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Monday, October 24, 2011

South Darfur Joins the Movement towards a New Vision of Child Rights in Sudan

October 23, 2011
Sudan Vision Daily
Nils Kastberg

The children of South Darfur had something to celebrate earlier this month. Not so much the welcome sight of rain filling the dried up riverbeds around Nyala, nor even the victory of the local al Merriekh football team in their match against Al Merriekh El Fasher.

Rather it was the sight of the Governor, Mr Abdul Hamid Musa Kasha, signing a new State Child Act before an audience of invited guests that included the champion promoter of child rights in Sudan, Federal Minister of Social Security, Amira Elfadil, the Secretary General of the National Council of Child Welfare, Gamar Habani, and 13 of the 15 State Ministers of Social Development..

By taking this very important step, South Darfur became the seventh Sudanese state to commit itself legally to respect the rights of its children. Once ratified by the State assembly, this important legal instrument will bring South Darfur into line with a set of global standards and norms in terms of how Sudanese children can be better protected and the challenges they face be better addressed.

By signing and ratifying the Child Rights Act, the State government will take actions needed to prevent children being exploited, or subjected to violence, or forced to undergo harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The authorities will also engage to end child marriage as well as child recruitment, with penalties introduced against the perpetrators.

In some important respects the South Darfur Child Act is more protective than the Federal act passed in 2010. This is a tribute to the extensive efforts of Sudanese child rights activists and authorities who advocated for its passage into law.

Judging by her comments, Federal Minister Amira el Fadil, was in no doubt about the importance of the occasion in Nyala. State legislators, she said, should not merely endorse the Child Act but "place it in their hearts and minds."

So what does this mean for the coming generation of Sudanese children, those who are now being born into this new post-separation Sudan?

Above all, it demonstrates that a commitment to the full implementation of child rights is spreading steadily through the country. It will surely be only be a matter of time before every state has set in place the legislative framework to ensure not only that the children entering adulthood eighteen years from now will be immeasurably better off than previous generations, but that the prospects for Sudan’s development as a prosperous, peaceful nation will be enormously strengthened.

There are, of course, many planks to this “floor” of child rights that must be hammered into place, starting with universal birth registration. It’s from this simple step, recording the details of every baby born in the country, that all other child rights flow.

Then we need to ensure that these newly-registered babies survive through infancy and into childhood, that they receive the nutrition, clean water and protection against disease that are their fundamental right. Currently, some 10 percent of Sudanese children die before they reach their first birthday. That’s a terrible statistic which we can and must change.

Next we must make sure that these children start primary school on time. At present, some 28 per cent do not. Then we have the children who get enrolled in primary school but leave it before they complete the required eight years of class. At the moment less than 10 percent of children manage to last through to secondary school. For a country aspiring to raise its level of economic development to that of its more prosperous neighbours, that’s far too few.

And then, to ensure the other basic minimum requirements for our children are firmly in place, we need to create the protective environment to deter those who would employ them in hazardous settings, or otherwise put them in harm’s way.

Thanks to the measures taken by South Darfur and other States, we know there is an increasing political will to establish a basic foundation of child rights, even in the most challenging environment.

For our part as UNICEF, we hope that by early next year, we will have a programme of cooperation in place with each and every state, providing their leaders with an X-ray of the conditions faced by children, of what needs to be done to put things right, and together measuring the progress.

The generation of Sudanese children born today will be 18 years old in 2030. As all States go in the direction shown by South Darfur, we will be strengthening the hopes of those who have a vision of a totally different Sudan in 2030, one in which peace prevails, and respect for children’s rights and their protection is the central and superior goal of all Sudanese.

By Nils Kastberg, UNICEF, 21 hours 53 minutes ago

To read the full article on the Sudan Vision Daily website, click here

Health Official Claims Circumcision Guidelines Prevent Female Mutilation

October 22, 2011
The Jakarta Globe
Dessy Sagita

The Health Ministry has spoken out against criticism by women’s rights activists and health experts of a ministerial guideline on female circumcision, saying the instruction was issued specifically to combat genital mutilation.

Ministry spokeswoman Murti Utami said that many families, especially in rural areas, still believed in the importance of circumcising female babies for religious reasons.

“I would like to stress that female circumcision is not genital mutilation, which is indeed dangerous. They are two things that are very different,” she said on Friday.

In June, community organizations spoke out in a letter to the government, opposing the ministerial instruction, which directs health professionals not to cut a girl’s genitals but to “scrape the skin covering the clitoris, without injuring the clitoris.”

Medical experts also spoke out against the ministry’s move. “This will give doctors a new motivation to circumcise [girls] because now they can say the Ministry of Health approves of this, and the Indonesian Council of Ulema [MUI] approves of it,” said Jurnalis Uddin, a doctor and lecturer at Yarsi University in Jakarta.

On Friday, Murti said the ministerial instruction, which was issued in June, governed procedures for female circumcision in cases where it is deemed necessary by families. It did not constitute government support for the practice, she claimed.

“The minister wants to protect girls from genital mutilation,” she said.

Murti added that the guidelines provided directions on performing the procedure properly and safely and required that circumcision must only be carried out with parental consent. Furthermore, parents must be given information beforehand on pros and cons of the procedure.

Circumcision is typically done at birth, or before a girl reaches the age of 5. Traditionally, the procedure was mostly symbolic, with a small cut made on the clitoris, or by rubbing it with tumeric root..

However, Uddin said he had found that when medical practitioners performed the procedure, there was a trend toward more extensive cutting of the clitoris.

