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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Not Anyone’s Daughter

June 30, 2010
The New York Times

Advocates have been fighting to end female genital mutilation across Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, marking progress one village at a time. The battleground extends to immigrant communities in the developed world, which still value this horrifying ritual.

Female genital mutilation has been banned in the United States since 1996. Representatives Joseph Crowley of New York and Mary Bono Mack of California are now sponsoring legislation that would make it a felony to take a girl out of the country to have the procedure, punishing violators with fines and a five-year prison term. Supporters hope the law will be a deterrent and embolden more young women or their mothers to resist family or community pressure and defend themselves.

The need for strong resistance was underscored after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement that a milder version of mutilation — a nick of a girl’s genitals done in a doctor’s office — should be made legal in the United States as a way to prevent families from taking children abroad for the full brutal procedure. Advocates rightly argued that medicalizing this violence against women would only legitimize it and undermine the force of the ban. The academy has since withdrawn the statement.

Congress should move quickly to pass the Girls Protection Act. More needs to be done. State health authorities should step up education campaigns in immigrant communities. Pediatricians could make it their business to recognize and report the signs of abuse.

Federal officials could ensure that ports of entry like Kennedy International Airport in New York City have informational signs, hot lines and a shelter. An international departure terminal may provide the last chance to save a girl from a lifetime of suffering and early death.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ethiopian FGM Radio Warnings Reach Nomadic Women

June 27, 2010
By Dominique Soguel - Women's eNews

 Nomadic girls in the Danakil Desert of Ethiopia often skip school to fetch and carry water. But in one settled pocket, girls are going to school and mothers in the past two years have begun heeding radio warnings on female genital mutilation.

DALLOL, Ethiopia (WOMENSENEWS)--The schoolmaster at Kursawat, a rural area in the Afar region of Ethiopia, is struggling to bring awareness of the benefits of girl education and the risks of female genital mutilation.

Ethiopia outlawed female genital mutilation in 2004 but the practice is deeply rooted and nearly universal in the Afar and Somali regions. In 2005 a government health survey found that 74 percent of girls and women nationwide had undergone the ritual cutting.

"Circumcision is still going on here," Schoolmaster Kadesang Fasile told Women's eNews. "Most of the Afar are nomads so they can't be reached through educational broadcasts."

The Afar is a collection of itinerant pastoralist tribes living in the Danakil Desert, in northeast Ethiopia, toward the border with Eritrea. Nicknamed "Hell on Earth," the desert claims the world record for the highest average annual temperature in an inhabited location: 94 F. Average annual rainfall is less than eight inches.

There are 500 nomadic households in Fasile's school district and families often relocate without regard to the school calendar. The school--the only cement structure in the area, more than one hour away from the nearest paved road--sees an annual dropout rate of between 20 and 30 percent. Mothers and fathers in the community, says Fasile, see a cultural threat in female education.

"If a woman is educated and succeeds, she will live for herself and that is not permitted," said Fasile. "Here the woman fetches water."

But harsh gender attitudes are starting to soften in other pockets of the Afar region.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A harsh 10-year lesson for father over female ‘cut’

June 26, 2010

By Julius Sigei - Daily Nation

(above) Mrs Jane Lanoi displays a tool used to carry out female circumcision. She preaches against the rite, practiced by many pastoral communities. Photo/FILE
A landmark court ruling has sent shock waves through communities that practise female circumcision.

In an unprecedented judgment, a Narok court last month convicted and sentenced a man and a woman to 10 years each in jail after a 12-year-old girl bled to death in an attempted circumcision at Naroosura area of Narok South District.
Sasiano Nchoe, who was being initiated into womanhood, died on August 18, 2008, after bleeding for five hours. Her body was buried immediately in a shallow grave.

Her body was exhumed and examined after the intervention of officials from Tasaru Girls’ Rescue Centre who alerted the authorities.
The court charged traditional surgeon Nalang’u Ene Sekut and Sasiano’s father Kantet ole Nchoe with manslaughter under Section 14 of the Children’s Act of 2001 which states that “no person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites”.

“What pained me most was that Sasiano’s father told me nonchalantly that if a woman died, it was not a big deal,” said Agnes Pareiyo, director of the rescue centre who is also the head of the V-Day Movement in Kenya.

She said the traditional surgeon, who was Nchoe’s mistress, was an amateur and was learning the ropes on the victim.

“It was then that I swore to struggle to bring the culprits to book,” Mrs Pareiyo said, adding that she had not known that that would be the beginning of a long and difficult road to finding justice.

She said Sasiano’s case was a strong message that female genital mutilation kills and that people can be jailed for it.

However, some cultural conservatives have condemned the ruling and vowed to press on with the practice, claiming it is important in preparing girls for marriage and making them responsible members of society.

“How can you jail a responsible man who was preparing his daughter for marriage? It was only unfortunate that the girl died. It was not the intention of the two to kill Sasiano,” said Mzee Saning’o ole Gilisho, 70, at his Parkitabu home on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve.

He added that under the traditional justice system, the circumciser would have been made to pay one cow as a fine “since the killing was clearly inadvertent”.

An anthropologist from the community, who requested not to be named for fear of being seen as insensitive to the plight of girls, said the sentence was grossly unfair as it did not consider the cultural environment in which the act was performed.

“I blame the system which criminalises female circumcision. Had it been legalised, the girl would have been given proper medical attention, and she need not have died,” he said, praising the practice for having served the purpose of regulating the number of marriageable girls.

