be withheld, is fighting her case in U.S. immigration courts. If her application for political asylum is denied, then she faces the unenviable dilemma of either separating from her children, who have U.S. citizenship, or moving them back to Senegal where her family is demanding her daughters undergo the traditional genital cutting. “What we see is that the U.S. asylum system at present is widely inconsistent in resolving gender-based claims,” said Jeanne Smoot, director of public policy at the Tahirih Justice Center, a nongovernmental organization that works to protect women and girls from gender-based violence. “There really is a lack of recognition, a lack of clear compassion for the fact that obviously a fear of persecution to one’s children really is a fear of persecution to oneself.” More than 14 years ago, Fatoumata arrived in the United States with her husband and settled in New York City. Her husband immediately applied for political asylum, listing her for “derivative status,” a provision that helps protect spouses and children. His application was denied. Fatoumata’s lawyer could not comment on the case. Fatoumata and her husband, however, remained in the United States illegally and began a family. Thirteen years and six children later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested Fatoumata’s husband on July 20, 2007. She said that ICE arrived at their home in the middle of the night, taking Fatoumata and her children by surprise. “My children were in the bed that time,” Fatoumata said. “They were shaking,” because of “the way ICE was acting, yelling, screaming. They have flashlights, they carry the guns, they were going all over the house.” The house raid, and subsequent deportation of her husband four months later, left Fatoumata struggling as a single mom with six kids. Without legal status to work, Fatoumata has no means of earning a steady income and has recently moved into the New York City shelter system, relying on $731 in food stamps a month to feed her family. “We came so we can make a family and a better place, that’s our dream,” Fatoumata said, “but I don’t know. It’s getting worse for us.” Although female genital mutilation is illegal in Senegal, enforcement is very weak, explains Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of Equality Now, an international human rights organization dedicated to women’s rights. “It is such a strong cultural tradition and it’s also very difficult for the child to go and complain,” Bien-Aimé said. Although the procedure varies in each country and village, Bien-Aimé described a typical scenario of female genital mutilation: “A number of women hold the girl down — one at her head, one at each arm. They open her legs and then they just take whatever they have available — a razor, a sharp knife, sometimes a stone — and they start slicing. It is generally done without anesthesia and in very unsanitary conditions.” The procedure involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. This scene could await Fatoumata’s four daughters, 6, 9, 11 and 13 years old. Facing heavy pressure from her family back in Senegal to have her daughters subjected to the cutting, Fatoumata fears the worst. “If I go back [to Senegal] I don’t have any power to stop them,” she said. Female genital mutilation is most commonly performed between the ages of four and eight, but it can take place from infancy to adolescence. It is considered one of the worst violations listed in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Amnesty International estimates that, as of 2005, more than 136 million women worldwide have been affected by some form of genital cutting. If Fatoumata is not granted political asylum, she could be deported back to Senegal. Rather than leave her six children in foster care, Fatoumata says she’ll take them with her. But with the safety of her kids on the line, Fatoumata is fighting for a way to stay here, and she is not alone. A coalition of immigrant rights and faithbased groups have formed a defense committee for Fatoumata, providing advocacy and resources and promoting public awareness. Two years ago Fatoumata filed a motion to reopen her asylum case. The motion was denied by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and is currently waiting to be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Joshua Bardavid, Fatoumata’s pro-bono immigration attorney, said he expects her case to be denied based on a procedural hurdle established by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Under the 1996 laws, a person cannot reopen his or her case more than 90 days after the case is decided. Bardavid, however, is working on a new motion to reopen her case based on evidence that asylum status is needed in order to protect her daughters. While the 1996 case of Fauziya Kasinga established female genital mutilation as a reason for political asylum, Smoot said, “The law at present doesn’t provide a clear means for parents seeking to protect their children to be granted asylum.” “Fatoumata’s case is really emblematic of what’s wrong with the system,” said Janis Rosheuvel, director of Families for Freedom, an immigrant rights organization. “To make the impossible choice between those two terrible extremes — either to place their daughters at risk but keep their families together or remove that risk only by surrendering those girls to grow a world apart from them, in our opinion, effectively threatens to create a foster class of girls who are left behind here and families that are separated in order to secure the girls’ protection,” Smoot said. Since the United States approves the applications of just over 20 percent of the political asylum cases each year, Fatoumata faces an uphill battle. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Immigration Courts granted about 10,700 of about 47,400 asylum cases in fiscal year 2008. “When I think about why Fatoumata not deserves, but needs, to stay here, I can just count to six … her six kids who are all U.S. citizens,” Rosheuvel said.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Medics drive to highlight mutilation risks posed by illegal op

June 28, 2009 A DANGEROUS and illegal medical procedure which is carried out on young girls has become the focus of a poster campaign. Health and social care bosses are taking steps to tackle the issue of female genital mutilation, a practice which can cause life-threatening bleeding, psychological damage and problems during pregnancy and childbirth. The procedure, which may be carried out for cultural or religious reasons, is normally performed on young girls by older women in some African and Asian communities. Medics in Derby are seeing an average of about six women a year who are suffering from complications as a result of the practice. They say that, of the patients they have seen, none had the procedure recently and all were operated on abroad. An on-going poster campaign, run by NHS Derby City, in partnership with other organisations, is under way to educate Derby's growing migrant population of the risks and, hopefully, prevent any new cases. Victor Chilaka, a gynaecologist at Derby City General Hospital, has treated a number of patients who have had complications as a result of the procedure. He said: "I don't think it's fair to wait for it to happen before we do something." Posters have been put up in Derby's GP surgeries and hospitals warning that the practice is illegal and can lead to serious complications. k3ywe4c9px And educational sessions have been carried out to alert health professionals. The campaign is aimed at Derby's growing migrant population. Between 2002 and 2007, approximately 13,000 new migrants moved to the city, including 1,430 black Africans and 4,940 Asians. About 13% of people in Derby were born outside the UK, an increase of 8.5% since 2001. Mr Chilaka said: "We've seen a progressive increase in the number of people presenting with genital mutilation." The majority of girls given the procedure are aged between four and 10 and are from Africa, the Middle East and South and South-east Asia. In some countries, such as Egypt, Somalia and Sudan, the practice is carried out on 98% of girls. But in others, such as Nigeria, Kenya and Senegal, it is much lower – between 20% and 50%. In the UK, it is illegal to carry out the practice and take a child abroad to undergo it. Despite this, about 6,500 girls in the UK are thought to be at risk.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Islam and Female Genital Mutilation

June 27, 2009

Women have been circumcised for thousands of years, and the custom has become deeply ingrained in human thought. Tradition demands that women be circumcised, and it is often the women themselves who wish to continue this ritual, partly to prevent sexual desire in girls. Indeed, an uncircumcised girl is considered worthless on the marriage market in many places because she is perceived as being "impure" and "loose."

Although circumcision is often justified for supposedly religious reasons, there is no religious justification for the practice in either Christianity or Islam.

Sharp condemnation by religious and moral leaders is needed to ban this horrific practice. But movement does appear to be afoot -- at least if an event that took place in Cairo two weeks ago is any indication. It bordered on a minor revolution.

Muslim scholars and academics from Germany, Africa and the Middle East spent two days discussing female genital mutilation. The goal of the conference was to declare this form of circumcision to be incompatible with the ethics of Islam as a global religion.

It was a German who organized and funded the conference. In 2000 Rüdiger Nehberg, 71, a man known for adventurous exploits that have included crossing the Atlantic in a pedal boat, founded Target, a human rights organization dedicated to fighting female genital mutilation. Since then Nehberg, accompanied by his life partner Annette Weber, has been traveling throughout Africa with his video camera, documenting the inhuman practice and attempting to win over political and religious leaders for his cause. Wherever he goes, Nehberg says: "This custom can only be brought to an end with the power of Islam." In organizing the conference, which was held at Cairo's Al-Azhar University under the patronage of Egyptian Grand Mufti Ali Jumaa, Nehberg has come one step closer to his goal. Many important Muslim scholars attended the event. The Egyptian minister for religious charities, Mahmoud Hamdi Saksuk, condemned the practice, as did the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University, Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi. Even the renowned and notorious Egyptian religious scholar and journalist Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who enjoys great popularity in the Middle East as a result of his commentary on the Aljazeera television network, attended the Cairo conference.

Qaradawi did full justice to his reputation as a hardliner by initially criticizing the fact that the conference was paid for by a foreign institution, and not the practice of mutilation. He also complained that the title, "The Prohibition of Violation of the Female Body through Circumcision" was biased and presumptuous.

But after plenty of hemming and hawing, even Qaradawi managed to agree that the Koran states that it is forbidden to mutilate God's creation. "We are on the side of those who ban this practice," he said, but added that doctors ought to have the last word.

This wasn't enough for women's rights activists. Mushira Chattab, the Egyptian first lady's special ambassador and chairwoman of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, called upon the legal scholars at the meeting to take a clear position against female circumcision. Then she turned to Qaradawi and said: "You should not leave it up to doctors to condemn this practice."

Every doctor at the conference agreed that there is no medical justification for female genital mutilation. Heribert Kentenich, physician-in-chief of the women's clinic at the DRK Hospitals in Berlin expressed a "complete lack of understanding" for the fact that 75 percent of circumcisions are now performed by doctors in Egypt. "I find it almost more horrifying that doctors are enriching themselves by doing this," he added.

The drop in the estimated incidents of female circumcision has dropped significantly -- some believe as much as from 97 percent to approximately 50 percent -- but it is impossible to obtain precise figures. Even at 50 percent, that would still represent roughly 400,000 girls a year. Kentenich believes that the "medicalization of female genital mutilation makes it seem more acceptable."