To read the full article on The Jakarta Globe website, click here

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation Requires Individual State Solutions

October 21, 2012
Erin Crosset

Senegal’s recent success in abandoning Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in over 5,000 villages across the country is inspiring to many and marks a huge triumph in spreading public health awareness across Africa. Western governments and major international agencies, particularly UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO, should take particular note, as they have poured over $44 million into eliminating FGM/C with marginal success at best. As one of the most contentious issues surrounding human development and public health in Africa, FGM/C can be eradicated through localized advocacy campaigns, a change in discourse from the West, and a paradigm shift in marriage preconditions.

With roughly 28% of the population affected by FGM/C practices, Senegal represents a success story wherein community leaders, imams, and aid practitioners worked together in villages to achieve collective pledges against performing FGM/C on their daughters. These pledges are similar to those made by the Chinese during the early 20th century to end foot binding. Political Scientist Gerry Mackie describes in American Sociological Review the importance of families agreeing to neither bind their daughter’s feet nor allow their sons to marry women with bound feet, and notes the brevity of ending such a deeply entrenched practice: one generation. Collective pledges eliminate the coordination dilemma that arises when some women are cut and others are not, allowing women to avoid the plethora of medical complications associated with infibulation while retaining sexual autonomy.

In order to alleviate FGM/C practices in countries where it is most prevalent, particularly Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Mali, the discourse surrounding infibulation must change. The term “female genital mutilation” carries the connotation that Westerners view this African practice as barbaric and that African parents are unloving, which is exactly why Western efforts are not as effective as they could be.

Women primarily enforced Chinese foot binding on their own daughters since small feet represented a higher status, increased marriagability, and allowed for more options and prosperity. The same is true in the case of FGM/C: Mothers love their daughters and fear they will be ostracized unless they are cut. Many are unaware of the immediate and long-term health risks and simply want to allow their child maximum options for marriage. By recognizing this fact, that these women love their daughters and are acting out of convention, Western aid and development practitioners can abandon their patronizing post-colonial attitude and instead foster a dialogue with education as a focal point.

Those seeking to implement anti-FGM/C initiatives must realize there is no blanket solution, as customs, cultures, and motivations behind cutting are markedly different within African countries. Infibulation is prerequisite in some 30 countries in Africa for honor and marriage proposals, yet countries differ in their attitudes towards gender equality and religious pretexts. In countries such as Senegal, where the government has formally outlawed FGM/C, it is becoming more and more acceptable to speak out against it. This is certainly not universal, as many Africans fear reprisal from village elders if they do not cut their child, which prompted Sudanese women’s health NGOs to train midwives and henna artists alike to recognize and replicate a secret signal: a henna heart below the thumb to signify “do not cut.” Henna artists, usually commissioned to paint mothers during bridal showers and weddings, recommend anti-FGM/C midwives that perform fake circumcisions. If the women are shy or too scared to seek out referrals themselves, the henna tattoo says it all. Some midwives that perform FGM/C are morally opposed to the practice but due to lack of economic alternatives, are forced to carry out the practice anyway. These staged circumcisions address this issue directly, while highlighting the importance of localized solutions to international problems.

When tackling the issue of FGM/C eradication, individuals, local organizations and international agencies alike must remember the top priority: keeping girls and young women healthy and empowered. Localized advocacy campaigns prove to be most effective since they address the issue in accordance with local customs and traditions, while receiving constant feedback. The collective pledges idea appeals to African mothers’ sense of compassion and love for their daughters and, most importantly, proves that genital cutting and further medical complications do not have to be required to achieve a desired marital status and livelihood.

To read the full article on the PolicyMic website, click here

Maasai men in Kenya want an end to female genital mutilation

October 6, 2011
Federation of International Gynecology and Obstretics
David Smith

Some Kenyan Maasai men are trying to drive a gradual shift away from female genital mutilation in their community.

They have set up a church-based project in the town of Narok to help girls flee from the threat of circumcision, which could leave them with severe medical complications and can even result in death, the AFP has reported.

However, one of the managers of the centre Martin Ololoigero confessed that the practice is "not something that will end soon", as it still has strong supporters.

Indeed, some of the girls that escape to the Hope for the Maasai Girls shelter are disowned by their families, who have lost out on a dowry of cattle, which they could receive in return for offering circumcised daughters for marriage at a young age.

Female genital mutilation can be forced upon girls as young as nine while they are off on their school holidays, the news agency revealed.

UK GPs were recently urged by the chairman of the British Medical Association's Ethical Committee Dr Tony Callard to be aware of the signs that a female child has been circumcised and consider breaking patient-doctor confidentiality if a youngster appears to be at risk.

To read the full article on the FIGO website, click here

Proposed Centre Would Address Many Aspects of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

October 21, 2011

NAIROBI --- Participants at an international conference on research, healthcare and preventive measures related to female genital mutilation/ cutting called for the creation an African Coordinating Centre for partnership, capacity building, research, and policymaking on FGM/C.

The vision, according to the proposal drafted by the University of Nairobi, is to establish a centre of excellence for African researchers to develop innovative approaches to increase and deepen the understanding on issues related to FGM/C and its elimination. It would also train leaders and for promote health care for survivors.

“Ideally, the Centre will also provide improve the skills of health providers in healthcare support services to the 140 million girls and women affected by FGM/C,” said Nafissatou Diop, coordinator of the Joint Programme on FGM/C, noting that surgical procedures are now able to repair some of the damages.

“FGM/C is an irreversible act,” noted Ms. Diop. “However there is hope today that women could be surgically repairs from the damage related to this harmful practice.” She cited research presented at the conference showing high success rates (83 per cent satisfaction) among women who had undergone this surgery.

The Centre would also provide evidence for continuous monitoring, data for evaluation of progress, capacity building and monitor policy influence of research through the collaborative efforts of many partners including UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, University of Nairobi, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Ghent University (Belgium), Universities of Washington and Sydney, the Africa-Australia Universities Network and Worldwide Universities Network.