But Henry ole Kulet, the community’s foremost writer whose novel Blossoms of the Savannah won the 2009 Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature for its handling of female circumcision, disagrees.

He said that while the practice served its purpose in the past, culture was dynamic and people should change with it.

John Wainaina, Narok Deputy Children’s Officer, said the ruling had sent shockwaves through the region, which had also made those hell-bent on practising female circumcision (known as female genital mutilation by its critics), devise new ways of evading the law to perpetuate the practice, which he said was now being performed in Kenyan hospitals.
Mrs Pareiyo launched her anti-female circumcision campaign in Narok District in 1999 when she was a top official in Maendeleo ya Wanawake. She has been at loggerheads with many local leaders who believe circumcision makes women good wives in the same way it turns boys into responsible men for the community.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A "ritual nick" too far

June 25, 2010
By Victoria Moore - The Sydney Morning Herald

In October 1992 a program went to air on ABC TV called Where Angels Fear to Tread on female genital mutilation. I was involved through a program the ABC offered to aspiring writers called Writer-in-Observation.

The storyline was of a young schoolgirl of Muslim background who was brought to the surgery by her mother to have a procedure performed that involved female genital mutilation. This placed the doctors in a dilemma. It was a procedure that although not banned at the time was strongly advised against by the Australian Medical Association, leaving individual doctors to make their own ethical decisions.

The arguments made were that if Australian doctors did not perform this procedure, it would, much like the abortion debate, lead to back-alley bungling or the girl being taken overseas to have the procedure.

The young girl, herself, it was revealed, had serious doubts, but the pressure from within her community to have the procedure was extreme. Pressure that was brought to bear by the mothers and grandmothers and, indeed, the euphemism most commonly used was "going to grandma's".

In 1994, two years after the screening of this episode, the AMA banned all forms of female genital mutilation Australia-wide. But, now here in Australia, it has been suggested that a "ritual nick" could be performed to appease cultural sensibilities in some Muslim communities.

The idea for a "ritual nick" was raised by the American Academy of Paediatrics, and promptly retracted. The procedure is a prick or nick of a girl's clitoral skin.

It is a less severe form of female genital mutilation, which in its most acute form, called infibulation, involves the removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and the sewing up of the labia majora covering the urethra and leaving only a small vaginal opening. In some countries still, if a girl has not had this procedure performed she is considered unworthy of marriage. It also makes childbirth extremely dangerous — can you imagine giving birth through a vagina that has been sewn up so that only a very small opening remains? Doctors in London 30 years ago were forced to perform hysterectomies to save the lives of Middle Eastern women who had given birth after enduring female genital mutilation.

And yet as this idea of a "ritual nick" gains media coverage here, attitudes against female genital mutilation continue to advance throughout the Middle East. Egypt, for example, now performs these "ritual nicks" as opposed to the more severe form of mutilation, but infibulation is still prevalent in East African countries and small communities in Asia. It is estimated that between 4 and 5 million of these procedures are performed annually world-wide.

In Muslim countries where these customs are still being observed, there are woman taking great risks, sometimes life threatening, to protect their young girls from these practices. They themselves want it to cease once and for all. If we in Australia legitimise these practices, however ritualistically, it will totally negate their work, their beliefs and their futures. Now is not the time to succumb to this tradition.

Indeed in Switzerland it is not only illegal to peform these types of procedures, but children can also be removed from their parents if it is found that they have subjected them to female genital mutilation. This has resulted in all but ceasing the practice in the East African immigrant population in that country.

The federal government should pass into law all the recommendations of the Australian Medical Association that have been in place since 1994 so that female genital mutilation, in whatever form, is not performed here.

Victoria Moore is a freelance writer now living in regional Victoria.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fighting FGM in Northern Iraq

June 21, 2010
By PRI's The World

Human Rights Watch is on the offensive, trying to combat female genital mutilation in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq.

This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

The emotionally, physically and psychologically disturbing practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is surprisingly common in Northern Iraq. A recent survey found that more than 40 percent of women in the Chamchamal district had undergone the risky procedure that involves the removal of the clitoris and sometimes other genital parts. Some women as young as 3 to 12 years old have been forced into the situation by family members. A recent report by the nonprofit Human Rights Watch focused on the problem and called on the Kurdish government to take action to stop it.

"What this report does is it really does tell that story of how unexpected, surprising and really harrowing this experience is for these little girls," Human Rights Watch's Jessie Graham told PRI's The World. The women are often forced into the situation by the elders in the community, and by their mothers, aunts and cousins. Some believe it is an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one's religion that is not obligatory.

Many Muslim scholars have spoken out against FGM, according to the report by Human Rights Watch. Some have said it is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Clerics, interviewed for the report, said that "any practice interpreted as sunnahendangers people's lives, it is the duty of the clerics to stop it."

The practice continues, however, in part because the government is not doing enough to stop it, the report contends. The Kurdish government is relatively progressive on issues of women's rights and domestic violence, but it has not addressed FGM in a systematic way. A majority of the members of the autonomous the Kurdistan National Assembly supported banning FGM in 2008, but the bill was never enacted into law. And the current government has taken no actions to stop the practice.