The direct consequences include hemorrhaging, as well as severe pain and anxiety that can lead to trauma. Besides, the practice can also cause infections in the urinary tract, the uterus, the fallopian tube and the ovaries. Other consequences such as tetanus infections, gangrene and blood poisoning can be fatal.

Besides, women who are subjected to pharaonic mutilation experience increased pain during menstruation, when blood accumulates in the vagina because the opening is too small to permit normal flow. Mutilated women are also at greater risk for becoming infected with HIV.

Intercourse is painful for circumcised women. To be able to penetrate, men must often force themselves into their wives' vaginas. Those whose penises are incapable of doing the job use a knife to enlarge the opening.

Circumcised women can face complications during pregnancy, and both the mother and child are at greater risk of dying in childbirth.

There is no religious justification for this practice. All three major monotheistic world religions define man as a perfect creation of the Almighty, and condemn doing any harm to God's creation.

In Sura 95, Verse 4, the Koran states: "We have created man in our most perfect image." Besides, in Islam men and women are meant to experience sexual fulfillment, and it is considered the husband's matrimonial duty to satisfy his wife -- a near impossible task when a woman is circumcised.

Although the conference's attendees were generally in agreement over these facts, men repeatedly insisted on defending circumcision as an established custom. "Our women have been circumcised for thousands of years, and they have never complained," said an agitated elderly man in the audience. The conference, he said, was a Western conspiracy, and showing pictures of circumcisions was a crime.

But the academics and scholars in attendance declared genital circumcision to be a deplorable custom without any basis in religious texts. They called upon the parliaments in the countries where the practice is common to pass laws making genital mutilation a crime.

The Grand Mufti of Egypt signed the resolution the next day. Ali Jumaa declared that he firmly believed that the fight against this terrible custom would succeed. Muslims base much of their behavior on legal opinions issued by religious scholars.

For Rüdiger Nehberg, the adventurer on a crusade for women, the conference represented the fulfillment of a dream. He now plans to "print a small book containing the recommendation and the scholars' comments and distribute 4 million copies worldwide."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Aid Agency Calls for FGM Legislation

June 25, 2009 An aid agency is calling for specific legislation on Female Genital Mutilation to protect women and girls in Ireland from the practice. World Vision Ireland says a large number of women and families from countries with high prevalence rates of FGM are continuing to migrate to Ireland. The issue came to national prominence in Nigerian woman Pamela Izevbekhai’s fight to remain in Ireland, Her deportation case is ongoing and her main argument is that if sent back to Nigeria her two daughters will be subject to FGM. Former Mayor of Sligo Veronica Cawley held a civic reception last year in order to highlight the dangers and prevalence of the procedure. World Vision Ireland is before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee today. Spokesperson Eileen Morrow says legislation is vitally needed. And her is the rest of it.

Uganda: Minister, Legislators Clash Over FGM Bill

Mercy Nalugo 22 June 2009 Labour State Minister Emmanuel Otaala on Friday clashed with legislators over accusations that the government was trying to hijack a private members' Bill which seeks to outlaw female genital mutilation. The drama, which ensued at a women's conference organised by the Gender Ministry and the Uganda Parliamentary Women Association (Uwopa) in Kampala, started after Kinkizi West MP Chris Baryomunsi briefed the legislators about the status of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, a private members' Bill which he drafted. But Gender and Labour Minister Gabriel Opio, who was guest of honour, said the Bill has a charge on the consolidated fund and that Cabinet had approved principles of the same Bill. "This automatically paved way for the Gender Ministry to draft the Bill to that effect. It is a good Bill for the women but we should sit down and harmonise our positions in order to avoid duplication of content," he said. Mr Opio said the gender minister had instructed the Parliamentary Council to draft the same Bill. Mr Baryomunsi, who said his Bill is ready for first reading, added that he has been working with civil society organisations and he has been advised the Bill has no financial implications. He was backed by other legislators who accused government of frustrating the MPs' work by hijacking their Bills. A private members Bill is that introduced by a backbencher. Mr Dennis Obua (Youth, Northern Uganda) said the government is determined to frustrate MPs efforts to move private members Bills where the government has failed. "Some time back we wanted to move a Bill seeking to amend the National Youth Act but government hijacked it and it is sleeping on it," he said. Mr Henry Banyenzaki (Rubanda West) said the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure were clear on private members Bills which Mr Baryomunsi had followed. "What have you been doing all this time? Bring your input or else hands off," he said. Mr Emmanuel Ddombo (Bunyole County) said: "There has been a national outcry on this matter but the government has been silent."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Communities in URR Vow to Stop FGC

June 24, 2009 As many as 24 villages in the Upper River Region recently converged to celebrate what is called Darsilameh Mandinka public declaration for the abandonment of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) of children and forced-marriage, at a colourful ceremony held at Darsilameh Village in Sandu District. The celebration characterised with a series of cultural activities was organised by the communities and supported by TOSTAN-UNICEF and the government of the Gambia. Speaking at the programme, Mr. Bakary Fofana, the Chairman of the steering committee in Darsilameh, who doubles as the Community Development Assistant (CDA) welcomed the crowd for attending this important ceremony which, he said, is a history for UNICEF, TOSTAN, and the government of the Gambia. Mr. Fofana noted that over twenty-four (24) community in Sandu and Wuli District (including adopted communities have united together to openly declare to abandon the practices of Female Genital Cutting and forced-marriage. He noted that this decision does not just occur, but happened after an intensive three years community programme, led by facilitators with social mobilisation and sensitisation activities by the team, communities and the C.M.C. members on issues affecting health and personal well-being as well violating fundamental rights. According to him, after evaluating both the positive and negative effects of the practices often with careful observation, discussion and dialogue with the community members and local and influential leaders, the 24 communities have decided to openly and voluntarily declare to abandon the cultural practices of (FGC) child and forced-marriage. Mr. Fofana further asserted that it is important to note that the TOSTAN Community Empowerment Programme is not only focusing on Female Genital Cutting, but the programme is a holistic approach to community led sustainable development, covering issues such as democracy, good governance, human rights, problem-solving, health, hygiene and literacy. He added that, the community and the TOSTAN Programme cannot achieve this major success without the crucial support of the National Women’s Bureau through the Gambia government in promoting an enabling environment. Mr. Fofana added that the impersonation of any development project depends on the availability of resources. “We acknowledge and thank UNICEF for providing the funding and support over the years making it possible for us to witness this very important ceremony. It is evidence that the brain behind all this is the initiator of the community empowerment of the African Community and women, in particular which cannot go unrecognised”. For his part, Mr. Saikuna Sanyang, Head of Regional Health Team in the Upper River Region expressed delight to be associated with the event. He noted that the health sector has recognised TOSTAN as their key partners in the region. “We see this mass open declaration of abandoning Female Genital Cutting as a positive move,” he stated. Other speakers included female genital cutters, all of whom, promised to drop the knife with immediate effect. Mr. Momodou S. Kah, the Deputy Governor of URR expressed similar sentiments and urged the community to maintain their promise that they will drop the knife. He also applauded TOSTAN and UNICEF for bringing such a development project to their door-steps. For his part, Mr. Bakary Tamba, TOSTAN Gambia’s National Co-ordinator said TOSTAN aims to complement the Gambia government, and UNICEF’s efforts in empowering the Gambian communities for sustainable development in positive social transformation, based on respect for human rights and democratic principles. He concluded that TOSTAN Gambia works in partnership with UNICEF and the Women’s Bureau. Author: Abdoulie Nyockeh

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A public pledge to end Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting in Gambia

By Alison Parker DARSILAMI, Gambia, 22 June 2009 – The festive atmosphere in this village in the Upper River Region was reminiscent of a wedding. But the singing and dancing was, in fact, part of celebration at which 24 neighbouring villages publicly declared the end of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) practises in their communities. Kobaie Nyabaly a former FGM/C practitioner walked briskly to the podium and boldly gave her testimony before the crowd of more than 600 onlookers, including religious leaders, village chiefs, and youth groups. “There were times when the children collapsed and some even went into a coma,” she recalled of her time practicing FGM/C. “The parents would bring various items to be sacrificed to save their children. We told the parents to go and see the sorcerers, they were told that it was the work of witchcraft. I never knew that my knife was the witch.” Catalyst for change The ceremony, which consisted of many testimonies like Ms. Nyabaly’s, was the second such event and a landmark in the UNICEF-supported Community Development and Empowerment Programme. The programme has been introduced in 80 communities throughout the Upper River Region to give communities an innovative and holistic approach towards social change. Implemented by the non-governmental organization Tostan, the programme focuses on themes of democracy and good governance, human rights and responsibilities, problem solving, hygiene, health, literacy and management skills. The programme uses methods based on African oral traditions such as stories, poetry, theatre and song. Practical literacy skills reinforce these themes, enabling participants to review and share new knowledge with neighbours and relatives. A harmful tradition FGM/C is practiced in about 28 countries in Africa and Western Asia. Gambia is among the worst offenders, with a 78 per cent practice rate among women 15 – 49 years. The practice rate is even higher in the Upper River Region. FGM/C has been linked to serious physical and mental health risks for girls and women – including complications at child birth, maternal deaths, infertility, urinary incontinence, infection and tetanus, amongst others. The 2005 Children’s Act provides a legal frame work to address harmful traditional practices such as early marriage and FGM/C. But the persistence of the practice and the cultural sensitivities surrounding the tradition makes dialogue, evidence-based advocacy and community empowerment the best interventions. Public advocates Public platforms like the one in Darsilami are going a long way towards ending this harmful tradition, as respected practitioners encourage a change in mindset. “When I look back, I cannot undo what I have done,” said Ms. Nyabaly. “The only thing I can do to make up for my past deeds is to become an advocate and call upon all women to come together and collectively bring an end to this practice as the responsibility starts with us.”