Shortchanging women

During the conference, Kenya’s assistant Minister for Cooperative Development, the Honourable Lina Kilimo, who hails from a community with a high prevalence of FGM/C, spoke movingly about her own experience. She was ostracized by her community for running away to escape the cut. However, her strong conviction against the practice prompted her to join politics, and from her position she continues her fight against the female cut. “This is a cruel practice that destroys a woman’s ego and self esteem,” she said.

FGM/C is a discriminatory cultural practice that effectively denies women the opportunity to participate and contribute to national development, the University of Nairobi’s vice-chancellor of Professor Joseph Magoha affirmed. This shortchanges both women and their countries, he said, adding, “There can be no sustainable development of a country without active participation of women.”

New dimensions of the problem: medicalization and globalization

While acknowledging the many initiatives at the global, regional, national and community levels towards the reduction and elimination of the practice, the conference participants agreed that there were a myriad challenges confronting these efforts, including the trend toward medicalization of the practice. While using trained medical workers and sterile instruments may eliminate some of the obvious harmful effects, it does not address the underlying violation of the rights of women and girls, participants noted.

In this regard, the recently enacted law criminalizing FGM/C in Kenya was seen as an important step towards dealing with this new threat. While acknowledging the significance of legislation, several participants noted the inadequacy of legislation alone to addressing certain cultural beliefs that perpetuate the practice. It was agreed that a multi-sectoral approach was the best way to address the issue.

A presentation prepared by the World Health Organization also clarified the fact the widespread emigration makes FGM/C a global issue. This brings up a relatively new phenomenon: the psychological effects of the procedure on immigrant populations who may find themselves stigmatized in their new environments.

To read the full article on the UNFPA website, click here

Friday, October 21, 2011

Featured Resource: World Health Organization (WHO): Female Genital Mutilation

October 2011
World Health Organization
WHO response to FGM:

In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution (WHA61.16) on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for concerted action in all sectors - health, education, finance, justice and women's affairs.

WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:

advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation;
research: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
guidance for health systems: developing training materials and guidelines for health professionals to help them treat and counsel women who have undergone procedures.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.

Cultural, religious and social causes:

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
In some societies, FGM is being practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.

To learn more about the World Health Organization and female genital mutilation, click here.

180 Students Saved From Dropping Out in Narok

October 20, 2011
Nairobi Star
Kiplang'at Kiriu

More than 180 pupils have sought refuge at a primary school in Narok South after escaping early marriage and female genital mutilation.

The 122 girls and 58 boys are sheltered at Naikarra Boarding Primary school on the outskirts of Maasai Mara Game Reserve, after they defied their parents plans for them to drop out of school to be married and look after the cattle.

Head teacher Loontubu Koileken told the press yesterday that the children from different areas sought to come to his school which offers boarding facilities. "The children decided to seek refuge in our school after they knew their parents had already engaged in marriage negotiations," said Loontubu. He said some parents raided the school and demanded to take their children back home.

Loontubu, who is also chairman of Maasai Mara Head Teachers Support Group, said the region has been hit by such incidents with casualties being the school girls who are married off. "The girl child education is greatly affected in the region as most of them are being forced to undergo FGM practice and early marriage," said Loontubu.

He said that his school is now like a rescue centre which receives children who have run away from their homes for the fear of FGM, early marriage and herding cattle. "When the children seek refuge in my school, I admit them and they start their learning and they are now comfortable with their education," he said.

To read the full article on the Nairobi Star website, click here

Monday, October 17, 2011

Senegal Curbs a Bloody Rite for Girls and Women

October 15, 2011
The New York Times
Celia W. Dugger

SARE HAROUNA, Senegal — When Aissatou Kande was a little girl, her family followed a tradition considered essential to her suitability to marry. Her clitoris was sliced off with nothing to dull the pain.

But on her wedding day, Ms. Kande, her head modestly covered in a plain white shawl, vowed to protect her own daughters from the same ancient custom. Days later, her village declared it would abandon female genital cutting for good.

Across the continent, an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone it. But like more than 5,000 other Senegalese villages, Sare Harouna has joined a growing movement to end the practice.

The change has not yet reached Ms. Kande’s new home in her husband’s village, but if elders there pressured her to cut the baby girl she is taking into the marriage, she said, “I would resist them.” Her parents back her up.

“They would never dare do that to my granddaughter, and we would never allow it,” said Ms. Kande’s mother, Marietou Diamank.

The movement to end genital cutting is spreading in Senegal at a quickening pace through the very ties of family and ethnicity that used to entrench it. And a practice once seen as an immutable part of a girl’s life in many ethnic groups and African nations is ebbing, though rarely at the pace or with the organized drive found in Senegal.

The change is happening without the billions of dollars that have poured into other global health priorities throughout the developing world in recent years. Even after campaigning against genital cutting for years, the United Nations has raised less than half the $44 million it set as the goal.

But here in Senegal, Tostan, a group whose name means “breakthrough” in Wolof, Senegal’s dominant language, has had a major impact with an education program that seeks to build consensus, African-style, on the dangers of the practice, while being careful not to denounce it as barbaric as Western activists have been prone to do. Senegal’s Parliament officially banned the practice over a decade ago, and the government has been very supportive of Tostan’s efforts.

“Before you would never even dare to discuss this,” said Mamadou Dia, governor of the Kolda region where this village is located. “It was taboo. Now you have thousands of people coming to abandon it.”

The night before Sare Harouna joined 118 other villages for a ceremony to abandon the practice, people poured in by horse cart, bus and truck. As darkness fell, women illuminated by wood fires stirred vats of couscous and beef stew for the hordes of visitors.