The government needs to both ban FGM and work with communities to put a stop to it. According to Grahm:

It's dangerous, it really interferes with the quality of women's lives, it's something that can have lasting health effects, both mentally and physically."So they need to come out against it and say this isn't a religious practice, this isn't a traditional practice that we need to hold onto.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Shocking Statistics on "female genital mutilation"

Female circumcision a good idea? Ask 73 percent of Kurdistani women.

June 21, 2010
By Tracey Shelton - Global Post

Delan, 11, describes how at the age of six her mother held her down while an "old woman" performed what human rights groups refer to as female genital mutilation. (Tracey Shelton/GlobalPost)

Kurdistan girlPASHQROTAL, Iraqi Kurdistan — Along with her pink pajamas and playful eyes, Delan has an 11-year-old’s endearing smile.

She leans against an old stone wall and chats with friends as chickens and geese cluck around her feet. Rocky mountains form a towering backdrop. This is Iraqi Kurdistan, where the people are as tough as their environment.

Sitting on the empty floor of her family’s mud brick home in this remote village, Delan’s smile quickly fades. She speaks of the day, when she was 6 years old, that an “old woman” came to visit.

“I was in the room playing with my cousin and they called us to come,” Delan said. “They cut my cousin. I was very afraid. I was crying and crying. My mother is very fat; I knew if I could run she could not catch me, but she held me too strong. I could not get away. There was a lot of blood from that place. I cried and cried. I hated my mother.”

The tradition of female genital mutilation, or FGM, has survived for centuries in this deeply traditional region of northern Iraq. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM is the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons.” Unspoken by society and unquestioned by victims, any mention of the subject is considered taboo.

The women from Delan’s village say the custom is carried out in village homes with the use of a razor blade. The ritual is performed by female relatives or “older women” of the village. Often there is more than one girl, as with Delan and her cousin, and the same blade is used. Delan said no medicine —antiseptic or anesthetic — was given to her. She was sick for two days, but eventually the bleeding stopped.

A report released June 16 by international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), has underscored Kurdistan’s legacy of FGM and how caught the region is between its rapid development and an ancient tradition with links to religion and a male-dominated culture.

The HRW report, “They took me and told me nothing,” documents the extent of FGM and calls for action from the Kurdish government. The report found that FGM rates were as high as 73 percent among Kurdish women aged 14 and over.

“The tragedy is that FGM is perpetuated by mothers, aunts and other women who love and want the best for their children,” the report said. The study added that such women see the practice as necessary for their daughters to grow up as “marriageable” and “respectable” members of society.

One mother quoted in the report said: “It is sunnah ... Everyone is doing this. Of course this is a good thing for my daughter. When someone does something, we all have to do it.”

HRW researcher Nadya Khalife said the 31 women interviewed for the report felt it was a religious obligation. Many had no idea of the physical or emotional risks.

The alleged religious aspects of FGM are a controversial issue within the Islamic community. Some religious leaders believe it is a cultural custom that predates Islam.

At the release of the HRW report in Erbil, Mullah Omar Chngiyani, a religious leader and host of a religious television program, said that within Islam, circumcision for boys is obligatory while for girls it is optional.

“There is no Koran verse that says, ‘circumcise your daughters,’” said Chngiyani, adding that six of his seven daughters and two of his wives had not undergone FGM.

Much of the HRW report was based on a two-year study carried out by the Association for Development Cooperation in Iraq (WADI), released in March.

According to WADI, 42 percent of the mothers interviewed said they had made the choice to perform FGM on their daughters themselves. A further 22 percent were advised by their mother-in-law and 12 percent by their own mothers. Only 2 percent said they were advised by their husbands.

Thomas Van der Osten-Sacken, WADI’s head of mission in Iraq since 1991, said victims suffered physical trauma, a range of medical complications. There can also be devastating effects on the relationship between a child and her mother, he said.

“FGM affects almost every aspect of their lives,” he said.

As security in Iraqi Kurdistan continues to stabilize, development has brought a new way of thinking.

For the younger generation, increased social freedoms constantly clash with restrictive cultural tradition. Views and expectations of love and sexuality are rapidly changing. This collision is perhaps felt most strongly by victims of FGM.

According to the WADI report, the rate among the younger generation is significantly lower overall, yet still relatively high. Among those below 20, 57 percent had undergone FGM, while for those in their 30s the figures climbed to 74 percent. Nearly 96 percent of women over 80 had undergone FGM.

For a woman, the sexual effects can be devastating and confusing. In medical terms, the report says the removal of the clitoris “impairs normal female sexual response.” The practice essentially removes the women’s "sexual organ" but leaves her "reproductive organs" intact.

“The result is generally sad and unsatisfactory sex for both marriage partners,” Osten-Sacken said. “When we enter a village we will often spend the first two hours bombarded by questions from husbands.”

As WADI project coordinator Falah Muradkhan pointed out: “The more you talk about the impact, the more people understand what has been taken from them.”

In collaboration with other non-government agencies, WADI prepared a petition to ban FGM that was presented to the government in March 2007. More than half of the 14,000 signatories were men.

Despite the reports and petitions, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has refused to officially acknowledge the prevalence of FGM.

“This report is false,” said Mariwan Naqshbandi, spokesman for Kurdistan's Ministry of Religious Affairs regarding the HRW report. “How can you make a report like this without contacting the Mullahs?”

Naqshbandi said since FGM did not occur in Kurdistan, there was no need for a law or public education on the subject.

“The Mullahs already advise against it,” he said. “This is enough.”