Anti FGM bill to be tabled in Uganda's Parliament

June 23, 2009 Ultimate Media The Chairperson of the Parliamentary forum for Population and Food Security, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi has said he is ready to table a Private Members’ Bill to parliament for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilations. Dr. Baryomunsi says the practice of female circumcision which is practiced as custom in some Ugandan communities has been condemned by medical experts as dangerous. He says the bill will help put an end to Female circumcision or Female Genital Mutilations as a dehumanizing act against women and female children. Dr. Baryomunsi says the practice mainly among the Sabiny in Kapchorwa and Bukwo has no medical or social benefit for the women who are forced to undergo it. He says the MPs want expeditious action in the communities in Bikwo and Kapchowa to stop the practice of female circumcision since it has led to many health and social problems. Dr. Baromunsi says the bill which is ready is expected to be tabled and passed by end of 2009. Young girls among the Sabiny are circumcised as a cultural rite of passage into adulthood in functions that take place every December of an even year. While public campaigns and sensitizations against the practice has managed to bring about reductions in forced FGM, human rights activists say a law is important to completely outlaw the practice since it is against the human rights of women and girls. And her is the rest of it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Parliament Tackles Genital Mutilation

June 22, 2009 A parliamentary committee has drawn up a proposal to strengthen the law against female genital mutilation. The draft of a new code would specifically punish the practice, even if the acts were committed in a foreign country where they’re not illegal. Those convicted of the act would be sentenced to up to10 years in prison. Parliamentarians were mostly in support of the measure, although some said it doesn’t go far enough. Women’s rights NGO Alliance F is also calling for more education to prevent the practice in the first place.

Author Uses her Experience of Mutilation to Inform New Novel and Help Girls

June 22, 2009 By Halley Bondy/For The Star-Ledger WEST ORANGE -- Female genital mutilation is hardly a common topic in West Orange. For 40 years, resident Caroline Ilogienboh has struggled to discuss her condition with men. If she brings it up with American men, they seem bashful, or in her words, "clueless." "It's not a subject most people ordinarily talk about, especially men," Ilogienboh said. "But it is a men's issue--if it affects your sex life, it's something we need to talk about." In Ilogienboh's self-published new novel, men are the key to saving women in her position. A native of Nigeria, she was circumcised at 11, having her clitoris removed in a village ritual. As she grew up, she realized female circumcision is a topic that, if not raised by women's advocacy organizations, is not discussed at all. After interviewing more than 30 men in New Jersey and New York, Ilogienboh, 51, wrote her self-published novel "Saving Bekyah" about an American man who goes to great lengths to satisfy a Nigerian woman who was mutilated as a child. The two of them, with the help of other men in her home village, eventually become embroiled in the politics of female circumcision in Africa. "If you want to make any real change in Africa, it has to be from the men there," Ilogienboh said in a phone interview. "Women can fight all they want, but until men say, 'If you cut her, I will not touch her,' nothing will change." Ilogienboh said, in Africa, clitoridectomies are forced on young girls and infants to keep them from becoming promiscuous. The World Health Organization estimated that between 100 million and 140 million girls alive today have undergone some form of genital mutilation, and that in Africa, three million girls annually are at risk of undergoing the procedure. "It was something that we just did, I didn't think about it," Ilogienboh said. "Only most girls have it as infants, but I remember everything." Tim Sutton, a spokesman for UNICEF said the numbers are more staggering than people think, but that, after Ilogienboh's generation, female genital mutilation started tapering off. "There is research which shows that the prevalence of female genital mutilations and clitoridectomies has declined slowly but steadily during the last 15 years," Sutton said. "Now it seems that older girls and younger women are less likely to have experienced any form of female genital mutilations than older women. Much, much more still needs to be done." Ilogienboh said that although she did not experience common health problems, such as infection or infertility, she was emotionally traumatized. She said she eventually became an angry teenager, beating up schoolmates and running away from home. At age 20, Ilogienboh moved to Canada to study economics. She moved to East Orange in 1987 and worked as a juvenile probation officer for 15 years. In 2001, she started the Essex Girls Talk program, a support group for girls on probation. "I found myself drawn to teenage girls," Ilogienboh said. "I understand growing up and being angry, and being in such a developmental stage of life when your body is blooming, and you're so confused." It was also through her work with teens that she became interested in writing. She wrote her first self-published novel, "Jayda's Story" in 2001 about a teenage runaway growing up in Newark. She has since written six other books, including "Saving Bekyah." She writes in West Orange, where she lives with her husband. "My writing is my passion," Ilogienboh said. "I write real issues and hope that I can change lives."

Iyalla-Amandi: Legal Victory Raises Ante on Fight Against Gender Discrimination

June 22, 2009

ALTHOUGH the courts have demonstrated their willingness to strike down practices that undermine the full enjoyment of human rights by women in the country, BEN UKWUOMA and NIKE SOTADE write that the major challenge is for women to speak out in cases of violation of their rights regardless of the stigma or consequences that may follow.

IT has been described as a landmark judgment against one of the most discriminatory laws against Nigerian women. Last week in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Dr Priye Iyalla-Amadi, wife of renowned author Elechi Amadi, won a legal battle against the Nigerian Immigration Service, which has brought to the fore the need to do away with all obnoxious laws that appear to have entrenched gender inequality in the nation's social milieu.

Mrs. Iyalla-Amadi had sought a replacement of her international passport in February 2008 and was told by Immigration officials in Port Harcourt that she needed written permission from her husband first.

Apparently irked by this administrative policy that tramples on her right, she headed straight to the court and was not disappointed.

Justice G.K. Olotu, presiding judge of the Federal High court, in his verdict, reportedly said: "This kind of policy has no place in 21st century Nigeria."

Indeed, the judgment which jolted many Nigerians has once again brought to the fore the issue of discrimination against women in the country which is still being sustained by discriminatory laws, policies and social and cultural practices.

Although discrimination is enshrined in the constitution, it has remained more in breach than in enforcement.

"Female genital mutilation, preference for a male child and widowhood rites is still prevalent in most parts of the country. Women face discrimination in access to education, employment and political life," the Civil Liberties Organisation of Nigeria (CLO) stated in a report.

The discriminatory burdens placed on women include those of chastity, of making marriage work at all cost, of fertility and fertility control, and the burden of being "clean and desirable" as symbolised by female circumcision. Others include the burden to prove rape both in the community and in a court of law, to raise 'good' children, and to mourn their husbands to the taste and dictates of his relatives. "Compared to men, Nigerian society treats women as little better than beasts of burden" women activists claimed.

Lady Elizabeth Okonkwo, Registrar Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria said: "Generally, we operate within context of our culture. There are norms in the family system that create discrimination. For instance, when a child is born in a family particularly the first born, the level of jubilation and excitement depends on the sex of the baby. Remember that MTN advert which has been rested apparently due to protest by some women? Again in the choice of chores in the house, the female folks are given something less tasking. Consider a family in a financial stress, the first casualty is the woman who will be asked to withdraw from school or in most cases given out in marriage without recourse to what the woman will become in future. If you situate these examples to our inheritance laws, most of which are tilted towards the men at all levels, you will appreciate what am driving at,"

She continued: "In the southeast where I come from, despite all the decided cases from the courts, women are still being treated as if they are not part of the family. Even, when a Will is written, it is as if the women do not exist. When a man dies, the wife is expected to be in a state of mourning. Not only would her movement be restricted, in many cases she is not even allowed to take her bath for months. In extreme cases she could be called to explain the circumstances of his death. In some places the woman will be forced to drink water used to bath the corpse. Tell me who would not die from drinking that kind of water,"

"All these are not laws but societal norms which have refused to go. In some societies, something as simple as breaking a kola nut in public is taboo for woman. While title which is supposed to confer respectability and achievement, is not recognized in some communities,

To Dr Joy Ezeilo, Founding Executive Director Women Aid Collective (WACOL), the legal victory recorded in Port Harcourt is a pointer to other discriminatory polices and laws against women in the country.

"Many of these laws could be seen in the Customary, Evidence and Criminal laws. While the customary laws have prevented women in participating in the decision-making meetings in the community levels, inheritance rights and customary divorce and some administrative policies have tended to consign women into the dustbins. Take for instance the police bail issue. As I am taking to you, that policy still subsists, despite official denials.

But The Guardian learnt that one of the reasons police authorities are reluctant to allow women to stand as Sureties in bail is because of the conditions usually attached to bails.

"We don't want to visit the consequences of jumping bails on women. In Sureties you are required to forfeit the bail bond or go to jail" a police officer told The Guardian.

But, Ezeilo a legal practitioner retorted:"We don't want that privilege that smacks of discrimination. Section 24 of the constitution must apply. There are women who are rich that can meet the conditions and stand the consequences.

Within the international human rights literature, the problem of discrimination has been conceptualized as involving the denial of self_determination to women.

In feminist literature, discrimination against women is taken to manifest itself in the forms of gender, class and personal discrimination.

Opportunities existed for women in pre-colonial Nigerian society to take leadership roles in politics, religion, social and economic life.

Professor Bolanle Awe's book, Nigerian Women in Historical Perspective gives examples of women leaders of the past: Nana Asmau of Zauzzau, Idia of Benin, and Moremi of Ife. Numerous legends and oral traditions also point to the power of women in pre-colonial Nigerian society.

The origins of structures of inequality that led to discrimination against women are, found in pre_colonial societies with predominantly male_dominant social systems.