The next day’s event had the feel of a county fair. Dignitaries spoke over a tinny public-address system. Teenagers staged plays about the dangers of genital cutting. Traditional storytellers known as griots entertained the throng gathered around a dusty field.

Over the past 15 years, the drive to end the practice has gained such momentum that a majority of Senegalese villages where genital cutting was commonplace have committed to stop it, Tostan and United Nations officials say.

With too few resources to replicate Tostan’s health and human rights classes across Africa, Nafissatou Diop, who coordinates the United Nations-led campaign to end the practice, is looking for quicker, cheaper strategies to change social conventions on cutting. Tostan has pursued an ambitious effort here with support from Unicef and others, but its two- to three-year program costs about $21,000 per village — a substantial sum considering the countless villages that continue the practice.

“The program is transformative, and I love that as an African woman,” said Ms. Diop, who is Senegalese, “but we need to move faster.”

An improbable collection of characters shaped Tostan’s methods: Molly Melching, a friendly, irrepressible educator from Illinois; Demba Diawara, a revered imam from a Senegalese village; and Gerry Mackie, a political theorist and associate professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Ms. Melching, 61, came to Senegal as an exchange student when she was 24 and never left, working with street children for the Peace Corps, devising a rural education program in a village where she lived in the 1980s, and starting Tostan 20 years ago. The group aims broadly to improve health and spread awareness of human rights. Women in village classes themselves raised the issue of genital cutting. They told of daughters and sisters who had hemorrhaged and sometimes died from botched circumcisions.

In 1997, women in the village of Malicounda Bambara declared their determination to end the practice — a stand that made news.

But Mr. Diawara, an imam in the village of Keur Simbara and a Tostan student, warned Ms. Melching that a single village could not stop such a deeply rooted tradition. The only way, he said, was to persuade villages whose young people intermarried to abandon the practice simultaneously — the defining idea for Tostan. “Even though our villages seem small, behind each village are many other villages,” Mr. Diawara said in an interview.

So Mr. Diawara, 77, visited the 10 intermarrying villages of his extended family. He won over the village chiefs and convinced imams that there was no religious requirement for cutting, which predates Islam by centuries. He was tactful, never using the term “female genital mutilation,” but he explained its consequences. At his family’s annual council, the villages agreed to give up the tradition and in 1998 held what is believed to have been Africa’s first collective abandonment.

That June, Professor Mackie, then a research fellow at Oxford, was proctoring an exam when he read an article in The International Herald Tribune about what Tostan had done. “My heart was pounding,” he said.

He bolted from the room after the test, he said, and mailed Ms. Melching a copy of his 1996 article from a sociological journal, proposing a strategy that was similar to Mr. Diawara’s.

Professor Mackie contended that genital cutting, unlike rape or wife beating, was a convention parents followed out of love for their daughters. He likened it to foot binding, which had disfigured Chinese girls over centuries.

A Western woman — Alicia Little, a British novelist — had played a catalytic role in ending foot binding in China, much like Ms. Melching was doing with genital cutting.

Mrs. Little had written literary depictions of Victorian mothers who raised their daughters to win wealthy husbands, and after moving to China in 1887, she researched foot binding and discovered that a congregation’s public pledge to end the practice had worked. Parents pledging neither to bind their daughters’ feet nor to allow their sons to marry women with bound feet ultimately ended the practice within a generation, Professor Mackie wrote.

“I went nuts!” Ms. Melching said of her reaction after reading Professor Mackie’s article. “Here’s our answer: it has to be a collective pledge.”

Professor Mackie, Ms. Melching and Mr. Diawara have collaborated ever since, influencing places like Sare Harouna, a village where the voices of children chanting Koranic verses waft through dirt alleyways at dusk.

Bassi Boiro, the elderly woman who was Sare Harouna’s so-called cutter, said she always performed the rite before dawn under the spreading arms of a sacred tree, away from the settlement.

“Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams,” she explained. “They are not part of this.”

Four women would hold down the arms and legs of each girl, usually ages 5 to 7. For years, Mrs. Boiro said, she used a knife handed down through generations of cutters in her family until it became “too dull to even cut okra.” She then switched to razor blades.

But Mrs. Boiro says she has now accepted Sare Harouna’s decision to end the practice and speaks about the harm caused by her life’s work. “I didn’t realize it was my doing,” she said.

Muusaa Jallo, the village imam, was convinced of the need to stop the practice and has spread the word in many other villages. As his toddler impishly poked her finger through a hole in his sock, he placed his hand gently on her head and said, “I have already decided this one will not be cut.”

His 8-year-old, Alimata, sat solemnly to the side, her eyes downcast.

“I will abandon it like my parents,” she said, almost inaudibly. “I won’t do it to my daughters. It’s not good to do that, and they did it to me.”

To read the full article online on the New York Times website, click here

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Extra: Soraya Miré memoir recounts hidden struggle

October 11, 2011
Atlanta INtown
Collin Kelley

Filmmaker and activist Soraya Miré will be in Atlanta on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. at Charis Book to discuss her stunning memoir, The Girl With Three Legs. Miré’s is a survivor of childhood female genital mutilation (FGM), an ancient rite of passage sometimes known as female circumcision, in her native Somalia

In her memoir, Miré talks about her experiences and about working closely on the FGM issue with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund with Face to Face, as well as Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations. For the past 29 years, she has worked to combat violence against women and children. I interviewed Miré last month about the memoir.