Former Kurdish parliamentarian Pakhshan Zangana introduced a draft law banning FGM in 2007. Parliament refused to discuss the law stating the issue was “not widespread enough” to be addressed. Zangana said she believed the issue was too sensitive to mention.

“Our community has a long way to go to discuss issues related to the sexualities of women,” she said. “People asked us on the streets: does Parliament not have a more serious issue than circumcision to discuss?”

The information provided to the KRG by its medical advisors seems to be equally disturbing. Dr. Atia al-Salihy, a prominent medical advisor to the government, told HRW she did not believe FGM had negative physical effects.

“Circumcision is nothing,” she said in the report, adding that it had no influence on a women’s life nor her relationship with her husband.

The HRW report said it would take a legal ban as well as the cooperation of religious leaders, educators and doctors if change is to occur any time soon.

Until that happens, the tradition of FGM seems certain to impact the lives of young girls like Delan.

“If I have daughters I will do the same for them because it is good,” Delan said. “It makes me a good girl, a good wife and good for society.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bristol women protest against genital mutilation

June 16, 2010
By BBC News

Women opposed to female genital mutilation have marched through Bristol in a protest against the practice.

About 20 people, many of them Somali women, handed out leaflets in the Easton area. An estimated 2,000 girls in the city are at risk.

The practice, which is illegal in the UK, can cause urinary infections, kidney failure and death.

Bristol midwives say they are coming across a large number of women with complications caused by it.

Also known as female circumcision, the practice is carried out in more than 28 countries in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and South America.

Social services say they are investigating one case of female genital mutilation in Bristol a month. Chronic pain

Local women and agencies are highlighting its criminality and the risk of death from bleeding or tetanus.

They say it can also cause problems including urinary incontinence, infections and chronic pain.

Some 600 people working in health, education, the police, social services and the voluntary sector have had awareness training in the last three years.

A new poster and leaflet campaign backed by the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board aims to raise awareness and tell people where to go for advice.

One midwife from Southmead Hospital told BBC West: "About 90% of Somali mothers I see have a form of female [genital] mutilation - some of them think the minor type is acceptable but the practice is illegal and very painful."

Det. Ch. Insp. Dave McCallum, from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, said: "Female genital mutilation is a serious crime attracting a prison sentence of up to fourteen years.

"If underage children are involved it is also classed as child abuse."

Kurdistan Is Urged to Ban Genital Cutting

June 16, 2010

By Namo Abdulla and Timothy Williams - The New York Times

SULAIMANIYA, Iraq — Human Rights Watch urged Kurdistan’s government on Wednesday to ban genital cutting of women and girls, a practice the organization said is widespread and dangerous there, but which they said Kurdish officials had failed to move aggressively to stop.

Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization based in New York, interviewed 31 girls and women last year and combined its findings with recent surveys by other organizations that found that at least 40 percent of girls and women in Iraq’s Kurdistan region had undergone the procedure, which typically involves cutting off external genitalia with a dirty razor blade.

One of the studies, of about 1,400 girls and women interviewed during 2007 and 2008, found that almost 73 percent of women 14 years and older said that at least a portion of their genitals had been removed.

The report criticized Kurdish lawmakers for failing to approve legislation to ban the practice, saying attempts in the past had fallen short because Kurdistan had not made the issue a priority.

“Although it has not been completely inactive, its efforts have been piecemeal, low key and poorly sustained,” the report said of the Kurdish government.

During its interviews with Kurdish officials, Human Rights Watch said the government had played down the frequency of the practice, in part because of concerns about the damage the study might have on the international reputation of Kurdistan, which is generally regarded as being more Western and less socially conservative than much of the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch “was told that the rates of female genital mutilation were not significant and that organizations working to combat this practice had other ‘interests,’ such as tarnishing the reputation of Kurdistan,” the report said.

The Kurdish government does not collect its own data on genital cutting.

Mariwan Naqshbandi, a spokesman for Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, dismissed the study, saying that it had distorted reality and that Kurdistan had “issues far more important” to confront.

“The report is extremely exaggerated,” he said. “It is so unfair. It relied solely on some local reports. It relied on rumors.”

He added: “Circumcision exists as an isolated occurrence, rather than as a phenomenon in Kurdistan. It only exists in certain places.”

Human Rights Watch said Kurdish girls and women described genital cutting as being physically painful and psychologically scarring.

“Girls undergoing the procedure are forcefully held down, their legs pried apart, and part of their genitalia cut off with a razor blade,” the report said. “Often the same blade is used to cut several girls. No anesthesia is applied beforehand and if anything at all is applied to the open wound afterwards, it is water, herbs, cooking oil or ashes.”

In addition to wounds caused to women, risks include an increase in the rate of stillbirths and in the occurrence of babies with low birth weight, the report said.

It is not clear how common genital cutting is in the rest of Iraq, because it has not been the subject of a comprehensive study.

A version of this article appeared in print on June 17, 2010, on page A10 of the New York edition.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Human rights group urges Kurds to ban female circumcision

June 16, 2010
By the CNN Wire Staff

(CNN) -- A human rights group issued a new report detailing the widespread practice of female circumcisions in Iraqi Kurdistan, calling on Kurdish authorities to outlaw it.

The 73-page report, released Wednesday by the group Human Rights Watch, cites previous studies estimating the circumcision rate for young women to range from 41 percent in a smaller sample of women up to 80 percent in larger studies. The Kurdish government does not keep statistics on female circumcisions or post-operative medial consequences.