However, they were institutionalized as a new legal structure-"Native Law and Customs"-during colonial rule. Customs such as child marriage, betrothal and widowhood rites have their origins in the pre_colonial era, as did genital operations.

The Nigerian constitution of 1979 prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex, as do the constitutions of 1992 and 1999. All women have a right to suffrage once they are above the age of 18 and can contest in political elections once above the age of 21.

No customary prohibitions prevent women's participation in politics, but women have not contested for political positions on a level matching men.

Women's hesitancy to be involved in politics dates to the period of decolonization period when politics was characterized by gross abuse and physical violence.

However, Ezeilo said, the women's overall political representation and participation in government from available statistics is less than 10 per cent.

According to available statistics, out of 2273 elected into the House of representative from 1979 to 2007, only 105 women were elected. The picture is even gloomier in the Senate, where only 26 women were elected out of 884 elected during the said period.

"The conceptualized public and private sphere dichotomy consigns women's roles in the domestic sphere and sees the public space as traditional place for men, thereby perpetuating discrimination and distinctions on the basis of sex, resulting in exclusion and marginalization of women in politics and public life."

So far, no significant political party in Nigeria has placed women's promotion to key decision-making positions on its agenda.

A glossily examination of political parties constitutions and manifestoes in the country portrays glaringly the lack of political will to change the status quo and ensure a better gender balance of power in the political system.

"It is a common knowledge that the only position given to women in political parties executive is the so called "Woman/Women Leader" position, which smacks of tokenism and shows a reticence in promoting women to key party positions. It is within this context that recent recommendation of the Electoral Reform Committee becomes significant-that political parties should have 20 per cent of women in its governance body,"

"Since women's political wings have been banned it appears that women politicians have no other space for democratic engagement other than through an individual office of the "Woman Leader". I think is time we re-examine the merits and demerits of women's branches or wings," she declared. "Although, it has been argued that women's branches or organizations within a party places women in a secondary position and therefore constitutes discrimination; there is still need to interrogate this issue further given our level of gender backwardness in politics. Will it not serve women's interest better if they have their space to grow and mentor other new female entrants in the political arena as well as mobilize the female constituency towards greater contribution in shaping the political process in Nigeria?" she queried.

Late Professor Jadeola Akande, former vice Chancellor Lagos State University (LASU) in a paper delivered at the University, contended that Nigerian women do not have full legal capacity "insofar as they are unable to independently enter into contracts, ... acquire and own property ... enter into other legal transactions, sue or be sued."

The extent of women's practical freedom also varies with class, level of education and type of marriage. Within polygynous marriages, women may have more freedom than within monogamous ones, as they are not subjected to the presumption of legal unity in monogamous marriage, which gives the man the advantage.

In terms of the capacity to marry, the right of consent and the requirements of bride wealth-payment, women's right to independent decision-making may be curtailed.

In general, Nigerian law according to legal practitioners, limits the rights of a woman in marriage under all legal systems (statutory law, Sharia, and customary law).

For instance, The Guardian found that in a typical Muslim communities, divorce by repudiation is still acceptable, while under the customary law, women have a right to support and housing, but not to the husband's property or incomes. Likewise, men have no right to their spouse's property or income.

However, pre-colonial marriage laws allowed for conciliation and negotiation in the event of marriage breakdowns, which may have resulted in better treatment of the woman. In addition, a divorced woman could return to her lineage where the head of the lineage could grant her access to property.

Under statutory law, a woman technically has equal rights with her husband to the custody and guardianship of children upon divorce, but the application of the law is often such that work within the marriage is not considered an economic contribution. Hence, there is no enforcement of maintenance payments.

Another source of discrimination is to be found within the practice of religion. In both Christianity and Islam, there is a presumption of the inequality between women and men that did not necessarily exist in pre-colonial religion. In spite of Islamic provisions for the equality of all believers, purdah and polygyny are considered obligatory. Since peasants cannot afford to seclude their wives, these phenomena are linked to class.

In Christianity, the orthodox position is that women should be submissive to men. Women's restricted access to information in Islam, likewise encouraged them to accept a submissive role. Even in the case of Christianity, education and a re_conceptualization of the role of women is necessary if significant progress is to be made. Any prescriptions or conditions that may be found in the definition of the role of women in the Bible remain inadequate as the sole harbingers of change. Both religions contribute to the continuation of discrimination against women.

The personal rights of women to exercise control over their bodies is limited also by female genital operations, which in some cases create medical problems, including maternal and infant mortality, especially when combined with pregnancy at too early an age.

"These practices violate both African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) principles on basic human rights. The Economic Commission for Africa also condemns them but rightly pinpoints the complexity of the situation." Ezeilo said

The Guardian learnt that another facet of the inability of women to exercise independent control over their bodies relates to the role of culture in the exercise of social control over individuals.

The status of women is lower than that of men as a result of some predominant cultural practices. For instance, women are made to accept the superiority of men in all aspects of socio-cultural life. In some settings, discrimination starts from birth when a child is not loved or accepted because she is a girl. This reflects in the way girl-children are treated.

Investigations showed that they are not given equal place in some homes neither is the girl-child given the same opportunities for schooling. Women also have less access to credit and economic resources and maternal morbidity and mortality are very high.

Ezilo suggested: "The female parliamentarians have additional task of advocating for legal reforms. It is believed that Parliament will change as more women are elected. However, to have a significant impact on the culture of an organization, women must occupy at least one third of the available space - the target referred to as the "critical mass of women."

"The representation of women in parliament and the inclusion of their perspectives and experience into law making and other decision making spheres will inevitably lead to solutions that are more viable, sustainable and satisfy a broader range of the society. That is why women should be part of the process and why it matters, in other words, that is why it is very important that all facets of our beloved country, Nigeria benefits as we find better and more appropriate solutions for our problems."

"A few examples from Africa will show that Nigeria is a laggard in terms of political development of its women folk. The National Parliament in Rwanda today has a near 50/50 representation for women and men. South Africa's National Assembly which ranked 13th out of 183 countries in a 2005 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union has 129 of its 400 member as women. 75 of four national presiding officers, three are women: the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly and the deputy chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. South Africa is the only African country with a woman in the position of deputy president. Of the 28 members of the national cabinet appointed in 2004, 12 were women, and 10 of 21 deputy ministers were also women. Four of the nine provincial premiers are women and most provinces have at least two female representatives in councils of 10 members,'

In 2006, the federal ministry of Women's Affairs (FMWA) pushed for the adoption of the National Gender Policy to replace the National Policy on Women, which was adopted in 2000.

The overall policy goal is to build a just society devoid of discrimination, harness the full potentials of all social groups regardless of sex or circumstance, promote the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and protect the health, social, economic and political well being of all citizens in order to achieve equitable rapid economic growth; evolve an evidence - based planning and governance system where human, social, financial and technological resources are efficiently and effectively deployed for sustainable development.

While one of its policy objectives is to include the principles of United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other global and regional frameworks that support gender equality and women empowerment in the country's laws, legislative processes, judicial and administrative systems.

The policy sets as a target the adoption of special measures, quotas and mechanisms for achieving minimum critical threshold of women in political offices, party organs and public life by pursuing 35 percent affirmative action in favour of women to bridge gender gaps in political representation in both elective and appointive posts at all levels by 2015.

By adopting the national gender policy, experts said the country has recognized the vital role of gender-specific mechanisms within the government for mainstreaming gender and promoting women's empowerment. Unfortunately, The Guardian learnt that most of the targets sets with timeframe are yet to be met.

Nigeria acceded to United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984 and signed the ratification document in 1985 under the Babangida Administration. Of the 192-member-United Nations Organisation, 185 had endorsed CEDAW, leaving only seven countries to endorse the universal instrument.

In early 2007, the National Assembly rejected a bill incorporating the CEDAW convention into domestic legislation.

First Lady, Hajiya Turai Yar'Adua is not happy with the discrimination being perpetuated against women in the country.

Speaking recently at a two-day national workshop on the implementation of the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Abuja, the First Lady, while explaining the non-adoption of the previous bill for the domestication of the convention by the National Assembly failed due to lack of effective advocacy, she urged all concerned to correct the lapse and pledged her support and commitment to facilitating the early passage of the bill.

"Regrettably, almost 30 years after the ratification of the Convention, we still have a lot to do with in order to ensure its solid domestication," she noted.

Going by the information recently given to female journalists by frontline female politician Mrs. Oluremi Adiukwu-Bakare former Commissioner of Women Affairs, and Chieftaincy, Local Government and Land Matters in the last administration of Governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu, in Lagos State, women still need to fight the good fight for them to get their rights entrenched and passed into law by the National Assembly.

Adiukwu-Bakare who is currently serving as a member of different Committees on Electoral Reforms, both at the National Assembly and Presidential levels lamented how the National Council of States brazenly removed issues on Gender Reforms.

She said: " We had the Gender Electoral Reform Committee in which all female members of the National Assembly were members and I was actively involved. We had our own electoral reform agenda and we presented it to the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, which was accepted from us. But there was this other committee, which Nigerians did not present anything to, who equally came up with their own White Paper and the Council of States, too, brought another White Paper. In the electoral reform that we presented to the Justice Uwais Committee, we were very emphatic on gender issues, but the white paper that the Council of States members brought out just expunged anything on gender. That was really sacrilegious, I couldn't believe it! So we are fighting some of these things and, hopefully, we would be able to fight it between now and 2010, so that in 2011, Nigerian women would have better hopes."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Somali Community to Face Parliament over FGM

June 19, 2009 By Zacharia Tiberindwa, Ultimate Media The Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities has summoned the leaders of the Somali community to face the committee next week to interact with the committee on the practice of Female Genital Mutilation amongst the Somali community in Uganda. This arises after the Woman MP for Kampala Nabilah Sempala complained to the committee that while it was concentrating on eliminating FGM amongst the tribes that practice it like the Sabins they were forgetting the Somali community that engages in the practice in Kampala. The Chairperson of the Committee, Hanifah Kawoya says the committee has invited the leaders of the Somali community such that they can get more information on the practice which information they will compile in their report on FGM. Kawoya says the impact of FGM on the victims is so alarming and needs immediate attention which can most effectively be done by enacting a law against the practice. She says for example in their recent visit to the communities that engage in this practice, the MPs realized that some women are deformed or even become disabled as a result of being forcefully circumcised. Kawoya says she is glad that yesterday the MP for Kikinzi West Chris Baryomunsi requested Parliament to allow him to move a private members bill on FGM. And her is the rest of it.