You’ve long been speaking out against female genital mutilation (FGM) and created the documentary Fire Eyes about the barbaric practice – what motivated you to finally write down your story in the new memoir?
My work is to persistently talk about the hidden struggle of women who have been mutilated. As children, no one asked for our consent before dragging our healthy bodies into the mutilating ritual and throttling our existence. We couldn’t shout abuse because we were told it is our destiny and we knew nothing about our basic human rights. Because of that private pain, we can now tell our stories. We can shout loudly that FGM is a violation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. As survivors of FGM, we cannot just sit and take it. We must stand up and use that terrible experience for good. Telling our stories will indict any parent or society that views the violence against children as a cultural norm. Writing this memoir is meant to inspire and help other survivors march onward to end the horrendous act of FGM. Now, I’m releasing it to the world as I continue to hold the light and protect every child’s human dignity.

FGM continues to be practiced in many countries under the auspices of it being a “cultural” tradition. In your years as an activist, have you seen rejection of the custom? How is education being spread in your native Somalia and elsewhere?
In Africa, we have 26  countries that continue to practice FGM. Those communities believe their faith asks them to do it and that the ritual will help their daughters’ marriage-ability. Many feel the mutilation enhances a woman’s hygiene by removing the external genitalia. Last June in Hargeisa, the Unicef Somalia reported that 70 religious leaders and some high officials declared their commitment to end all forms of FGM. Things are changing as the UN and other NGO’s continue with their educational campaign against FGM. Education is the key to stopping the torture of this practice. Now we’re seeing a strong commitment from the local communities working together to end the ritual. It has been an uphill battle to change the rigid mindset of traditionalists who believe FGM is the only path for their daughters to be honorable and have good standing in the Society. But now there are those well-respected FGM practioners putting down the knives and urging the parents to stop the ritual. In Senegal, with the help of Tostan’s Human Rights Education, 5,000 villagers have abandoned the practice.

FGM is a deeply personal assault, but you were able to find your voice to speak out about it. How do you encourage other women to come forward and share their stories?
FGM is a human tragedy and is one of the most disgraceful abuses of girls. I encourage my fellow survivors to simply forgive those cruel hands that left the deep scars in mind and body. Once they do that, they can heal and transform their own lives.

For more about the reading, visit the Charis website at this link.

To read the full article on the Atlanta INtown website, click here

Because I am a Girl

October 11, 2011
The Egyptian Gazette
Nayrouz Talaat

   “I am the secretary of the school parliament. I want to be a paediatrician. I want to other girls around the world to benefit from my experience and knowledge,” says Asalaa, 12, from Alexandria.
   Asala is a model girl in a report released by the Plan International, a children’s rights organisation, on the status of girls in Egypt, among other African and poor countries worldwide, where girls share the same problems and circumstances.
   She has benefited from training programmes that girls in rural areas rarely benefit from.
   Adolescent girls the world over live in many different circumstances and face many different challenges. No two girls are the same, but, wherever they are and however they live, they have the same rights.
   The attitude of boys towards girls in Egypt still leaves a lot to be desired.
   “To be honest, before I started attending these meetings I thought girls were useless and couldn’t do anything. Now I realise this is not true and they can do as much as boys. In fact, I talked to them about this. At first they were surprised, but then they agreed with me,” says Farouq, a boy aged 12, following the same programme.
   Some families still insist that a girl must stay at home with her husband and at the beginning there was much resistance to girls joining the programme.
   The resistance is now evaporating, because parents are seeing the difference in their daughters, according to ‘Because I am a Girl’, an annual report published by Plan International, assessing the state of the world’s girls.
   This is the fourth report in the ‘Because I am a Girl’ series, which has come across discrimination and neglect, as well as resilience and determination.
   Whether we look at girls in war zones, girls in the global economy or girls in cities and in technology, we find the same combination of girls getting a raw deal and girls coping with all that life can throw at them.
   There are some who are overcome by the hardships they endure, who do not survive or thrive; yet many succeed against all the odds.
   The report has made specific recommendations to improve the opportunities for girls in the two areas that it has focused on; but, more generally, we can all contribute.
   We need to listen to adolescent girls’ views and ensure that their voices are heard by decision-makers. We need to learn from what they have to say.
   We need to include them in research, in planning and in policies. We need to invest in girls’ skills and ensure that they have access to information, the skills to use it and the power to protect themselves.

Changes our world is experiencing 

   In one of its chapters, the report looks at the needs of adolescent girls, as cities keep growing in size.
It looks at the reasons why young women move to the city and what urban life has to offer them �" the many opportunities that are not available or possible in a village.
   Rawda, who migrated to Alexandria, says: "In Upper Egypt, there are not the same opportunities for girls and women. There are cultural activities we can join in, such as literacy classes and discussions about harmful practices such as female genital mutilation [FGM]."
   The report also reveals that violence is a growing threat for adolescent girls in cities because of their age and sex. It argues that they must be helped to develop the skills to protect themselves, and taught how to distinguish opportunity from danger.
   It showcases models of good practice; for example, urban planning that takes young women’s views into account and initiatives aimed at building safer cities for girls and women. The report also looks at the differences for girls living in rich and poor areas.
   Finally, it calls for investment, not just in young people in cities as a generic group, but in adolescent girls specifically.
   “We must listen to what they have to say. They have a crucial part to play in building the safe and sustainable cities that we will need for the 21st century.
   “While women and children are recognised as specific categories in policy and planning, girls’ particular needs and rights are often ignored.
   “These reports provide concrete evidence, including the voices of the girls themselves, as to why they need to be treated differently from boys and older women,” Rawda adds.
   UNESCO and UN-Habitat state that one’s ‘right to the city’ can serve as a vehicle for social inclusion.
   The ‘right to the city’ includes the following: liberty, freedom and the benefit of city life for all, such as transparency, equity and efficiency in city administrations, in addition to participation and respect in local democratic decision-making and recognition of diversity in economic, social and cultural life.
   These principles are particularly important for women and girls, whose ability to access the city is more limited.
   Urban environments, governance structures, services and spaces must be rethought and designed or adapted with the particular needs and experiences of girls in mind.
   Adolescent girls must be actively involved in all stages of this rethinking process to ensure that their voices are included and reflected in how cities are organised.
   “This year, as the UN General Assembly reviews progress on these goals, we will be measuring the progress of our cohort group and their families against several of the MDG targets which are under review.
   “Does the state of these young girls’ lives indicate that the international community will achieve its aims or not?
   “In 2008, we looked at the situation of girls affected by conflict; those growing up in the shadow of war. The 2009 report focused on economic empowerment: ‘Girls in the Global Economy: Adding it all Up’.
   “This year, we are looking at adolescent girls in two of the most dynamic areas in the world today �" cities and new technologies �" and examining the opportunities,” stresses Rawda.

