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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Public launch of the Worldwide Ban FGM Campaign website






September 29, 2010
No Peace Without Justice

On 23 September 2010, in New York, No Peace Without Justice, The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children & Euronet-FGM organized a high-level meeting to present the International Campaign to Ban Female Genital Mutilation worldwide at the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
 
Participants of the meeting, which was opened by The First Lady of Burkina Faso H.E. Mrs Chantal Compaor√©, a long-time campaigner against Female Genital Mutilation and the Inter-African Committee Good-Will ambassador, included, among others, Franco Frattini, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, Emma Bonino, Vice-President of the Italian Senate and former European Commissioner, Rachel Mayanja, UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Louise Arbour, President of ICG and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Carol Bellamy, former Executive Director of Unicef.
 
The event provided an opportunity for prominent human rights defenders, members of Parliaments and civil society activists from countries where Female Genital Mutilation is committed to advocate for the international campaign, in which they are actively involved, aimed at promoting the adoption of a Resolution by the 65th United Nations General Assembly that universally and explicitly bans FGM.
 
The aim of the meeting was also to launch publicly the Worldwide Ban FGM campaign website (http://www.banfgm.org/) and the appeal calling for a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.
 
The United Nations Resolution would be an extremely important instrument to underscore the gravity of Female Genital Mutilation as a human rights violation, specifically the right to physical integrity, that affects the lives of millions of women around the world. The UN Resolution, in addition to being a worldwide ban on female genital mutilation, would reinforce the regional and international conventions that recognize FGM as a violation of human rights, give new impetus to efforts to improve national laws banning FGM where they exist, or to adopt one, where they do not, as well as provide strong and clear support for all activists working to bring an end to the practice.
 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

GAMCOTRAP Seeks Parliament’s Cooperation in Enacting Anti-FGM law

September 28, 2010
Today: The Gambia's Quality Newspaper
Fatoumatta Saho

The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting The Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) has extended its campaign against female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices which endanger the lives of women and girls to the members of The Gambia National Assembly.

In its latest engagement, GAMCOTRAP wants the understanding of the legislators for the need to institute laws that prohibit FGM practice and safeguard the dignity of the person of the human body.

Speaking at the opening of the consultation with parliamentarians, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray noted the importance of the consultation, which she noted is the third of a series towards the elimination of FGM in The Gambia.

According to her, some parliamentarians have participated in previous sensitization programmes which were also expository of the health effects of FGM. She said that there is no dearth of information concerning the international, national and regional conventions which GAMCOTRAP and other women’s right organization are engaging to create awareness on the effects of FGM.

She noted that the consultation with the parliamentarians marked another important day in a series of consultations that have been ongoing at community levels where some of the National Assembly members were present. “I am happy to say that most of the community interventions that have been going on at the country level have been with the effective participation of the National Assembly members,” she said.

She noted that the programme was strategically targeted at the National Assembly select committees on women and children and on health, since the issues tabled for discussion concerned the health, rights and the bodily dignity and integrity of the woman and the girl child. “I believe the consultation would consolidate the series of consultations that have been going on women’s right issues, particularly in the area of gender-based violence and FGM, to be able to help particularly the select committees to be strategic advocates in the parliament.”

According to her, as women rights organization that takes the lead in promoting women’s and children’s right, they have in collaboration with other strategic partners like the Women’s Bureau, Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia and some religious scholars been setting the stage for a legislation that would protect women and girl children from FGM and other associated practices.

“We have worked with lots of you and this is just a continuation of the recommendation coming out of those programmes saying that we should work strategically with the selected committee on women and child and on health.”

She recalled that a Gambian delegation comprising legislators attended a May 2010 regional ceremony of the United Nations ban of FGM held in Dakar Senegal which had in attendance representatives from 28 African countries. Out of these, 19 countries have already passed a law on FGM.

“The Gambia is not doing badly because we were able to report all the works that have been going on and the efforts put together. The remaining is to fulfill all those obligations by crowning it with a law. A law is not a question of helping women but a fundamental right and a duty to ensure that it is in place to protect women and girls from the harmful traditional practices. Therefore, it is about fulfilling the commitments made at the international, national and regional level and also at the country level as speculated in the constitution of The Gambia; that is why we are working with the selected committees.”