Gambia: Reaching the FGM/C Tipping Point

June 18, 2009 BANJUL, 18 June 2009 (IRIN) - "In politics and sociology you reach a tipping point and once you've reached it, things change," says Min-whee Kang of the UN Children's Fund. "This is what we're aiming at to stop female genital mutilation and cutting in The Gambia." But a strong attachment to the practice in the country means anti-FGM activists must combat the custom indirectly through focusing on improving girls' and women's health and education. Twenty-four community represenatives in Gambia's Upper River Region on 12 June signed a public declaration abandoning female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), in the presence of government officials, village chiefs, women's groups and international development agencies. They were the first of 80 villages in the region – all of them from the Mandinka or Fula ethnic groups – where West African NGO Tostan, supported by UNICEF, are working to eliminate FGM/C. "We are using an 'organized diffusion model': we start with just a few villages, targeting everyone – girls, women, men, chiefs, Imams [religious leaders], and as the word spreads, they spread the message to other villages," UNICEF's Gambia head, Kang told IRIN. "It's a people-to-people approach." The Upper River Region has the country's highest FGM/C rates, with 90 percent of women and girls undergoing cutting, as opposed to 78 percent countrywide, according to 2006 government figures. FGM/C poses numerous physical and mental health risks, including birth complications, maternal death, infertility, urinary incontinence and tetanus, says a Tostan and UNICEF communiqué. Despite several decades of NGO attempts to curtail FGM/C in The Gambia, rates have not fallen. Indeed the average age of girls being cut is dropping, according to Kang. "People do not really understand the health implications [of FGM/C]," Kang said. "There are myths about where it originates from and why it is done." But some Gambians resent what they see as interference. Ma Hawa Conteh, 55, mother of three girls from Upper River Region, told IRIN: "There is a lot of noise made by people that [female] circumcision is not good, but I have never seen someone who had died as a result of it. Instead I think women have been healthier." Binta Balajoh, 22, from the Serekunda area, 12km from the capital Banjul, told IRIN she was cut when she was nine years old: "The prophet said Muslim males and females should be circumcised…When I was young I used to feel pain, but now that I have children the pain is gone." Both are dismayed at what they see as the interference of outsiders in their traditional customs. "We should not question what used to happen in the past - we must do as tradition dictates," Conteh told IRIN. "Some women have been paid to come and confuse us so that we will abandon what our ancestors have been practicing. Who are these people to raise their voice? I am a devout Muslim and I will follow the teachings of the prophet…I think they [anti-FGM/C campaigners] are misguided." Indirect approach Facing such strong attachment to the custom, Tostan staff realized they had to take an indirect approach to change. Some anti-FGM/C campaigners have in the past used shock tactics including displaying pictures of the cutting process to villagers, but these have backfired, instead pushing the practice underground, UNICEF's Kang said. "We must be sensitive. From many women's perspective it is out of genuine care for their daughters' social status and ability to marry that they perpetuate the practice." Working in Upper River Region, where half of the adults are illiterate, and most have not undergone formal schooling, Tostan instead incorporates FGM/C messages into a wider education programme addressing human rights, democracy and citizenship, nutrition, and health issues. "We do not talk directly about FGM/C…We discuss how girls are pulled out of school to undergo child marriages; we talk about participation in society; we look at some of the health problems women may face when delivering babies," said Bakary Tamba, Tostan's Programme Coordinator. "Then we address FGM/C through this." The hope is that once participants starting making links between FGM/C and some of these social issues, they will pass on their learning to other families, villagers and religious leaders, and eventually on to other villages, Tamba said. Threatening Islam is not the point, he stressed: "These discussions do not have to mean they are letting down the Islamic religion." Indeed some NGOs encourage villagers to retain a female initiation ceremony – just without the cutting. Changing attitudes to traditional practices that villagers hold dear is challenging, but practitioners must not shy away, said Kang. "Take foot-binding in in China – it was once a social norm, but social norms are man-made constructs that we agree among ourselves…We need to emancipate people to rethink such social norms when they cause people harm." President Yahya Jammeh backs a ban on FGM/C and supports the campaign, but is not yet ready to pass a law banning the practice, Tamba said. "We have to go slowly, knowing the people who are involved in it. Banning FGM/C now could create problems…but one day a law could be passed," he said. aj/as/np © IRIN. All rights reserved. More humanitarian news and analysis: Source: IRIN Reuters and AlertNet are not responsible for the content of this article or for any external internet sites. The views expressed are the author's alone.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fight Against FGM boosted - As 24 communities drop the knife in URR

Thursday, June 18, 2009 In what could be described as yet another victory in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM), about 24 communities in the Upper River Region on Sunday the 14th June, solemnly declared publicly that they will no longer circumcise their girls. In a well attended declaration ceremony held in Darsilami Mandinka, Sandu District, prominent circumcisers in the area pledged to discard the practice, which according to the World Health Organisation has left millions of women’s rights violated. The declaration ceremony, which was attended by thousands of women and children, was organised by the 24 communities in partnership with Tostan, an International NGO operating in the URR, with the support of UNICEF. In his welcome address at the occasion, the deputy governor of the URR, Momodou S Kah reiterated the government’s commitment to bringing health care and education to the people, which he said Tostan had been complementing. He urged Tostan and the 24 communities to work harder and continue their good job, assuring them of his office’s support at all times. Bakary Tamba, Tostan’s country co-ordinator, explained to the gathering that Tostan’s mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights. According to Tamba, in 2006, Tostan established a partnership with The Gambia Women’s Bureau and UNICEF to facilitate non-formal education in The Gambia. Co-ordinator Tamba further stated that the declaration that the women were making, will go a long way in maintaining good maternal health. He urged the women to continue advocating and sensitising their relatives and fellows. He finally thanked the government of The Gambia through the deputy governor for providing the conducive environment for them to execute their roles. Also speaking during the declaration ceremony, Bakary Fofana, a community development worker in Darsilami, said the 24 communities in Sandu and Wuli have united to openly abandon the practices of female genital cuttig or mutilation (FGC/M), and forced marriage. “After evaluating both the positive and the negative effects of the practice, often with careful observations, discussions and dialogue with the community members and local and influential leaders, the 24 communities have decided openly and willingly to abandon the cultural practice of FGC/M and child forced marriage,” he said. Reading the declaration on behalf of the 24 communities who were all paraded before the gathering, Mansata Kanteh said they had came to the decision after having gone through the Tostan community empowerment programme where they learnt about health, hygiene, democracy, human rights and problem solving. She further stated that their decision was historic, and aims at reinforcing the national movement for the promotion of human rights in The Gambia, in Africa and the rest of the world. She also expressed gratitude to the government, under the leadership of Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh. The UNICEF country director/representative, Min Whee Khang paid tribute to the 24 communities for choosing to abandon and forget FGC/M. The Unicef country representative also said that she was indeed delighted with The Gambia’s leadership for strengthening and fostering the partnership with UNICEF in the development of the rural communities. Author: by Alieu Jamanka in Basse URR

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"There is shock, hemorrhaging, infection, sterility"

June 17, 2009

Female genital cutting, or excision, affects 140 million girls around the world. Although NGOs have tried for years to end this harmful and secretive traditional practice it is difficult to break through cultural barriers. After excising three of her daughters, Tante Mado, a midwife from Guinea, West Africa, decided to take a radical stand against excision that has already led to two villages openly banning the practice. Despite death threats, her approach has also garnered the support of male members of the community.

"When I was 12 I had a full excision and almost lost my life twice. The day of my excision I bled a lot and when I had my first bath I went into shock – my mother screamed and thought that I was dead. Then the wound got badly infected and the healing took more than 15 days. For three days I couldn’t pee or defecate because the position hurt the wound too much. I would ask my Dad: “Dad – why did you do this to me?” He would say it’s tradition and I would reply: “This tradition is too difficult.”

I have now been a midwife for 38 years and I’ve seen all the consequences of excision. For me they are enormous. There is the shock, the hemorrhaging, the infection, sterility. I’ve also seen a lot of mortality at birth and women who had been excised who died. My mum has lost a lot of children – all her children died and I am the only one, the sixth, because all these things are linked to excision.

Still, three of my daughters were excised. I didn’t want it but the social pressure is very strong so I myself became an excisor to do it to my children medically instead of using bark and local methods. After that, people understood that the healing was much faster that way and there were less risks, so I was sent a lot of girls.At one stage, I wasn’t doing a real excision anymore, I would fake it. A lot of people wrote to me saying: “We’re sending you our girl, but don’t excise her – just pretend.” I thought to myself – if all the people who are sending me their daughters got together to fight excision, couldn’t we do something? So I decided not to fake it and said I didn’t do excisions anymore. Better to educate the girl, tell her what excision is, than to pinch her and let her go.

I didn’t have my fourth daughter excised because, by then, I had decided to abandon the practice. She would be the example.