Resisting harmful challenges

   The incidence of FGM or cutting in Egypt is lower in the city than in rural areas, and is slowly falling. But mothers find it hard to resist pressure from older relatives who bring village traditions with them when they move to the town.
   “I have come here on condition that it is a secret. I don’t want anyone to know my name. If you can promise me no-one will find out, then I will tell you my story. We live in a slum area in southern Cairo,” says Samar (not her real name), who talks nervously about this sensitive issue.
   Even though the Egyptian Government has banned FGM, 85 per cent of girls and women in cities and 96 per cent in rural areas are still being cut in this way.
   “I was nine years old and I had no idea what was going to happen until I saw the razor. My mother and two other women held me down while the barber did his work. He was very rough. The pain was terrible, and the bleeding.
   “I got an infection from the dust they put on the wound, which is supposed to stop such infections but in fact makes them worse. Afterwards I had urine problems, but I never connected them to the cutting until much later,” adds Samar.

Keeping in touch

   Many young women feel isolated because their parents do not allow them to socialise, according to the report.
   But now a number of mobile phone projects enable young women to keep in touch with the outside world after they get married, when normally they are often confined to the marital home.
   A young woman like Roza Al-Yazji, who lives in Syria and has a speech disorder and learning disabilities, has learned with the help of the Salamieh Telecentre to design brochures, make presentations and access the Internet to chat with her friends.
   “I am no longer imprisoned behind the bars of my isolation. Salamieh Telecentre is my second home, it has become a part of my life. I am disabled, but I am not disqualified,” she says.

The impact of IT on girls’ lives 

   Research by the Cherie Blair Foundation shows that there are similar disparities among women and men, when it comes to mobile phone ownership �" women are 37 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone if they live in South Asia, 24 per cent in the Middle East and 23 per cent in Africa.
   The Foundation, which has done research in low and middle-income countries, outlines five factors that influence women’s mobile phone ownership �" household income, age, occupation, level of education and whether they live in a rural or an urban area.
   An additional $100 in monthly income increases the likelihood of mobile phone ownership by 13 per cent, while 80 per cent of women in rich households own a phone, compared to 40 per cent in poor households.
   When age, income, occupation and education are taken into account, urban women are 23 per cent more likely to own a mobile phone than their rural counterparts.
   So what about adolescent girls? We know that they are more likely to be using these technologies than their mothers and grandmothers.
   In the Cherie Blair Foundation survey, girls and young women between 14 and 27 had the highest rates of mobile phone ownership among women and, if they didn’t own a phone, were prepared to borrow one from someone.
   Plan’s adviser in Egypt Azza Shalaby quoted Rana, a teenage schoolgirl, as saying that her brother is better at computers than she is, but that she is learning fast, even in the poor area of Alexandria where she lives.
   According to Azza, Internet penetration in Egypt rose from 7 to 14 per cent between 2006 and 2008, by which time 40 per cent of the population had a mobile phone.
   Rana, 16, says that she uses the Internet to share experiences and has even used it to create a magazine with other young people, not just in Alexandria, but also worldwide.

To read the full article on the Eygptian Gazette website, click here

Muslim clerics condemn practice of FGM

October 11, 2011
The Star
Wambua Kavila

The Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa has castigated Female Genital Mutilation saying it is against the Quran teachings and will fully support implementation of all FGM related laws. Islamic scholars Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome and Mohamed Swalihu under KCIU called upon mosques and Muslim institutions to fight the practice. "There is no authentic or relevant Islamic evidence allowing FGM in all its forms and the practice is harmful and violates freedom, privacy, health and dignity of the Muslim woman," KCIU said in the statement.

They added that Quran teachings and practices of the prophet are against any practice that causes any form of harm to human beings and FGM interferes with the Muslim woman’s full realisation of her ‘ibadah’ (total worship of Allah). The consensus building meeting held at Garden Hotel in Machakos brought together Muslim scholars and leaders from Tana River, Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Wajir, Garissa, Maragua, Isiolo and Moyale.

They resolved to collectively support and strengthen the national advocacy campaign in order to enable delivery on key interventions to stop the practice. "To this end, KCIU undertakes to mobilise resources over the next five years to support advocacy and other interventions and call upon development partners to continue supporting us," they said.

They added that they will embark on a continuous awareness program to educate the community on FGM and its adverse negative effects on girls, women and other members of society. Though illegal, FGM is still practiced in many areas of Upper Eastern and North Eastern provinces predominantly Muslim areas.

To read the full article on The Star website, click here

Monday, October 10, 2011

Gambia: CRR Health Personnel Trained On FGM

October 10, 2011
Lamin Sm Jawo

Janjangbureh — 35 health workers drawn from all parts of the Central River Region (CRR) recently concluded a three-day capacity building training on female genital mutilation (FGM) and its complications on pregnant women and childbirth. The training was held at the Regional Health Team's conference hall in Bansang, CRR south.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, Baba Njie, the Regional Health director of CRR said that FGM has long-term physical complications on women who are victims of it. He revealed that a community-based study indicated that FGM has physical complications such as damage to the perineum or anus, vulvas tumors, keloids as well as painful sex, infertility, etc.