She further said that best practices have been established in other countries and The Gambia is not reinventing the wheel, but adopt what is positive for all, as she further noted protecting women and girl children is important as they are active participants in national development. “Therefore you all have a duty as National Assembly members towards promoting women’s human right.”

“This proposed bill is a proposed bill because as primary stakeholders, we have a duty to take the lead in pushing the agenda forward but we are not taking responsibility because it is not our duty. Our duty as an NGO is to take the lead in bringing things together and passing it on to the right channel for it to be realized and that is why GAMCOTRAP brings in the selected committees on women, girls and health to be on the same level of understanding and awareness regarding the matter at hand, for us to be able to push the agenda so that you will be able to pass the bill when it comes to FGM.”

Delivering his statement, Hon. Momodou Touray, chairman for the National Assembly select committee on women and children said the only way forward to eradicate FGM is through sensitization, because if people are sensitized, they would be aware and this would lead to the achievement of aims and objectives. “Let GAMCOTRAP sensitize everybody in The Gambia and make them understand the danger and health hazard about FGM practices,” he said.

He also urged his colleagues ensure that they also sensitise the people of their constituencies on the need for action against FGM. “We all know that it is a deep rooted culture because we cannot say that it is religious, to uproot it will not be easy. We can only do it by approaching our people politely, patiently accept whatever they are going to tell us so that we can convince them in the final analysis to put a law against FGM.”

According to Hon. Saikouna Sanneh, many countries have already put a law in place against FGM. He said it is the duty of the National Assembly to defend the interest of women of the country. “On the 29th September 2008, at the Kairaba Conference Hall, there was a declaration that we made in the interest of women of this country,” he said.

GAMCOTRAP has set up elaborate advocacy and sensitization programmes to promote the sexual and reproductive health of the women and the girl child. In line with his action plan, it has also sensitized several communities including the men, women, boys, girls, religious leaders, Alkalos and chiefs across the country, and there has been considerable attitudinal change, according to the NGO.




Monday, September 27, 2010

The Universal Ban on Female Genital Mutilation: A Goal Within Close Reach

September 27, 2010
No Peace Without Justice
On the occasion of the visit to Rome of four of the most committed African anti-FGM activists, the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational Transparty and No Peace Without Justice are organising a Roundtable Discussion on "The universal ban on female genital mutilation (FGM): a goal within reach", to be held in Rome (via di Torre Argentina 76) on 27 September 2010, from 11h00 to 13h00.

For nearly 30 years, Arab and African activists have been engaged in combating one of the most widespread and systematic violations of the most fundamental human rights, specifically the right to physical integrity. FGM is committed against 150 million women worldwide, in 27 African countries and in Yemen, as well as in Europe and North America, in which FGM is now practiced as a result of migration over recent decades.

In the last ten years, the longstanding dedication of women’s rights advocates and the increasing political commitment shown by affected States has led to significant progress. Twenty countries have currently enacted national legislation which prohibits and penalises FGM; the African Union has taken a strong position condemning the practice through the Maputo Protocol banning female genital mutilation as a violation of human rights; and many governments are engaged in the implementation of national action plans that, in conjunction with the law, provide information and awareness campaigns, especially in underdeveloped areas where the practice is more widespread.

These achievements have brought us to a pivotal moment in the fight against FGM. The universal ban on FGM, through the adoption of a specific resolution by the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations, is a goal within close reach.

Participants at the meeting will include, among others, 
Emma Bonino, Vice-President of the Italian Senate; Elisabetta Belloni, Director General of the Italian Cooperation; Mariam Lamizana, President of the Inter-African Committee against traditional practices; Ndeye Souk√®ye Gueye, representative of the Ministry for Family Affairs of Senegal; Khady Koita, President of La Palabre; and Marie Rose Sawadogo, Secretary of the National Committee for the fight against the practice of FGM in Burkina Faso.