The community held a big conference for the whole forest area, to say that I was forbidding excision, and people told me to flee. I said I wouldn’t. I had a lot of problems but remained very firm. Even in my family, some of them won’t say hello to me because I have refused to do excisions. Sometimes I’m on the street and some people say, “That’s the lady who doesn’t want to do excisions,” and they say, “she’s gonna be killed!’ But I never listen to that.

I also get told that I’m being deceived by white people. I say, if you asked your wife what had happened to her during her excision, if you were used to hearing what happens, you would never have said that. The consequences of excision are too serious.

When I talk to a village we start by having reflection days. They are like a community forum where we ask people to think about the practice – what are the positives and negative sides – and the whole community speaks. This gives them the opportunity to talk about sexuality, which is a very taboo subject. On that day we gather a lot of information. Then, based on this information, we go into the village little by little to chat with the families, in the schools, everywhere.

People know that I’m very honest and direct and I don’t deceive them. If I say I do something I do it. If I don’t I don’t. And most of all, the example of my daughter has really impacted people’s memory.

When we see that the community is starting to adhere to the idea, we train the girls from the families that have decided to abandon to open up the dialogue. The success comes from the fact that in the group, the practitioners have been convinced and have themselves abandoned the practice.

The first time I heard a village was banning excision I thought it was a dream.

• Tante was speaking to Plan International, an international organisation that works to promote the rights of children, to end child poverty.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Africa: Kenyan School Rescues Girls From Facing Female Genital Mutilation

June 16, 2009 Frederick Womakuyu Kampala — Mercy Naserian had a grand dream. The bright eyed 14-year-old wanted to become a lawyer and help her Masai people settle community disputes (criminal or civil). At the age of 10 and in P.5, Naserian topped her class of 100 pupils and her teachers were sure she would fulfill her dream. But in 2005, Naserian was married off to a 69-year-old man. According to Naserian, the man gave her parents 45 heads of cattle. "I thought it was for my older sister," she narrates, tears welling in her eyes. But when she learnt that the cows were her bride price, she sought advice from one of her educated cousins. "I told her I wanted to become an important person in my community to help other girls who have been oppressed by culture," she says. Many men in the Masai community think of their daughters as a source of income. When a man comes to the home intending to marry the girl, he will bring the father 40 or 50 cows in exchange. The girl will then be circumcised first before she is given away. I recently met Naserian at her school on a trip organised for journalists by the US-based Population Reference Bureau (PRB), funded by USAID, to learn the mechanisms different countries use to fight female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice where a girl's/woman's partial or whole external genitalia is mutilated to initiate her from childhood to adult, according to people who do it. Despite her father's intentions to give her away in marriage and also have her mutilated, Naserian was determined in her desire to be educated. "My cousin told me that there was a school that caters for girls forced to undergo FGM, early marriage and sexual abuse." Without the knowledge of her parents, Naserian went to Africa Inland Church (AIC) Boarding School in Kajiado where the abused girls are housed and educated, courtesy of Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). "I was admitted in the school, but even after this, my journey wasn't easy," she says. Naserian's family stormed the school and demanded for her. "They were armed with pangas and spears. Aided by the administration police, we told them to let her study and marry her off later," says Nicholas Muniu, the school's principal. Realising that the school was not ready to let the girl go, the family left and has never returned. Naserian has been in the school for four years and has never gone back home for holidays or seen her parents. "I am not worried about what they think as long as I complete my studies. I know when I become an important person in the community, they will run after me," she says. Naserian's story is just one among many. Every girl at the school has a story to tell, but perhaps none of the stories highlights cruelty like that of 13-year-old Elizabeth Naiko, a P.7 pupil. Naiko vividly remembers the day a 70-year-old man brought 45 heads of cattle and wanted to marry her. "Before I could go, he wanted me mutilated. I cried from morning to evening, but my parents didn't let me go," she says. Naiko was mutilated the next day under the careful watch of her husband-to-be. "I cried and this may have saved me. The man said I was a coward and wasn't willing to marry me," she adds. He went away without saying a word, leaving my parents cursing me. After one month of healing, the parents tried to marry Naiko off to another man. "When he came with 30 cows, they sent me to the shop to buy meat. Instead, I went to my aunt's home," she says. Her aunt is educated and listened to her. Naiko was taken to the AIC school where she has been for three years. "At least my parents have come to realise that education is important. They often come to visit me," she says. Naiko also goes home for holidays and helps other girls. "When I go home, I sensitise other girls about the need to embrace education." It is this sensitisation that helped 14-year-old Esther Nashipayi keep her dreams of becoming a banker alive. At only 10 years old, Nashipayi was abducted by a 71-year-old man on the orders of her father. "I was raped and then circumcised. The man paid my father 40 heads of cattle," Nashipayi tearfully narrates. After nearly bleeding to death, the man got scared and abandoned Nashipayi in his hut. "I crawled slowly to Kajiado highway. I was rescued by a Good Samaritan and taken to hospital," she says. "After I recovered and narrated my story, he brought me to AIC school." Nashipayi, whose name means "peace", says she wants to become a banker to help unfortunate people in her society. "I found out that despite the fact that many people blame culture for our people's backwardness, poverty is deeply rooted in our society. It is forcing people to marry off their daughters early in exchange for bride price," she says. Muniu agrees. "There was a case where the family had lost their livestock to drought and they wanted to give away their daughter to replace the animals. But after the school offered them money, they allowed the daughter to continue with her studies." Muniu, who understands the value pastoral communities attach to their daughters, says it has not been easy rescuing the girls. "Sometimes the parents have defeated us. They feel that when their daughters go to school, they stop listening to them." But Muniu says using community leaders, the Police and civil society, the parents are beginning to learn that FGM, early marriage and sexual abuse violates the rights of girls. "The chiefs used to be part of the problem. But since the government started sacking chiefs who encourage early marriage and FGM, many chiefs have denounced it," Muniu says. He adds that they have engaged the community in reconciliation. Muniu says as many as 65% of the girls in the Masai community are married off early. Over 90% of the girls undergo genital mutilation annually, according to Dr. Guyo Jadesa, a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist at Kenyatta Hospital, Kenya. Dr. Jadesa says the Kenyan national FGM prevalence stands at 32%, compared to Uganda's 0.6%. A teacher at AIC, Catherine Koroupoi, says over 300 girls who were rescued recently will soon join the school. "The problem is getting sponsors for them," she says. FAWE continues to sponsor most of the girls but they are overwhelmed by the large number. The school was founded by the African Inland Church in 1959 to promote girls' education. "After independence, the government took over. In the 1990s, too many girls in the Masai community were being forced into FGM and early marriage," Muniu says. "In 1996, we rescued the first girl," Muniu says. She is now a teacher and is married to an MP from the Masai community. "In 10 years, we have managed to rescue a total of 670 girls," Muniu says. "They have become our ambassadors and many are helping to get other girls into school. "Uganda can also start a girls' school to rescue abused girls. It has worked for us," he advises.

Monday, June 15, 2009

District to Lose Sh8m for Free Tuition

MERU, Kenya, Jun 14 - About 800 secondary school students in Maara District may be locked out of the free tuition programme after the area education officers failed to submit the list of newly enrolled students in time.

Nithi MP Kareke Mbiuki and local Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Executive Secretary Germano Nyaga said the area stood to lose out on more than Sh8 million allocated to students to aid the programme that was introduced by the government in 2002.

Speaking during the district’s education day at the weekend, Mr Nyaga petitioned Mr Mbiuki to intervene so that the amount could be included in this year’s district vote.

He said the area has already received funding based on last year’s statistics despite a rise in secondary school enrolment following a campaign by the local provincial administration.

Mr Nyaga said many more students had joined schools built through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).

“The education office did not submit the correct figures on the number of students who are currently enrolled in secondary schools. It seems somebody somewhere failed in his duty,” Mr Nyaga said.

Mr Mbiuki said he would inform the education minister of the anomaly.

Maara District Commissioner Michael Tialal, in a speech read on his behalf, narrated how he had mobilised the provincial administration to ensure all the children who had attained school-going age went to school.

Mr Tialal said the provincial administration had taken about 150 students who had dropped out of primary and secondary schools in the area back to class.

He said Female Genital Mutilation is still rampant in the district and was a major contributor to the rate of school drop outs. And her is the rest of it.

