February 25, 2010
By Patrick Dewhurst
FEMALE Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now a growing concern for Cypriot healthcare professionals, but a visiting expert was yesterday optimistic about ending the barbaric practice across Europe.
Leyla Hussein, a British healthcare worker with Somalian parents – and a former FGM victim – told gathered Cypriot, EU and NGO representatives, “There is hope. I am proof that you can break the cycle.”
The representatives were gathered to discuss and promote a campaign to eradicate FGM in Europe and in Cyprus.
Entitled “End FGM”, the campaign is being led by Amnesty International and also aims to establish a comprehensive and coherent EU-wide approach to the problem, from offering asylum through to social welfare services and education of men in practising communities.
FGM, defined by the World Health Organisation as “All procedures that involve the total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” is an established practice in 28 African countries, across the Middle East and in Asia. It affects up to 140 million girls and women worldwide.
However, it is not just a matter for third countries; the practice is happening Europe. Christine Loudes, Director of the programme, said yesterday “We have to remember that FGM is an EU issue.
“The European Parliament estimates that there are around 500,000 cases in Europe, and 180,000 young girls at risk from parents who continue the practice.”
Already a number of cases have appeared in Cyprus. The anti-racism organisation, KISA cites the case of one asylum applicant who was a victim of FGM, while a clinic owner at yesterday’s conference had two clients who had been mutilated.
Though the government has no recorded cases, Elena Neocleous of the Interior Ministry recognised the need for more measures.
“For example, in France it is criminalised and they have taken measures to prevent parents taking daughters abroad for FGM.”
Dina Akkelidou, President of the House Committee on Equal Opportunities, said “The average age of FGM is between four and eight, and it happens on average every 10 seconds.
“It threatens life and health, and does irreversible mental and psychological damage. Moreover, it is a serious form of discrimination and a cultural offence.”
FGM is now recognised as being in contravention to the Geneva conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Law.
It is therefore grounds for asylum. Any woman who has suffered or could potentially suffer FGM in the future has the right to asylum. Neocleous also confirmed that parents (including fathers) of young daughters who could be victims were entitled to asylum.
So far in 2010, only five of 32 applicants have been women (and one reported FGM abuse). However, given that in Egypt, 96 per cent of women are estimated to be victims, there is a high chance that many women will arrive in Cyprus bearing the physical and mental scars. Many will be too afraid to mention it, or be unaware that this is grounds for asylum.
The programme therefore aims to educate authorities about best practices in treating victims. Hussein said, “I was lucky to meet a service that knew how to speak to me, not as if I was an alien.
“It is important that everyone who works with FGM victims, such as police, immigration and doctors understands the issues. Especially important are the men. If they refuse to marry a mutilated girl, it will end immediately.”