For further information, please contact Carla Caraccio, email: ccaraccio@npwj.org, phone: +39 06 68979262-261. Check also the websites: www.npwj.org and www.banfgm.org

Sierra Leone: Anti-FGM Campaign Heats Up

Friday September 24, 2010
The Patriotic Vanguard, Sierra Leone News Portal
Maada Gumbu



Katanya Women’s Development Association (KAWDA) one of the leading advocates against Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone has intensified its campaign against the age-old practice despite stiff resistance from traditionalists.
Ann-Marie Caulker, the Executive Director of KAWDA says, “We are not against people in the Bondo Secret Society which practices FGM, but it is the crude way it is done and the resultant effects that are of concern to us.”
She says many children have lost their lives during FGM ceremonies. The age-old practice has been part of Sierra Leonean culture since the pre-colonial era. However, not everything is bad about the society. Some women are taught positive things during the initiation ceremony.
They are taught motherhood, how to become good house wives, cultivation of good citizenship, the role of a woman in society, herbalism and other good virtues that need to be imbibed by women. This is to ensure that by the time they enter marriage they would have learnt many things that they need to know about the real world.
But the FGM practice which has led to harmful effects, has over the past decades aroused concern both locally and across the international scene. Some of the harmful effects that have been observed to result from the practice are: pregnancy- related complications as a result of injuries sustained during the process, contracting HIV/AIDS, chronic infection and in extreme cases deaths, which in many instances are not reported to the police. The practice is common in all the regions of Sierra Leone; even in the capital, Freetown.
Far away at Njala, in the Moyamba district, southwest of the country, some girls were forcibly initiated five months ago and one had to be hospitalized. Another girl, Trina Fatima Kposowa (photo) escaped and has not been seen since. An alarm was raised in the town for her capture, but was nowhere to be found. Some of her relatives were accused of harboring her, an allegation they stoutly rejected. The leader of the Bondo secret society warned that Trina Fatima Kposowa had already become privy to the secrets of the society which is not open to non-initiates and therefore allowing her to go away without initiation would bring evil on the town and the society leaders. She threatened to search for her by all means and pointed out that wherever the girl went there are Bondo Secret society members there, so it was a folly for her to run away.
A new law has been enacted in Sierra Leone making it unlawful for a girl below eighteen years to be initiated. In other words, she has to reach the age in which she can freely make a choice of her own ; whether to be initiated or not. But Anti-FGM campaigners say even at eighteen, girls face the risk of dying especially with the crude method of mutilation. They pointed out that in many rural areas there are no medical facilities and the blades used are most times rusty and contagious. Some campaigners have pointed out the painful ordeals girls have revealed. Female Genital Mutilation is also known as Female Genital Cutting.
Apparently, this (the cutting) has been the cause for Trina Fatima Kposowa’s flight. Campaigners, including KAWDA, say successive governments have been reticent over the issue because of political reasons. Either they fear resistance from the members or because of massive support for the society they are a force to reckon with in the political dispensation of the country. Any attempt to offend the members will apparently lead to social disorder or political suicide.
The family of Trina Fatima is reported to be worried about her whereabouts. Campaigners say something needs to be done about the situation. “If she is seen today, she will definitely be initiated,” says one family member.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Protecting Women's Fundamental Rights

September 23, 2010
Franco Frattini
Deccan Herald 



Trying to simply impose behaviours by law is not enough: we have to go to the roots of the problem.

Promoting women’s rights at the global level must aim to enhance women’s role as pro-active individuals and as the essential and most effective channel for development and peace. However, to achieve this requires protecting women’s fundamental rights, first and foremost the right not to be subjected to violence.

Italy has always been active with a number of initiatives and projects aimed at preventing violence against women. I am personally committed as a member of the ‘Network of Men Leaders’ launched last year by the UN secretary general within the scope of the campaign ‘Unite to End Violence Against Women.’

One of Italy’s main priorities in protecting and promoting human rights worldwide was combating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This practice is still a huge challenge in many parts of the world. In Africa, some traditional cultures consider it to be beneficial to women and their families, believing that it ensures girls a proper marriage and promotes chastity and family honour. Other countries in Europe, once unaffected by this practice, have become familiar with FGM over the last years, including Italy, where we have now an estimated 35,000 cases of FGM.


Roots of the problem

Female genital mutilation has been neglected for centuries. It was considered a kind of taboo, and the fact that it was often associated with ancestral traditions or religious myths complicated any open form of discussion or challenge. Illiteracy, poverty, and a lack of information have contributed greatly to the problem.

Luckily, over the last decade, the interest in and commitment to end this practice has reached a new level. FGM is now generally considered a violation of the human rights and physical integrity of women and girls.