Daughters of Charity empower young girls to say no to mutilation

June 15, 2009 Systemic change is urgently needed when 130 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually (WHO, 2008). Girls are usually not given a choice whether to engage in this practice; sometimes even being taken against their will or the wishes of their parents. It is not uncommon for these young girls to end up requiring emergency medical treatment, if it is available. However, in 2008, in the rural community of Masanga in the far north of Tanzania, the Daughters of Charity mobilized mothers and concerned community citizens to take a stand against mandatory imposing of FGM on young girls. Since FGM is a highly sensitive issue often embedded in traditional cultures, opposition to this harmful practice is sometimes restrained. In December 2008 the Daughters and collaborators organized and implemented a camp that literally provided a safe haven for girls who chose not to be forced to participate in this brutal practice. Inside St. Catherine’s School, the camp became home and security for 53 young girls who dealt with a mixture of pride, conviction and fear during the several weeks of cutting ceremonies. Due to threats, extra security was added and the parents insisted that the girls not be allowed to be taken by anyone, even family members. One Daughter marveled and explained, “actually it was very impressive to see the confidence that the parents and the girls had in us.” Research confirms that if a community that currently engages in FGM makes a decision to abandon this practice, it can be eliminated fairly quickly. This is the hope of the families of young girls and community leaders who have banded together with the Daughters in Tanzania to fight for the rights of the girls. Facilitating such a dynamic change has required bold and courageous action on the part of the girls, their families, and the program supporters. (The following is the understated yet moving report from the Daughters of Charity International Project Services from which the above was abstracted. It can be downloaded as a Word document dcs-tanzania-fgm-. There is also some video footage of the ceremonies leading up to the “cutting” which can be made available upon request by using the “Contact Us” link on FAMVIN.ORG. IPS also has a FaceBook page.) Daughters in Tanzania empower young girls to “Say NO to FGM!” A project facilitated by Daughters of Charity International Project Services “Even though cultural practices may appear senseless or destructive from the standpoint of others, they have meaning and fulfill a function for those who practice them. However, culture is not static; it is in constant flux, adapting and reforming. People will change their behavior when they understand the hazards and indignity of harmful practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture.” - Female Genital Mutilation, A joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA statement, World Health Organization, Geneva, 1997. According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that 130 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually (WHO, 2008). FGM, the non-therapeutic practice of injury or removal of female external genitalia or organs, is a long-standing practice in many cultures. Generally FGM is conducted by non-medical, traditional practitioners known as “cutters,” without benefit of anesthesia or medical interventions. Traumatic results include horrific pain and shock, and often severe blood loss, ulceration and injury to tissues. Sometimes the health risks result in serious consequences such as septic infections, infertility or obstructed labor, or are even life-threatening. Beyond atrocious medical ramifications, FGM is a violation of the rights of women and girls, and often deemed to be gender discrimination. Ellen Gruenbaum, in her 2001 book, The Female Circumcision Controversy, states that “Female circumcision is practiced by people of many ethnicities and various religious backgrounds, including Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as followers of traditional African religions. For some it is a rite of passage. For others it is not. Some consider it aesthetically pleasing. For others, it is mostly related to morality or sexuality.” Reports cite that ethnicity and little or no level of education often correlate with increased incidence of FGM practices. And in some instances, such as the case in Tanzania, rural regions do appear to have a higher incidence of FGM. In Masanga, Tanzania, where the Daughters of Charity work, the mothers of the Kuria tribe, the largest tribe in the Mara region, explain the ceremony of Female Genital Mutilation, known as Tohara: One of the five clans, the Wairegi, is traditionally responsible for initiating the cutting. With the sacrifice of a white lamb, the elders assure that the signs are in order for the ceremony to begin. Or, if they feel that others are in opposition, it is a black lamb. Generally during the month of December, a grassy area is prepared with fetishes and special woods to receive the young girls. Each day the Ngariba (the traditional cutter) can cut up to 400 girls. In a massive ceremony, the girls are brought to the cutter by boys donned in crowns of ostrich feathers and carrying lances, and accompanied by highly decorated women. Waiting in one of several lines until it is their turn, the girls stand exposed and nearly naked, wearing only a small hat and a short blouse. The price for cutting is fixed by the elders, and paid in full. During the cutting, the girls are told not to cry or move, even if it is very painful. Her sponsor closes the girl’s eyes and sits on her chest. Two others hold her legs. If the young girl cries, it is a big shame upon her and her parents. If she does not cry, then she has honored her family and will certainly make a good wife. After cutting, the elders allow the girls to leave; they bless them and each family takes their girl down the road back to their home, accompanied by people singing. The girl must walk home on her own, where she will lie down on an animal skin. However, by this time, she has usually lost a great deal of blood. The family celebrates with singing, dancing and special cooking preparations. The girl receives ugali and beans as her first food. At five o’clock in the evening, the women invite the girl to the gala (a place for storing food). She is now suffering greatly, but must walk to the gala, where they take hot water and wash her wounds. The women remove a lot of blood which has formed clots, and the girl cries because the process it so very painful. Now those around the girl can cry as well. Accompanied by an assigned younger girl, the newly circumcised girl must walk around for four days, to show people that she is now healed. After staying in the house for three weeks, the elders organize a dance where the girls will attend to show the men that they are now ready to be married. Girls are usually not given a choice whether to engage in this practice; sometimes even being taken against their will or the wishes of their parents. It is not uncommon for these young girls to end up requiring emergency medical treatment, if it is available. Since FGM is a highly sensitive issue often embedded in traditional cultures, opposition to this harmful practice is sometimes restrained. However, in 2008, in the rural community of Masanga in the far north of Tanzania, the Daughters of Charity mobilized mothers and concerned community citizens to take a stand against mandatory imposing of FGM on young girls. Research confirms that if a community that currently engages in FGM makes a decision to abandon this practice, it can be eliminated fairly quickly. This is the hope of the families of young girls and community leaders who have banded together with the Daughters in Tanzania to fight for the rights of the girls. Facilitating such a dynamic change has required bold and courageous action on the part of the girls, their families, and the program supporters. In December of 2008, the Daughters and collaborators organized and implemented a camp that literally provided a safe haven for girls who chose not to be forced to participate in this brutal practice. Inside St. Catherine’s School, the camp became home and security for 53 young girls who dealt with a mixture of pride, conviction and fear during the several weeks of cutting ceremonies. Due to threats, extra security was added and the parents insisted that the girls not be allowed to be taken by anyone, even family members. One Daughter marveled and explained, “actually it was very impressive to see the confidence that the parents and the girls had in us.” Even in light of serious opposition, the Sisters and supporters mounted a campaign to raise awareness among community members regarding the harmful consequences of FGM, and offered an alternative. Weeks before graduation day from the camp program, invitations to the ceremony were sent to the elders and tribal leaders, the bishop, local pastors, priests and sisters, police, journalists, “cutters” and others involved with the FGM practice, as well as an open invitation to the general public. On Graduation Day, each girl formally read her desire and promise to never accept FGM, and was given a T-shirt with these words printed in Kiswahili: “God saw that all creation was good: Say NO to FGM!” In a processional, every girl carried a candle as a sign of her new life and a beacon of hope for others. As mass ended, the parents lit their daughters’ candles and blessed them, symbolizing their solidarity and the historic and systemic changes that were radiating throughout the community. A ceremony transpired after Mass with songs and dances by the young girls, a presentation for guests, and the elders responded with encouragement and support for the girls and their families. They asked the committee to continue their work of education and awareness. Each girl was received by the elders and given an official place in “liga”, which is the equivalent to what the rite of circumcision does for girls in the Kuria tribe. The highest authorities in the community declared that no one could speak badly or endanger these girls because they had chosen not to be cut. Since that time, one girl from the camp has been forcibly taken and cut. However, the committee pursued justice, and the responsible party has been imprisoned. Today, working together with those who were willing to stand against FGM, the Daughters are providing a holistic and community-based program that includes comprehensive education and awareness, and plans for another camp for the young girls during the next ”ceremonial cutting timeframe” that will offer protection, education, and a Christian alternative right of passage. Funds to support this program were facilitated through Daughters of Charity International Project Services (DCIPS), and DCIPS plans to assist the Daughters in securing additional funds to continue this life-changing program. The girls are realizing increased self esteem and empowerment, and their inherent rights, including over their own bodies. Daughters of Charity St. Catherine Laboure School Tanzania Camp for Girls: Nov. - Dec. 2008 Poem about Circumcision Culture, culture, culture, I love you my culture. All over the world People know me by you. Shukas, panga and beads, That’s my dressing. Busara, Ntobeke, gichure, MMM! That’s my food. BUT! One thing, circumcision- It is for the boys. And not for the girls. You hurt, humiliate and destroy me! Please culture, don’t be a monster. Say “NO! NO! NO!” to female circumcision. As for boys, not the old man’s knife But, to the hospital. Thank you! -Poem written by a Standard Two Teacher for the girls of the Camp, who recited it together with gestures. Individuals and organizations interested in becoming supportive partners for this courageous program of change and empowerment, or interested in learning about other projects, can contact Sr. Felicia Mazzola, Director of Daughters of Charity International Project Services at: 22255 Greenfield Road, Suite 232, Southfield, MI 48075-3734 Ph: 248-849-4914 e-mail: website:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Film: Mrs. Goundo's Daughter

June 11, 2009 Premiering in June 2009 Silverdocs/AFI Discovery Channel Film Festival, Washington, D.C. Screenings: Wednesday, June 17 at 12:30 pm; Saturday, June 20 at 12:30 pm Human Rights Watch Int'l Film Festival, Lincoln Center, NYC Screenings: Sunday, June 21 at 7 pm; Monday, June 22 at 4 pm; Tuesday, June 23 at 9 pm Another heart-wrenching testament to the integrity and solidarity of women in the face of staggering adversity, Mrs. Goundo's Daughter follows the efforts of a West African woman living in Philadelphia to secure the asylum she thinks will save her two-year-old daughter from the senseless barbarism of genital mutilation. As evinced by their previous film Rosita (HRW '06), humanist filmmakers Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwaterdemonstrate a nerve-shredding talent for cinematic juxtaposition—throughout, they intercut Goundo's legal nightmare with the lead-up to a mass female circumcision inMali—that avoids feeling trivial. —Ed Gonzalez, Village Voice, June 2009 MRS. GOUNDO'S DAUGHTER is a co-production of Attie & Goldwater Productions, Inc. and the Independent Television Service (ITVS), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). MRS. GOUNDO'S DAUGHTER is the story of a young mother's quest to keep her baby daughter healthy and whole. It is also the story of the African tradition of female genital cutting, which dates back thousands of years—and how it affects people's lives in just two of the many places where the practice is being debated today. Mrs. Goundo's husband fled drought and ethnic conflict in his native Mali, West Africa sixteen years ago. Mrs. Goundo came to the United States in 1999. Together, they are raising three young children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After the hearing. To stay in the U.S., Mrs. Goundo must persuade an immigration judge that her two-year old daughter Djenebou, born in the U.S., will almost certainly suffer clitoral excision if Goundo is deported. In Mali, where up to 85% of women and girls are excised, Mrs. Goundo and her husband are convinced they would be powerless to protect their daughter from her well-intentioned grandparents, who believe all girls should be excised. MRS. GOUNDO'S DAUGHTER bridges Mrs. Goundo's two worlds. In a Malian village, we see 62 girls, six months to ten years old, preparing to be excised just as their mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers were before them. The girls are warned they must be brave and not cry, although, as one mother tells us: "The pain is very deep. There is nothing we can do to lessen it." We hear Malian activists fighting to end the practice, and traditionalists who defend it. We see its deep roots in the largely Islamic culture. Mrs. Goundo with friends at the salon. 4,500 miles away in Philadelphia, we hear Mrs. Goundo's friends from West Africa tell how, even though they themselves were excised, they are determined to save their daughters from the pain and the sometimes horrific health consequences of ritual cutting. Mrs. Goundo is the first of her community to seek asylum on these grounds, and in MRS. GOUNDO'S DAUGHTER we join her friends' anxious vigil as they await the outcome of her asylum hearing. Funding provided by the following generous supporters: Corporation for Public Broadcasting Sundance Documentary Fund Morton K. & Jane Blaustein Foundation The Philadelphia Foundation Women's Way Community Women's Fund Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Pew Fellowships in the Arts PIFVA See also: AFI Discovery Channel Silverdocs 2009: Mrs. Goundo's Daughter