Njie further explained that there are several complications in FGM; such as gynaecological complications, antenatal complication, complications in early labour, among others. Barra Njie, the Wassu Kafo Group training officer, revealed that a survey was conducted at all health facilities to assess the level of understanding of health personnel on FGM, which revealed that 50% of the health workers don't have knowledge about FGM and its complications to reproductive health.

"As a result, this programme is specifically designed for health personnel to identify and take care of patients of FGM related complications, which is being supported by UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO and University Authonomat in Barcelona. The Wasu Kafo is [assigned] to capacitate health workers, religious leaders, TBAs, influential people at community level," he explained.

He disclosed that Wassu Kafo is an international NGO focusing on research and has a branch in Spain. He said fertility goes with complications such as childbirth, tears in labour, prolonged labour, and that an obstructed labour can lead to still birth.

To read the full article on the allAfrica website, click here

African Union seek end to harmful traditional practices

The Coastweek

ADDIS ABABA (Xinhua) -- The African Union (AU) said here on Wednesday that there is urgent need to mobilize AU member states and all concerned parties including religious leaders to embark on social actions with a view of eradicating harmful traditional practices (HTPs) in Africa .

AU organized a pan-African conference from Oct. 5 to 7 at its headquarters in Addis Ababa , aimed at strengthening efforts of fighting against HTPs and promotion of the rights of women and girls. It hopes to celebrate achievement and courage, promote positive cultural values and overcome barriers to combating HTPs.

According to AU, HTPs include female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, taboos or practices which prevent women from controlling their own fertility and other harmful practices against women and girls.

A lot has been done, but a lot more remains to be done so that the African continent overcomes these harmful traditional practices, said Bience Gawanace, AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, noting that collaborative effort is essential to eradicate HTPs once for all.

The three-day conference was organized in collaboration with the German initiative, namely the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) under the theme:

“Celebrating Courage and Overcoming Harmful Traditional Practices”.

Lieselor Cyrus, German Ambassador to Ethiopia, said Germany supports pan-African institutions seeking African solutions for African problems, explained that Germany interprets the overcoming HTPs as a means of upholding the human rights of women and girls.

The conference is also to highlight aspects of African culture, customs and traditions which hinder development in general and impede the advancement of women and children in particular among others.

It is expected to increase commitments by national structures, regional, continental and international institutions, stakeholders including development partners to enhance partnerships in efforts to bring an end to HTPs.

Judge quashes ruling to deport six-year-old girl

October 8, 2011
Irish Independent
Louise Hogan
A judge yesterday quashed a decision to return a six-year-old girl to Nigeria because of the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) was so great.

Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the girl's age and tribal membership meant she was in a "very high risk group".

He moved to quash the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal to deport her to Nigeria and said the mother's application on behalf of her daughter should be reconsidered.

The girl was born in Ireland of Nigerian parents and a previous application by her mother for asylum was refused.

The mother said she was raised as a Christian but her husband came from a strong Muslim background.

Her father-in-law, she said, had threatened to kidnap her and subject the young girl to genital mutilation.

Her own application for asylum was refused in September 2010 because she was out of time for the purposes of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000.

Mr Justice Hogan said the issue was the "gravity of the threat that this young girl might be subjected to FGM if she were to be returned to Nigeria".

He stressed that even if the mother's claims were "entirely discounted as implausible, the stark and uncomfortable fact remains" the girl was from a tribe where FGM was practised.

To read the full article on the The Independent website, click here

Maasai seek to end female circumcision

October 8, 2011
Daily News

While Maasai elders strongly defend their culture, some men have turned their backs on it, and in the town of Narok, to the west of the capital Nairobi, they have opened a church-run centre to rescue girls from circumcision.
Narok, Kenya - A small church house shelters about a dozen Maasai girls escaping female circumcision and early marriage, age-old customs of the Kenyan tribe now frayed by health risks and new laws.

However, the running of the Hope for the Maasai Girls centre set up in 2007 has not been smooth, as angry men have often threatened its founders and some parents disowned their daughters after they went there.

"They see you as someone who is opposing their original culture, their original nature," said Pastor Jacob Momposhi Samperu, who founded the rescue centre.

Marrying off girls, who must traditionally be circumcised beforehand, provides a dowry for families. The bride price is often several cows, a prized property among the semi-nomadic Maasai.

"Marrying an uncircumcised girl degrades your value as a man. There are some rituals the girl cannot participate in if she is not circumcised," explained Martin Ololoigero, one of the managers of the rescue centre.

During school holidays, Maasai girls as young as nine undergo the mutilation meant to mark the passage from childhood to adulthood, which automatically means they can be married off, usually to older men.

"It is important for a woman to be circumcised so that she can go to her husband's home," said Olemairuj Kipaken, a Maasai elder in Narok.

"The Maasai people don't let their daughters marry unless they are circumcised unlike other tribes. When she has had it done, she becomes an adult. That is why it is good, she is in the position to go to a man's home," added Kipaken.

Sitting on a bunk bed in their dormitory at the rescue centre, two teenage girls recounted how they escaped the ritual and subsequent child marriage.

"My parents died and my guardians wanted to marry me off. That's when I fled and came to this centre," said 15-year-old Mary Seela.

"Girls who are circumcised and married off lead a difficult life because some have to do menial jobs to get a small income."

Her fellow escapee, Sarah Setoon, also 15, agreed.

"When girls are circumcised they have a lot of difficulties during childbirth. That's why I refused to get circumcised," she said.

"They are married off to old men, and sometimes these old men may die and leave the girl facing so many problems, and she has to do odd jobs just to survive."