Human Rights Watch refers to the circumcisions as "female genital mutilation." The procedure involves partial or total removal of the clitoris, and is also known as clitoridectomy.

The report describes the pain, fear, and physical and emotional distress that girls experience as they undergo the procedure.

Although Islam does not mandate female circumcisions, some girls say it comes from the belief that anything they touch is unclean "until they go through this painful procedure," according to the group. Critics say the intent is to oppress women, and to curtail female sexual desire, even if the surgery poses a health risk.

The report, entitled " 'They Took Me and Told Me Nothing:' Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan," describes the pain and fear the girls and young women endure as they undergo the procedure, and the physical and emotional distress suffered afterward. It calls on the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government to ban the practice.

"FGM violates women's and children's rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won't go away on its own."

The authors interviewed Baxcha A., 22-year-old Kurdish married woman, in 2009.

"I was five," said Baxcha. "My mother took us, me and my sister, to a midwife, and I ran away. They [later] held me by force and removed a piece of flesh from my body. They opened up my legs, and it was very painful. They put water and then ash on the wound."

The report says the previous regional government in Kurdistan decreed that anyone performing female circumcisions should be arrested and punished, but Human Rights Watch says it found no evidence the law is being enforced.

The group acknowledged it won't be easy to change long-existing mindsets and traditions.

"Eradicating it in Iraqi Kurdistan will require strong and dedicated leadership on the part of the regional government, including a clear message that FGM will no longer be tolerated," Khalife said.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tradition or Torture?

More than three million girls are subjected to genital cutting each year.

June 15, 2010
ABC News


GAMCOTRAP certifies 24 community-based facilitators for anti-FGM work

June 15, 2010
By Angelic Gomez - Today The Gambia's Quality Newspaper, Online

Twenty- four new community based facilitators from Kombo South have been certificated after the completion of a three day intensive training on Rights Education in the campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices affecting the health of girls and women. The training has objective to empower the community based facilitators with the right information to advocate against FGM, children's and women's rights in their communities, as part of the recently launched GAMCOTRAP’s Save the Children UNIFEM project f or 2010-2012 in the Kombos, Western Region on Eradicating Harmful Traditional Practices through Rights Education.

In presenting the certificates at the closing ceremony, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of GAMCOTRAP, Honourable Sedia Jatta asserted that he was impressed because of the passion, articulation and conviction with which the participants expressed themselves. He noted that to change people the advocates have to be convinced first. He called on them to work with commitment to bring about change and advised them to be humble, to exercise tolerance and patience to listen to others in other to learn from each other. Honourable Jatta cautioned them that change is not easy, because people have to be educated and aware before they are empowered. He finally advised them to take the training as an inspiration to further seek knowledge, religious knowledge in particular to deepen their arguments, noting that it is only knowledge that transforms the world.

Speaking earlier, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. lsatou Touray, advised the participants to develop the attitude to read in order to upgrade their skills to enable them to deal with development issues in their various communities. Dr. Touray called on them to be youths with substance and commended them for going through the rigorous training to earn the certificates. She emphasized the importance of education because the lack of it amongst girls in the communities has been reflected in the gender bias in the representation amongst the participants, noting that as future parents they should take responsibility to educate girls to close the gap.

She also reminded them that they were identified by their Village Development Committees, Alkalolu and their organizations in Kombo South to€present them amongst many others, therefore it is a responsibility they have committed to take to engage and facilitate open discussions on Female Genital Mutilation and other harmful traditional practices, gender based violence and rights of children in their various communities.

In his vote of thanks on behalf of his colleagues, Ousman Jammeh of Jambanjelly said the end of the training marks a new beginning of their commitment and called on the Community Based facilitators know their direction because they know what to achieve. He acknowledged that they have been provided with the knowledge they need to be able to deliver. He concluded by saying that “Knowledge speaks and wisdom listens" and pledged their support to GAMCOTRAP.

The training looked at concepts of rights education in relation to the protection of the rights of children, women and the other vulnerable groups. It also included understanding the health effects of FGM and religious arguments to protect girl-children from the harmful traditional practices as well as communication skills and community mobilization strategies to reach out to people.

In his contribution to the training, the National Coordinator of Child Protection Alliance, Njundu Drammeh emphasised child protection in our communities and the responsibility different stakeholders have to encourage and listen to the voices of children in their best interest in order to ensure the survival, development and non discrimination amongst children.

Dilating on the medical effects of Female Genital Mutilation, senior programme officer for Gender and Health at the Ministry of Health, Mrs. Fatou Camara informed participants that the Ministry has now taken up FGM in its Reproductive and Child Health Programme and have started training the community health nurses and traditional birth attendants to be aware of the medical effects FGM has on women and their babies during child birth. Mrs. Camara said since the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994, the Ministry has taken commitment to improve reproductive health. She expressed appreciation for the pioneering and the leadership GAMCOTRAP has taken to address harmful traditional practices and FGM in particular.

According to the participants, the training has given them confidence, information and knowledge to share with their communities and win them over to protect girls from FGM and protect the rights of children as well as stop violence against women.

