February 5, 2010
By Sebastian Heller - Cyprus Mail
CYPRUS is starting to look at the issue of female genital mutilation both in terms of granting asylum and with a view to establishing whether migrant women here are being subjected to the barbaric practice.
The Health Ministry has promised the House Committee for Equal Opportunities to look into the issue and to enlist the help of gynaecologists on the island after Committee chairwoman Dina Akkelidou recommended the registration of cases of women who might have been victims.
“Female genital mutilation has been legislated against internationally, and in terms of national legal statutes also. Yet there are mutilated women in Cyprus,” said Akkelidou. “In the context of international efforts to stop this practice it is certainly useful to find statistics and figures on this practice in western countries, including Cyprus.”
According to surveys carried out by the World Health Organisation the practice of female genital mutilation is almost endemic in some African countries, with the majority of women having undergone the procedure, usually as young girls aged 4-8. Specifically, Sudan, Eritrea, Egypt, Somalia, Mali, Guinea and Djibouti all display an incidence of the practice exceeding 85 per cent.
Being almost universal amongst these cultures it is probable that immigrants from these communities will include a number of women who have been mutilated. What concerns the legislature is to prevent genital mutilation from continuing amongst the immigrant communities who deem it a cultural tradition.
Nicolleta Charalambidou, a lawyer with immigrant rights group KISA, clarified that having undergone genital mutilation did not necessarily constitute grounds for the granting of asylum, or protected person status, in Cyprus. What did necessarily constitute such grounds was if a woman was unmutilated yet would face genital mutilation upon return to her home country.
Akkelidou suggested the practice is either going on illegally in Cyprus, or is performed when the girls go home on holidays.
“These women, for various reasons, hide the fact that they went through this traumatic experience,” said Doros Polycarpou of KISA.
In Europe as a whole, according to Akkelidou, there are 500 000 women who have gone through the procedure. According to a survey recently conducted in Switzerland, 51 per cent of gynaecologists have encountered at least one instance of female genital mutilation.
Haemorrhaging, problems in giving birth, sterility and death whilst giving birth are normally the problems which gynaecologists are called on to attend to in instances where genital mutilation has previously occurred.
Akkelidou recommended campaigns to inform and sensitise the public to the issue so as to begin the difficult process of changing long-embedded customs. She also recommended the education of doctors in specific techniques for dealing with the complications which arise where genital mutilation has been practiced, regarding which doctors in Cyprus were currently often ill-prepared to handle.