Since the 1980s Italy has been actively engaged in programmes to combat and prevent FGM, starting in Somalia. In 2004 we initiated a partnership with Unicef aimed at the creation of a political, legal, and social framework for the abandonment of the practice of FGM. We are now one of the key donors to UN programmes in this field, including the Unicef/Unfpa joint programme on FGM.


We are keen to reinforce our global partnership on this issue. The challenge is huge and requires a comprehensive approach and a wide range of strategies to be addressed effectively. One element is crucial to guide our action: understanding the social and cultural dynamics related to FGM. Trying to simply impose behaviours by law is not enough: we have to go to the roots of the problem and work on positive actions as well, especially in the fields of education and public awareness campaigns.

I wish to clarify that there is no paternalism in our attitude nor have we any desire to impose ‘western standards’ on traditional cultures. Our objective is simply to support African ownership of this initiative and strengthen a process that Africa itself started a long time ago.

Besides, we are not starting from scratch. We can now build on several initiatives that have taken place over the last months: in September 2009 we held in New York the first ministerial meeting on FGM, which brought together an initial group of 14 countries committed at the national and international level to support the fight against FGM; two months later, the government of Burkina Faso, together with Italy and the NGO ‘No Peace Without Justice’ organised a high-level regional meeting in Ouagadougou entitled ‘Towards a Global Ban of FGM’; in March 2010, an event at the margins of the Commission on the Status of Women was co-chaired by the Ministers for Gender Issues of Egypt, Italy and Senegal, and a resolution on ending female genital mutilation was adopted by consensus, tabled by the African Group, and endorsed later by ECOSOC. Last but not least, in May 2010 an Inter-Parliamentary Conference took place in Dakar, with representatives of parliaments and civil society from 28 African countries, and a declaration was adopted urging, inter alia, the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution banning FGM in the world  in 2010.

We believe that the time has come to present an ad-hoc resolution on FGM at this session of the UN General Assembly. Such a resolution should be brief and touch on a selected number of priorities: a solemn ban on FGM, a reference to the main legal and cultural instruments underlying that goal, an appeal to the international community and the UN system, and a light follow-up mechanism.

The main point, however, is that this would be the first time the supreme body of the United Nations had spoken out on this matter — a major achievement in itself. This is one of the goals that we have set for this upcoming session of the General Assembly and I trust that the international community will be able to achieve it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Planning on Girl Power

September 22, 2010
Louise Hogan
Irish Independent 


Television stars threw their weight behind a worldwide campaign to help improve the conditions of young girls in a bid to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
MTV presenter Laura Whitmore and RTE's Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh (pictured) revealed the number of child brides and the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) were key issues to be addressed.
About 140 million girls have undergone FGM and each year two million are subjected to it, according to figures gathered as part of the children's charity Plan Ireland's 'Because I am a Girl' campaign.
"We can't presume with all the influx of Africans coming to live in Europe . . . it is very new to us, we can't presume that FGM isn't carried out here," Blathnaid said yesterday at the launch at Dublin's Mansion House.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Campaign to Stop Female Genital Mutilation

September 21, 2010
Screen Africa

A radio documentary highlighting the illegal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) produced by a group of teenagers from Bristol will be broadcast on Wednesday 22 September on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. The radio programme will broadcast part of the project and interview its creators about the issues it raises.
The project, run by the charity Integrate Bristol, was made possible thanks to Mediabox funding awarded to the group with the help of South West Screen.
The group of young women, who remain anonymous, interviewed a range of experts for the documentary, including FGM expert Sarah McCulloch, Doctor Hilary Cooling who provided a medical insight into the risks of the procedure, Cross Government FGM Co-ordinator Hannah Buckley, and Dave McCallum, Chief Detective Inspector of Somerset Police. Also interviewed were an Imam who explained the truth about FGM and Islam, as well as young men and a mothers and grandmother from the Somali community.
Integrate Bristol says: “The main aim of this group of brave young women was to raise awareness about this dangerous, traumatic and illegal practice, and to raise questions about why so little is being done to protect vulnerable girls. They chose radio as a medium because they felt it would allow themselves, as well as interviewees from practicing cultures, a greater degree of privacy. It also became clear that there is a real need for a national helpline for girls who have any questions or concerns regarding FGM.
Female genital mutilation is a cultural practice carried out in more than 28 African countries, particularly Somalia, Egypt and Sudan, where part or all of the genitalia is removed from girls. The practice, which is illegal in the UK and most other countries including Somalia and Sudan, can cause urinary infections, kidney failure and death. In the UK, it is estimated that up to 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of FGM.
In Bristol alone it is believed that around 2,000 girls are at risk. For more information visit www.stopfgm.org.uk.