Campaigns Against Circumcision Can Have the Reverse Effect

June 11, 2009 International interventions such as the campaigns against female circumcision can pave the way for political Islamism in Egypt. – Contrary to the common Western perception that the operation is on a par with meaningless torture, those who practise circumcision consider it to have moral value, says Maria Malmström in a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg. In a Western context female circumcision entails the mutilation of healthy parts of the body – with patriarchal control over women’s bodies and sexuality as the underlying purpose. – However, the perception of the people I interviewed differs widely from that prevailing in the West. With the exception of a number of younger women who were critical, they consider circumcision to be a necessary, commonplace and natural part of the life cycle, says Maria Malmström. In her thesis in social anthropology she has studied how a female subject is ’brought into being’, maintained and changed through the interplay between global power structures and the individual experience of female circumcision. The study is based on interviews with women of various ages during a year of field work among the working class in Cairo. A range of actors – including decision-makers, international organisations and activists – are working to abolish female circumcision within the framework of equality and human rights. – However, the voices of those who are affected in practice are often overlooked. The process of implementing change must be based on a more profound understanding of what circumcision represents for the people involved. A contemporary phenomenon How is it possible for parents to justify mutilating their own children and thereby expose them to the pain and risk that can be involved? – To understand the motivation behind circumcising children we first have to grasp why it is regarded as so important in practice - even though understanding does not necessarily entail acceptance. For many people it is not about mutilation but a significant act that is linked to values and female identity. Observations by the historian Herodotus reveal that female circumcision was practised as early as 500 BCE. – However, it is not simply a tradition that is handed down but also a contemporary phenomenon. Circumcision has a meaning – for both women and men – that is being actively negotiated in the present day. Egypt is a good example of how views on female circumcision are in the process of changing as a result of Western campaigns, at the same time as they are leading to popular opposition, says Maria Malmström. They are perceived as infringing upon national identity. This is a region in which the fear of terrorism has led to increased military interventions from the West. In conjunction with national neoliberal policies and secular modernisation processes, it has provoked a political response in Egypt feared by many people in the Western World. – It is paradoxical that the ’globalisation of intimacy’, which is discussed in this thesis, is also resulting in Western interventions in combination with Egypt’s government policies paving the way for political Islamism in Egypt. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Title of the thesis: Just Like Couscous: Gender, Agency and the Politics of Female Circumcision in Cairo Author of the thesis: Maria Malmström E-link: e-mail: Name of faculty opponent: Professor Aud Talle, Oslo, Norway. Time and venue for the public defence: Friday 29 May 2009, 10.15 in room 220, Annedalsseminariet, Campus Linné, Seminariegatan 1A, Gothenburg. BY: Lena Olson

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sex and Social Justice

June 10, 2009

I. Introduction

The article is a part of Martha Nussbaum’s work “Sex and Social Justice.” The discussions particularly evolve around the arguments presented towards the subject of the judgment of one culture to another. The article made use of one of the most debated issues internationally, genital mutilation. This paper will be analysing the said article by providing a summary and looking critically at the structure and the way the arguments are presented.

II. Summary

The issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) has been one of the most debated issues from the past years. Nussbaum’s article is an addition to the wide array of literature dedicated to the said topic. The article employed the case of Fauziya Kassindja, a Togo national who tried to apply for political asylum in the United States in order to get away from her relatives compelling her to commit FGM.

The arguments on the said article then turn to specific attributes brought about by the case. First noted by Nussbaum is whether Westerners have a responsibility or even the right to bring this practice to an end. The article basically presented several arguments why the Western countries should not disparage the actions of other cultures, especially if these are considered deeply ingrained and considerably a part of the traditions of the said culture. What Nussbaum see in the said arguments that the notion of culture has been utilised in the sense that there is a set of elements that basically delineate what is right and wrong. To some degree, she claimed that these arguments demanding Westerners to be indifferent to the traditions (hideous or otherwise) of other cultures is rather naïve in a way that it shuns its attention to the fact that other forms of cultures exist. This is further indicated by the indications noted in her argument relating to the fact that within the same cultures mentioned, there is some sort of opposition to the practice (FGM). As presented in the case of Kassindja, her father vehemently opposed of the practice of FGM despite the fact that is considered a requirement for marriage in their culture.

The article even took note of the claims of Tamir specifically on the claims against the practice of FGM is basically anchored on the deep-seated attributes of the Western society particularly related to sexuality of the individual. In the case of FGM, pleasure on the part of the female is removed. Nussbaum argues in this sense that compelling women to mutilate themselves as a part of what is seen as cultural conformity is basically inappropriate. This shows that the arguments presented by the said author are based on the freedom of women to express themselves with regards to their sexuality and their respective behaviours towards it.

III. Conclusion

Martha Nussbaum is considered in the academic community as among the “liberal perfectionists” of our time. (1998) Basically that means that her arguments are basically leaning towards the doctrine of state responsibility and the sensitive issue of autonomy among individuals. This is shown in the article discussed above. It is shown in such flair that Nussbaum presented it through arguments in feminist ethics and politics. The importance of the freedom of having to choose among individuals is shown in her arguments in such a way that one could in actuality appreciate and understand why such elements are needed in human existence.

Posted by Marivic Butod

Combating Female Circumcision

June 9, 2009 I became an activist to stop female genital mutilation last year after reading a shocking survey from a secondary school in Rania, a town in Sulaimaniyah province. Every single one of the girls in the school reported that their genitals had been cut. Female genital mutilation is an epidemic in northern Iraq, particularly in remote and rural areas. In villages, it is a common practice frequently carried out in unsanitary conditions by women without medical training. They slice the clitoris of a young girl, spreading ashes on the cut to numb the pain. Through my work with Wadi, an international rights organisation campaigning against the practice in Iraqi Kurdistan, I have travelled to 84 towns and villages to raise awareness about the harmful effects of female genital mutilation. Wadi estimates that more than 60 per cent of women in Iraqi Kurdistan have been circumcised. The highest rates are in Grmyan, a mostly rural region that runs along the Iranian border. The practice pre-dates Islam yet is defended as a cultural and religious tradition, a type of Islamic ritual. But I believe that female genital mutilation is the same as any other type of physical violence against women, and that it leaves lifelong psychological scars. I visit the villages three times a week to raise awareness about the practice, and constantly hear horror stories from the women I meet. One 30-year-old woman told me that, at the age of eight, she and her nine friends were lured to a house from where they were told they would be taken clothes shopping. The woman said the girls were instead grabbed by other women from the village, their mouths stuffed with cloths so their screams could not be heard. She said they were taken to an elderly lady who, her hands shaking, cut them with a dirty razor. The woman who recounted the story said she refuses to circumcise her girls, but convincing others to stop the practice is not easy. While younger women are vocal in their opposition to female circumcision, older ones have told us we are spreading immorality and defaming Islam. Women are circumcised in the name of Islam, even though the practice is not sanctioned by the religion. Village lore says that food prepared by women who are not circumcised is not Halal because they have not followed Islam. A documentary we show to women in villages includes two mullahs who state that the practice is not Islamic; and a doctor who speaks of the health problems it can cause. Once taboo to discuss, female genital mutilation is increasingly aired publicly after the local press began covering the issue. In addition to Wadi’s work on the ground in villages, a television advertising campaign has also helped raise awareness. But lawmakers have been hesitant to debate the issue in parliament, stalling legislation that would make female circumcision a crime. Under the proposed law, those found guilty of carrying out the practice would face between six to 15 years in prison and a fine. The parents of the victim could also face prosecution. Foreign organisations such as Wadi are taking the lead against female circumcision, but it is difficult to persuade a majority-Muslim community to stop a practice seen as a religious ritual. It is important for the parliament to pass legislation punishing those who circumcise women. The proposed law has not moved forward, even though 14,000 people signed a letter supporting a ban on the custom. The government could also push religious leaders and the ministries of health and education to raise awareness. Mobilising public opinion against female genital mutilation will have an even bigger impact than legislation. Unless the public’s mindset about the issue changes, a new law will achieve little. – Azeez Mahmoud, an IWPR-trained journalist, helps Wadi’s mobile teams educate women about female genital mutilation. She is based in Sulaimaniyah.