The outcome of the training included a plan of action by the community based facilitators and commitment to engage in the project implementation in the Western Region, specifically the Kombos. The participants also reported on the plan of action they drew up regarding community intervention and communication strategies to reach out to their various communities in the Kombos.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Female Genital Cutting: Affecting Young Girls in America

Many U.S. doctors faced with decision when asked to cut young girls

June 14, 2010
By Brinda Adhikari and Lara Salahi

Female genital cutting (FGC) is a tradition that many assume to be affecting girls living only in Africa and Asia. But this rite of passage procedure is an all too familiar for many women living in the U.S.

The practice of cutting encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organization. In some countries, many of these girls will have their clitoris completely removed to deny them sexual pleasure. And at its most severe, some of them will have their vaginas sewn shut to preserve their virginity.

For resources on female genital cutting, go to's additional resources page.

"It's worse than anything in this world," said one young woman living in America, known as Mary, who asked to conceal her real name for fear ofretribution from her community.

Mary had the most radical form of cutting performed on her in her home country. Her clitoris was removed and her vagina was stitched together.

Another young woman, anonymously identified as Amy, told ABC News that if her parents found out she was speaking out about female genital cutting they would "literally" kill her.

Although the procedure has been officially banned in the U.S. since 1996, some parents who want to stay true to their traditions ask American doctors to cut their daughters, leaving many doctors with a complicated choice.

Female genital cutting, a ritual thousands of years old, is a tradition many mothers and fathers feel obligated to have their daughters undergo because, without it, they are deemed unworthy of marriage. It is a cultural practice, without religious basis or any medical benefits. In fact, studies show that women who have been through it may suffer a lifetime of devastating complications, from severe infections, to pain and bleeding, and even a higher risk of death during childbirth. Some women die from the procedure itself.

Each day in Africa and Asia, more than 8,000 girls between infancy and age 15 undergo female genital cutting, an estimated total of three million girls annually.

"Obviously [parents] don't use the word 'female genital mutilation,' said Terry Dunn, an obstretrician gynecologist in Denver, Colo. "What the mom of the patient says is, 'I want to have the procedure that makes my daughter like me.'" Many physicians who consider FGC a horrifying treatment of a girl suffer a dreadful dilemma. If they say no, the young patient may become one of tens of thousands of young girls taken back to their home countries, in a process known as 'vacation-cutting.' Once there, the girls are often cut using a broken glass or unsterilized razor blades, and, more often than not, without anesthesia. While FGC may be banned in the U.S., there is no law protecting girls from being taken overseas to have the procedure in another country.

The CDC estimates that between 150,000 to 200,000 girls in the United States are in danger of being taken overseas during their time off from school to undergo vacation cutting. In fact, Amy said her parents were pressuring her to return to their home country. Instead, Amy said, she ran away from home.

"If I went back, I would have been cut," said Amy.

Dilemma Doctors Face

According to Dr. Doug Diekema, a pediatrician at Seattle's Children's Hospital and former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' bioethics committee, by refusing to cut girls in the U.S., many doctors may be putting these girls' lives in jeopardy.

"It's very easy to take the high road in cases like this," said Diekema. "But when you're dealing with religious or cultural beliefs, saying no sometimes is not sufficient for people and it will not necessarily eliminate the practice."

In fact, Diekema and a few of his colleagues put forth the idea that American doctors use a so-called ritual nick as an alternative , to keep parents from seeking more dangerous methods of cutting. And, based on Diekema's recommendation, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an official policy statement saying, "the ritual nick would not cause physical harm."

"The cut itself would be tiny, really just like a poke with a needle so that there might be a drop of blood," said Diekema.

But to many opponents of any form of procedure resembling the traditional female cutting, a ritual nick should not be acceptable as a substitute.

"What the AAP is in fact doing is 'wink, wink, nod, nod' in order to protect your patient from a possible worse form of [FGC], let's just spread her legs and nick her," said Taine Bien-Aime, president of the international human rights organization, Equality Now. "The reality is that what [that] statement does is perpetuate female genital mutilation. There is no other way around it."

But Diekema said that the proposed ritual nicking should not be considered a form of mutilation. "If you look up any definition of mutilation in the dictionary, it doesn't apply to this particular procedure," said Diekema.

Running Out of Options

For Mary, who has seen too many friends suffer through this, ritual nicking is not an acceptable compromise by doctors to keep parents from vacation cutting.

When asked by senior health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, what pediatricians should do when faced with a family who wants to take their daughter back to their home country to undergo genital cutting, Mary said, "Call child services on them."

But, Dr. Nawal Nour, director of the African Women's Health Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., said it is important not to vilify the immigrant community.

"Blame is never the solution," said Nour. "Empower them, rather than let's cut them and hurt them."

The center, which exclusively helps immigrant women deal with the complications caused by FGC, educates women about the dangers of FGC to prevent cutting for future generations. Layla Guled, a Somali language interpreter, says parents often feel as though they don't have a choice. Moreover, she says, they have the best intentions.

"Our mothers are trying to do the right thing for us," said Guled. "But our generation is trying to fight it."

The AAP offered clarification to their initial policy statement, saying that while the ritual nick may be considered an option, the practice of cutting is still harmful to girls. But after questions by ABC News regarding ritual nicking recommendations, the AAP withdrew their policy statement completely, saying that it had caused too much confusion and controversy.

"I want to make it very clear that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes any form of female genital cutting, and that would include the ritual nick," Dr. Judith Palfrey, president of the AAP, told ABC News.

Still, Diekema said he stands behind the idea of ritual nicking as an alternative to vacation cutting.