Gamcotrap Trains 100 Parents on FGM

September 20, 2010
The Daily Observer--Gambia News


The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP) Thursday trained 100 parents from Ebo Town on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at a one-day workshop held at the B.O Semega Janneh Hall in Tallinding.






The objectives of the training are to increase awareness on harmful traditional practices amongst women and men and to work towards the banning of female FGM. Speaking at the ceremony, the deputy mayor of KMC, Yusupha Sanyang, affirmed that they have been working with Gamcotrap for a long time in the eradication of FGM, poverty and hunger mostly among children and women.

He noted that the workshop is a very significant one because it brought together both male and female participants. He added: "FGM, though a very old practice that cannot be eradicated easily, should be a national duty to everyone to fight." Njundu Drammeh, coordinator of the Child Protection Alliance (CPA) said that the basic violation of girls and women's rights should be discussed and addressed to create awareness on the damage caused by FGM.

He also mentioned that early and forceful marriage, under-reported barriers to child survival and development are all human rights violations, adding that it is the obligation of the society to satisfy the fundamental needs of the children for their development, personality, talent and ability.

Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap informed the gathering that one Michelle Gin, a student in USA, saw the Gamcotrap articles on the newspaper and decided to sponsor the workshop. She also briefed the participants on FGM, pointing out that the practice is very harmful to women and children, adding that if a woman is well the whole house will be healthy, but if she is affected by sickness the entire household is suffocated.

A Cut That Divides



September 20, 2010
Tara Bannow
Minnesota Daily

Members of the Somali community are torn over whether to condone a mild form of female circumcision as a rite of passage. Some believe U.S. doctors should be allowed to perform the procedure. Others are happy to do away with it.

Amina Ahmed had always been afraid of needles.

Now, as an 8 year old, she thought someone was going to use one in a place nobody was supposed to touch.

The quivering girl stood next to her younger sister and cousin. The oldest of the three, Ahmed was up first.

Just then — she ran.

An hour and a half later, her uncle and brother found her hiding in a nearby marketplace and brought her back to the small clinic in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Her clitoris was pricked and blood dripped out.

"All kids will cry, especially the little kids," Ahmed, now a 24-year-old University of Minnesota graduate, said. "But afterward, it was something to be proud of."

Much about the young woman, whose family fled the Somali civil war for a life in the United States when she was 13, speaks to her adherence to traditional Somali culture. She’s loyal to her Islamic faith, never goes outside without her headscarf and is dedicated to her vow of celibacy until marriage.

But to Ahmed’s dismay, she won’t be able to pass onto her future daughters a practice she considers sacred, as U.S. law has banned all forms of female circumcision since 1996, and Minnesota law has banned it since 1994.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 100 million and 140 million girls and women have undergone various forms of the procedure and another 3 million girls, most of them under the age of 15, undergo it each year.

Members of the Somali community in the Twin Cities disagree on whether to support the mild form of circumcision some refer to as a "clitoral nick," where a woman’s clitoris is poked and allowed to bleed, a practice that’s believed to render her "clean."

While some, like Ahmed, believe they should be able to practice the long-standing tradition, others are equally passionate about leaving it behind.

On par with ear piercing

Widespread discussion around the topic resurfaced in May of this year when the American Academy of Pediatrics Bioethics Committee reviewed a 1998 policy which banned any female circumcision. The committee recommended that the AAP approve what it called a "ritual nick," arguing it’s on par with ear piercing and "much less extensive than routine newborn male genital cutting," or circumcision.

Douglas Diekema, chairman of the AAP’s Bioethics Committee at the time, has long believed that pediatricians should be able to perform a nick as an alternative to a more dangerous procedure performed in a nonmedical setting.

This wasn’t the first time he’s sat on a committee that agreed to condone the practice. A pediatrician at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, Diekema looked at the issue back in 1996 when a number of Somali women across town at Harborview Medical Center were requesting that doctors circumcise their female babies. Diekema’s committee was tasked with deciding whether Harborview would allow its physicians to perform a nick.