The Massai are not alone: many other Kenyan tribes circumcise girls as a mark of maturity from childhood.

Circumcision, called Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by some, involves using blades to slice off the clitoris and sometimes other parts of the external genitalia.

Resulting medical complications or even death due to haemorrhage have stoked repugnance among many non-governmental groups and the government, leading to condemnation and even outlawing the practice.

Kenyan MPs have passed legislation banning the practise, with offenders punished by a seven-year jail term or a $5 000 fine, and life imprisonment if the circumcision results in death.

Kenya's first lady Lucy Kibaki called for strict enforcement of the new law.

"These punitive penalties are deterrent enough if effectively enforced," she said early in September.

"FGM is partly responsible for the high maternal and infant mortality rates, which are very common among communities where FGM is widely practiced," Kibaki said.

But female circumcision is still widespread among the Maasai and the tradition still has strong supporters.

"It is not something that will end soon. It will take time," admitted Ololoigero.

"We don't want to upset the community. Remember we come from that community. We want to have a gradual change." - Sapa-AFP

To read the full article on the Daily News website, click here

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Number of women and girls with or at risk for female genital cutting is on the rise in the United States

October 2011
Bringham and Women's Hospital
Betty Simkins

In 1996, Congress directed the Department of Health and Human Services to develop estimates of how many women and girls were with or at risk for female genital cutting (FGC) in the United States. This initial report, published by the Center for Disease Control, found that in 1990 there were an estimated 168,000 girls and women living in the United States with or at risk for FGC. Now, for the first time, a team led by Nawal Nour, MD, director of the African Women’s Health Center (AWHC) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) reports that these numbers are increasing.

According to new data based on the 2000 census, approximately 228,000 women and girls are with or at risk for FGC.

Additional key findings from the report include:

From 1990 to 2000, the number of women with or at risk for FGC grew by approximately 35 percent in the United States.
More than 165,000 females living in the United States over the age of 18 are with or considered at risk for FGC.
27 percent of the women with or at risk are under the age of 18.
California, New York and Maryland have the most female immigrants and refugees from countries where FGC is prevalent.  This suggests that these states may have a very high number of women at risk for FGC compared to other states.
There are an estimated 5,231 women and girls living in Massachusetts at risk for FGC.
More than 130 million women worldwide have undergone FGC.  Steeped in a strong cultural belief that views it as a rite of passage, FGC involves the removal of external genitalia in young girls when they are between the ages of five and 12.  Some of the risks associated with the procedure include disability and premature death.

“The number of women who have undergone female genital cutting in this country is rising,” said Nour, a Sudanese-American, who is a board certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist who received the 2004 MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship in recognition for establishing the AWHC.  “Many of these women have received inadequate culturally appropriate care.  Given that health providers will increasingly be seeing women with female genital cutting, a greater knowledge and understanding is necessary in order to provide them with better care and treatment.”

Opened in 1999, the AWHC was created to provide specialized, holistic, comprehensive care to African refugee women living in the United States. Many of them have undergone the tradition of FGC and are living with the health complications of this procedure.  The Center is home to the first and only African health practice in the United States that focuses on issues regarding FGC.

“To prepare and respond to this special population requires a better understanding of trends and statistics, so it was natural that our Center play an role in educating public health experts and women’s health providers with the most up-to-date information on the number of women impacted by this tradition,” said Nour.  “One of the next phases in our research program is to study the effects of reconstructive surgery on body image, health and sexual function for those women who have undergone the most severe forms of female genital cutting.”

To read the full article on the Bringham and Women's Hospital website, click here

UNICEF and partners aim to end harmful practices towards children and women in Guinea-Bissau

October 4, 2011

CANQUEBO, Guinea-Bissau, 4 October 2011 - Thanks to the intervention of the NGO Tostan, whose ongoing actions are helping to change long-held erroneous attitudes, customs, and traditions, the inhabitants of Canquebo village can now rest assured that the days of harmful practices towards women and children are numbered.

With additional support from UNICEF and UNFPA, such human rights violations as early and forced marriage, lack of girls’ education, absence of  birth registration, and female genital mutilation/circumcision are finally becoming a thing of the past in Canquebo.

Indicator of change

Mariama Seide, coordinator of the Community Management Committee, recently commented on the initiative to end these customs. "We are aware of the negative consequences of involuntary and early marriage," she said. "Now the girl is asked whether or not she agrees to the husband chosen. If she refuses, then the family is forced to accept her position.”

Domestic violence has also been common among couples in Canquebo. Women would be routinely beaten by their husbands and forced into silent submission, unable to attend community meetings and have their voices heard.

"Just for me to be here speaking to you is a strong indicator of change,” said Ms. Seide with a smile. “This is the result of the profound work undertaken by the NGO Tostan in our community.”

Focus on education

A major factor spurring the positive change is education. Queba Dindima Seide, the head of the Canquebo community, highlighted the importance of literacy, stating that all the women in the community are able to read and write.

This focus on education extends to the children in the community as well. Rather than labouring in the crop fields during cashew season – as was common in the past – the village youth now attend school normally.

"Many children didn’t go to school and some even abandoned school altogether,” said Seide Manque, a young member of the Community Management Committee. “However thanks to awareness-raising undertaken by Tostan, with support from UNICEF and UNFPA, the parents learned about children’s right to education, and over time all children returned to school.”

A positive impact

In addition to the efforts being made to educate their community, the issue of birth registration is also being addressed. Now children are being registered soon after their birth, as the community has been made aware that every child has the right to a name and nationality.

The community’s spiritual leader is also happy with the way the village has improved in recent times and stressed that Tostan, UNICEF and UNFPA’s interventions have made a decidedly positive impact on the lives of all the villagers – particularly women and children.

To read the full report on the UNICEF website, click here