Yet so many U.S. doctors still face a terrible set of options. And while millions of young girls wait for some answer on their fate, some who speak publically about it say they are not giving up the fight.

"We have to change a whole culture," said Mary. "Maybe we can't change their generation but we can change our own generation. We know it's wrong. There's nothing right about this."

Copyright © 2010 ABC News Internet Ventures

Female Genital Cutting: Where to Get Help

For Women in Communities That Face FGC, There's Help

June 14, 2010
By Brinda Adhikari and Lara Salahi – ABC News

Female genital cutting (FGC) encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organization. While the procedure seems like a tribal tradition undergone on other countries, many young women in the U.S. have undergone FGC.
For many girls who may have already undergone FGC or who are facing community pressure to undergo the procedure, there's help. Here are a few places to turn:
Equality Now: is an international human rights organization that advocates for the social welfare of girls and women.
 Sanctuary for Families is a non-profit organization based in New York that offers help for women seeking assistance regarding FGC.
 American Academy of Pediatrics is an expert-based organization that offers medical information and policy statements on children's health, including young girls.
 UNICEF , a part of the United Nations, advocates for children's rights and protection worldwide.
 Tostan is a nongovernmental organization dedicated to preserving African women's rights and to empowering African communities to abandon FGC.
Brigham and Women's Hospital: African Women's Health Center is a clinic committed to improving the health of refugee and immigrant women who have undergone FGC.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

U.S. Bill Would Outlaw FGM ”Holidays”

June 12, 2010
By Beatrice Paez - IPS News

NEW YORK, Jun 12  (IPS)  - The U.S. currently lags behind several Western European countries in closing a legislative loophole banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) beyond its borders to protect U.S. citizens and residents. But this may soon change. Some 6,000 girls endure FGM every day, totaling about 100 to 140 million girls and women who bear the lifetime consequences. The ”Girls Protection Act” would make it illegal to transport a minor abroad for the purpose of FGM. Introduced by members of Congress Joseph Crowley and Mary Bono Mack as a bipartisan initiative, the bill is now awaiting review in a congressional committee.

FGM rituals are practiced in many parts of Africa, the Middle East and some countries in Asia. It involves
procedures that partially or completely remove the external female genitalia and is undertaken at infancy or later in childhood, depending on a particular culture.

There are four types, which range in severity. Most common as characterised by the World Health Organisation is Type II, ”the excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora.”

Political asylum has been granted in the United States to FGM survivors, and activist organisations for women such as Equality Now and Sanctuary for Families warn that those at risk also include women living in the U.S.

Canada, Spain, Britain and several Scandinavian countries have already enacted such legislation, commonly known as ”vacation provisions”, which protect girls sent during on "holiday” for circumcision.

In the past, under these provisions, Sweden and France have prosecuted parents that have forced their child to undergo this rite of passage. While these laws cannot monitor and establish conclusively who is at risk, they are intended to act as a deterrent.

”If you make something illegal, people tend not to want to break the law,” Crowley told journalists at a briefing this week. If found guilty, the adults responsible can be fined or serve up to five years in prison.

However, prosecuting is a tricky situation when bearing in mind the child's welfare and the mother's second-class citizenship within her culture. ”We're not calling for the arrest of parents, especially the mothers, who very often do not have the power to decide whether or not their girls will be cut,” Taina Bien-Aimé, the director of Equality Now, told IPS.

The bill will also be coupled with community outreach and educational programmes to shore up awareness on the link between FGM and many serious health complications. Potential consequences for those subjected to FGM include urinary tract infection, complications at childbirth, infertility, cysts, death and need for surgery.

For girls aware of these hazards, they are balanced in mind with the stigmatisation and rejection they face from family members. Mothers preparing their child for marriage facilitate the practice as an ”act of love”, to ensure their child will not be rejected by men and the broader community. Local terminology describes FGM as ”cutting the dirt” or ”cleansing”, a way to preserve the chastity or virginity of a woman.

The impetus for the bill owes to the efforts of grassroots movements and the testimony of FGM survivors campaigning to uproot this tradition from their culture.

Fanta, an FGM survivor who escaped the procedure with the support of her parents, has spoken out about the pressure young girls from her community here in the U.S. face. ”I went through so many rejections, I was not accepted by certain members of the family. It took a lot of sacrifices for my parents,” she said.

Dismissed in the past as a cultural matter, service providers such as guidance counselors, social workers, the police and teachers on the frontline are often unequipped to help those at risk, said Archana Pyati, an attorney from the group Sanctuary for Families.

Bien-Aimé underscored the importance of scaling up grassroots efforts and in establishing networks within the communities as a source of support and information on FGM.

Whether the approach to outreach and education is tailored to a specific culture or not, it is vital that service providers can tackle the issue, Pyati and Bien-Aimé agreed.

”State laws also need to have the vacation provision as a counterpart because the first responders are the police and local service providers,” Bien-Aimé told IPS.