The committee approved the procedure in the summer of 1996, but following a period of angry letters and Congress’ passage of a federal law banning all forms of female circumcision, the hospital overruled the committee in December of that year.

Now, 14 years later, Diekema’s had his second statement denied.
The AAP’s Board of Directors rescinded the Bioethics Committee’s statement in July, although "the committee stood behind it," Diekema said. In the statement, Diekema’s committee referred to nicking the hood of the clitoris, but it didn’t provide a clear description of the procedure, Diekema said, adding, "that probably would have been helpful for some people."

There are major differences between nicking the clitoral hood and the actual clitoris. The clitoris, like the head of the penis, is filled with nerve endings that, if damaged, would impact a woman’s ability to feel sexual pleasure, Jamie Feldman, a physician at the University Center for Sexual Health, said.

The hood, on the other hand, is a layer of skin comparable to the foreskin of a penis. It’s unlikely that there would be any side effects to nicking the hood, Diekema said. He admitted that clarifying that in the statement would likely have saved the committee from a lot of flack.

Shortly following its release, the statement drew furious feedback from doctors, advocacy groups and others who argued it promoted a useless practice that impeded on the child’s right to autonomy.

"To offer up some baby’s clitoral hood because you want a hospital to strengthen a relationship with a community is child abuse; for what, market-share?" wrote Benjamin Aubey, a Columbia University professor and pediatrician at the Harlem Hospital Center.

The purpose behind the policy, Diekema said, was to prevent the harm that could come from families sending their children overseas to have a circumcision performed in a nonmedical setting. It recommended that federal and state laws be changed to allow pediatricians to perform the nick.

"I think allowing pediatricians to perform the nick under the right circumstances would be better for some girls," Diekema, also a bioethics professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said. "There’s no question, based on conversations I’ve had with people who take care of women from these communities, that in the absence of offering something that would not be psychologically or physically harmful, some will have a procedure done that will result in great harm."

A loophole in the current federal law doesn’t punish those who take their girls out of the country to have the procedure performed. A bill floating in committee seeks to fix that. Authored by Reps. Joseph Crowely, D-N.Y., and Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., the Girls Protection Act would mimic those of European countries that have already made it a crime.

Neither could offer solid numbers on how many children might be affected, although a statement from Crowley used "very rough data based on census estimates" to guess that "it could be in the hundreds of thousands."

A number of local Somali women and medical professionals who work closely with Somali patients said that if children are being sent out of the country, it’s extremely rare.

Rights vs. protection

In a country that supposedly allows religious freedom, it makes Ahmed angry that she can’t pass on to her children what she says is a harmless practice.
"Why someone who does not know anything about my religion tell me I can’t do it?" Ahmed, who works as a respiratory nurse at Owatonna Hospital, said. "You don’t have the right to say that."

While some draw a definite distinction between female circumcision and Islam — defining the practice as a cultural one — several people said that the Quran offers the nick as an option.

Although female circumcision has been practiced among other religions, it’s most commonly associated with Islam.

Many point to a line in the Quran in which Prophet Muhammad says to a circumciser on the way to perform the procedure "do not overdo it, because it [the clitoris] is a good fortune for the spouse and a delight to her." In this statement, some claim that the prophet is advocating the mild form of circumcision. Still others believe the prophet is condemning the tradition altogether.

The practice is unknown in 80 percent of the Islamic world, and it originated in regions of Arabia and Africa before Christianity and Islam held a stake in those societies, according to a 2003 article in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs.

It could certainly be seen as a violation of religious freedom, said Lora Harding Dundek, manager of the Birth and Family Education and Support Services department at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview Riverside.

"It’s that balance between the law as protecting people and law as violating people’s rights," she said. "It’s certainly not inconsistent with other debates we’ve had around religious freedom and private practice."

The U.S. would never consider a law that would ban male circumcision, a practice of Judeo-Christian origin, although there’s evidence that, as an invasive procedure, it carries certain risks, Harding Dundek said.

Compared to male circumcision, the ritual nick is "far less invasive," Diekema said. To make the two procedures equal, you’d have to remove the clitoral hood, he said.

"This would be more like taking a needle and poking the male foreskin so that you saw a drop of blood," he said.

It’d be difficult to say whether condoning the nick would reduce harm until the medical community knows how often circumcision still happens in the U.S., said Elizabeth Boyle, a sociology professor at the University. Boyle, who spent years studying female circumcision and wrote a book on the subject, said the laws against the practice discourage people to be forthcoming about their behaviors, she said.