Currently, out of 17 state laws that ban FGM, only Nevada and Georgia instituted these provisions.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Museveni directs Sabiny to stop Female Genital Mutilation

June 7, 2010
By Davids Mafabi - Daily Monitor
President Museveni has described Female Genital Mutilation as an outdated practice and an abuse to dignity of the girl-child that has no room in modern society, urging the Sabiny to stop it henceforth.
“This cutting of girls must stop. This was a science of our ancestors and we need to change it. I am happy that before I even signed the law you already had enacted a law against it,” said President Museveni.
The President, who was on a one-day tour of Bukwo District on Saturday aimed at assessing the progress of the state-funded agricultural and credit facilities, urged people to utilise the small fragmented pieces of land in Bukwo for intensive agriculture to fight poverty at households.
However, there are reports that the practice which in traditional Sabiny society is meant to initiate young girls into adulthood now takes place at night, in the bushes and across the border in Kenya in bid to dodge the law.
Government passed a law banning FGM in March.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Crowley writes anti-mutilation bill to help girls

June 3, 2010
By Chauncey Alcorn -  Your Nabe

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), a long-time advocate for women’s rights issues, sponsored the Girls Protection Act of 2010 April 26 after receiving disturbing reports from New York-based women’s shelters, claiming FGM victims have recently visited or anonymously reported FGM cases.

If passed, the bill would outlaw sending girls overseas from the United States for FGM rituals, punishing violators with fines and up to five years in prison.

“We’re closing a loophole,” Crowley said. “Some families in our district are taking their daughters over to their homeland to have this ritual performed. If we can prevent just one girl from going through this, I think it’s worth enacting into federal law

Women’s rights advocates are alarmed at an increasing number of female genital mutilation cases happening to women in Queens.

Some call it hygienic, others call it barbaric — but officials said a rising number of underage girls in New York, including Queens communities, are becoming victims of FGM, or what some call “female circumcision.”

“Wherever you have FGM-practicing immigrant populations, people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eretria and West African countries like Senegal, the girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM,” said Lakshmi Anantnarayan, communications director for Equality Now, an international women’s rights organization. “If those populations exist in Queens, the risk of their daughters being brought home during summer vacations or having operations done at their homes is very high.”

The practice of FGM involves cutting off part or all of a girl’s external sex organs, including the clitoris and labia. In the most extreme cases, a girl’s vagina can be sewn shut through a process known as “infibulation,” according to the World Health Organization.

The practice is said to be common among some immigrants from certain regions in Africa and the Middle East, who subject their underage daughters to it to ensure they remain virgins until marriage, making them more desirable to potential husbands. Anantnarayan said in some cases FGM is used to deliberately destroy a woman’s ability to enjoy sex to discourage promiscuity.

“It’s the control of women’s sexuality for the most part, to preserve the woman’s virginity until marriage,” she said. “They also say it’s a cultural practice to make the girl more acceptable in the community so she can be married.”

Some cultures consider FGM to be hygienic, similar to male circumcision, even though most health organizations, including the Center for Disease Control and the WHO, said it has serious consequences for a woman’s overall and reproductive health.

“The urethra is affected in women, especially African women, who have a tendency to keloid,” said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now. “There can be serious consequences around the urethra because of infection or a number of other reasons.”

Bien-Aime said FGM causes constant vaginal pain that can last a lifetime and in some cases create extreme complications for women during pregnancy. FGM also causes problems during a woman’s monthly period.

Federal lawmakers outlawed practicing FGM in the United States in 1996, but Equality Now and other groups claim U.S. immigrants are sending girls abroad to have the procedure done.

Since FGM is so taboo in the United States, documented instances are rare, although in recent years prominent reports of it occurred in Georgia — with one occurring last year.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Female circumcision under consideration

May 31, 2010
By IBT Health

Australian doctors are considering introducing a controversial form of genital mutilation carried out on baby girls.
The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) says the practice of "ritual nicks" could meet the cultural needs of some women and potentially save some people from drastic surgery.
Although illegal in Australia, female genital mutilation is common among some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities but has been known to leave some young girls scarred for life when not carried out in proper clinical facilities.
Former commissioner and current state Liberal MP, Pru Goward, has called for action against  initiating the practice of circumcision and said it is a form of child abuse. She said it doesn't matter whether it is cultural or not, it is against the law.
''I think the Federal Government needs to have an education campaign as part of our immigration program, and if you are introducing  people from other countries where you know it goes on, you need to let them know it is unlawful and it is not acceptable.''
 Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission said: "I disagree with the suggestion by the RANZCOG that we should, for any reason, entertain a practice of "ritual nicks" in a sterile environment. 
"In my opinion female genital mutilation or female circumcision, whatever you want to call it, is violence against women, often against children and young women."
RANZCOG secretary Gino Pecoraro told News Ltd, "We will need to start to think about [its introduction] but we would have to speak to community leaders from Australia."
"But we need to make sure we do not legitimise the ritualistic maiming of children."
RANZCOG said the issue would be discussed at a women's health meeting in June.

Fewer women being mutilated in Cote d'Ivoire

May 31, 2010
By Alison Clarke - Women's Views on News
Although rates of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) have slowed down in the Cote d'Ivoire thanks to a campaign of zero tolerance, campaigners are concerned that they are not falling faster. 
The Ministry for Family, Women and Social Affairs is at the forefront of the campaign, which is backed by the UN Development Fund for Women, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and UN Population Fund, according to Ministry head Euphrasie Yao.
"FGM is decreasing, but one in three women in this country is still mutilated, and that is too high," Leticia Bazzi, child protection officer for UNICEF in Côte d'Ivoire, told IRIN.
In 1998 some 49 percent of women and girls aged 10 to 45 were subjected to FGM/C, but by 2006 the number had dropped to around 36 percent.