"A really fundamental point is that we just don’t know whether it’s being perpetuated."

An ancient tradition

Although there’s some disagreement over the location, historians believe female circumcision originated as many as 2,000 years ago in Egypt.
For cultures obsessed with preserving a woman’s virginity, female circumcision has been viewed as the only way to truly achieve that goal.

While still practiced heavily in more than 28 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, female circumcision has more or less ceased in the U.S. and other countries outside of Africa that have implemented laws against it.
While the World Health Organization defines four types, two forms of the practice are the most well-known.

The mild form, which some refer to as a "clitoral nick," or "sunnah," can consist of cutting, poking or removing part or all of either the clitoris or the clitoral hood.

The most severe form, which advocacy groups refer to as "female genital mutilation" or "infibulation," consists of removing the clitoris, labia minora and inner layers of the labia majora. Both sides of the vaginal opening are then sewn together almost completely, often leaving an opening the size of a pencil head or q-tip for the passage of urine or menstrual blood.

This procedure has taken on a number of forms depending on where it’s performed and by whom. In Somalia, a country with a high prevalence of the extreme procedure, it’s often performed by an elder woman in the clan — usually someone with no formal medical training — using a razorblade and no anesthesia.

The procedure has been the subject of intense, sweeping educational efforts by groups like UNICEF, the U.N. Human Rights Council and the WHO over the past two decades.

In the short term, it’s caused everything from hemorrhage, shock, severe pain, infection and death. Over the years, women who’ve undergone the procedure experience a high number of urinary tract infections. Intercourse tends to be excruciating, and most of the women are unable to achieve orgasm.
Furthermore, 25 to 30 percent of women who undergo the procedure are infertile, sometimes because of their inability to have sex, according to a 2003 article in the Journal of Cultural Diversity.

Perceptions are being changed

There are several waves of change working their way through the Somali community as they adjust to life in the U.S., but perhaps none have been as abrupt as the shift away from circumcision.
Back in Somalia, women were circumcised to conform to society, but in the Western world, the practice is a deviation from the norm.

Iman Warsame, a University senior studying psychology and English, estimates that "almost all" of the women in her mother’s generation have had the extreme form of circumcision performed on them. But among her generation, she thinks, almost no one has had the extreme form, and less than half have had the mild form.

A number of medical professionals said they see the severe form of the procedure much less frequently than a decade ago. It’s much more commonly seen in older women than in teenagers and is almost nonexistent in children.

Even in Somalia and other African countries, educational campaigns have begun to chip away at the number of families who carry on the more damaging procedure. Nowadays, it happens predominately in rural areas and less and less in urban areas like Mogadishu.

Ahmed’s five older sisters each had an infibulation done. By the time Ahmed’s turn came, her mother had become more educated about the side effects of the practice and decided on the clitoral nick instead.

"She asked forgiveness for her other daughters," Ahmed said. "She knew it was the wrong thing to do."

Whether most Somali women in the U.S. today have undergone the mild form of circumcision generally depends on when they moved.

The average age at which girls are circumcised in Somalia is between 7 and 9 years old, so those whose families fled the country when they were younger than that weren’t likely to have been subjected to it.

It’s an example of a shift toward Westernization, Ahmed argues — one that shouldn’t be forced.  "It’s frustrating," Ahmed said. "It’s like you have to take American culture. You have to leave your religion behind."

Warsame, the events coordinator of the Somali Student Association, strongly disagreed. She said only "ultra conservative" mothers would want to circumcise their daughters today, and most don’t mind that it’s illegal.
In interviews, several local Somali women estimated that about half of their community believes it should be legalized, and the other half is glad it’s not.

The original goal of the tradition, mostly supported by mothers, was to make their daughters more attractive marriage prospects, and now that not being circumcised is becoming acceptable to Somali males in the U.S., circumcision is unnecessary, Warsame said.

"Your daughter’s not going to marry a guy from your generation, she’s going to marry a guy from her generation," Warsame said, "and it’s not very popular now."

Fatuma Farah, a junior at the University majoring in child psychology, agreed.
"Guys today are saying, ‘Hey, if you’re not circumcised, that’s OK,’ " she said. "Perceptions are being changed."

But even the way it’s fading away irritates Warsame.

"The only thing that’s stopping parents is that they know it’s not as fashionable as it used to be," she said. "Can you imagine that? My body would be under the whims of a guy my age, what he might think."

Just one more kind of trauma

Although it was rare in the U.S. to begin with, the practice of circumcision seems to have ceased by and large among those who’ve immigrated to the U.S. But Somali women of all ages still bear the effects of the practice.
Jill Sandeen, a midwife at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview Riverside Campus, said while it used to be very common at the height of Somali immigration, she doesn’t see many extreme circumcisions anymore.
In conversations with her many Somali patients, she’s learned about their terrible experiences with circumcision.

"One woman said she was 7 and was told there was going to be a party for her," Sandeen said. "And then they strapped her down and she couldn’t pee for four days."

And while such an event would be traumatizing for the average American, these women’s lives have been marked by tragedy, so their circumcision doesn’t stick out, she said.

"They come from a horrible, war-torn place where people were murdered before their eyes," she said. "I think on some level this is just one more kind of trauma they’ve incorporated into their existence."

Confusion over anatomy

As a midwife, the topic of circumcision is almost inevitable when Sandeen meets a new Somali patient. But among many of them, there isn’t a strong understanding of their own anatomy, she said.

In the case of one woman, "she didn’t know that she still had a clitoris," she said. "It kind of takes us back to the 1950s. They don’t even know what’s down there or what was down there."  Others in the medical community share similar stories.

Janis Keil Day, another midwife at the Fairview, Riverside clinic, said she’ll always ask new Somali patients whether they’ve been circumcised. Many will answer no, but when she goes under their hospital gown, she’ll discover otherwise.  "I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t necessarily understand the question you’re asking or if there’s a language barrier," she said.

In any case, many women within the Somali community have dramatically different views on the side effects and implications of the various forms of the procedure. While almost everyone agrees that infibulation is extremely damaging, there’s more division on milder forms.

Ahmed said she doesn’t believe she’s experienced side effects like infection or decreased sensitivity from her circumcision.

A valuable organ

Malyun Duale observes the effects of Westernization on her five daughters with frustration.

"Talking back to their mom," she said.

She talks openly about her concern that they’ll abandon their Somali roots, become consumed with American "sass" and disrespect their mother.

But if there’s one thing the 55-year-old Somalia native is not afraid of, it’s of losing the circumcision tradition. Duale, who moved to the U.S. in 2001, is vocal about not having subjected any of her daughters to the procedure.
"If God creates you and you say ‘you missed something’ or ‘you didn’t do this’ and fix it," she said. "No, the religion says to avoid that."

Adjusting her bright headscarf, Duale’s face falls into a smile naturally as she speaks. She’s passionate about ridding the Somali community of all forms of circumcision and believes education is the way to do it.

Before she left Somalia, she saw the dramatic impact of UNICEF and other organization’s campaigns on circumcision’s prevalence.

She recalls her own circumcision, a mild version, when she was 6 years old. It was done in a clinic in Mogadishu with anesthesia, so it didn’t hurt. She compared the procedure to a finger prick to test for hemoglobin in the blood.

Still, she warned, the procedure can have dramatic side effects. Tugging at the healthy skin on the top of her hand as a demonstration, she noted that any time an operation is performed, normally healthy tissue is forever scarred. Since blood collects in the clitoris when a woman is aroused, she said, the scar tissue could hinder the woman’s ability to feel sexual pleasure.

"This is a valuable organ," she said. "We have to respect this organ and know it’s sensitive. It’s not like a leg or a hand. It needs more care."

Duale has worked at the Fairview Riverside clinic as a doula for seven years now, providing emotional and physical support for Somali women as they have children. The Somali Doula Program, a support service for Somali women through the birthing process, was implemented at the Riverside clinic in 2002.

Duale was surprised to learn that college-educated women would still practice the mild form of circumcision if it were legal. She said she thinks those in higher education usually learn to analyze beyond the scope of their own culture.

For years, the idea behind circumcision was to keep a woman celibate, she said. But today, people just need to live according to their morals and don’t need surgery to do that.

"If you’re circumcised or not, you say ‘I’m not going to have sex until I’m married, until I have a good person that I want to share my life with,’ " she said. "The decision depends on how you choose to live."