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Friday, February 24, 2012

Cutter's Denounce Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Surrender Knives

UNFPA Uganda
February 19, 2012

AMUDAT - Uganda: It turned out a moment filled with emotions that hot and sunny afternoon in a little village of Amudat, north-east of Uganda,when a group of women publically rose up to denounce the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and surrender their cutting knives to the authorities.

Dancing to the rhythm of the drums and the mellow tunes that set the mood, the group of once-committed women cutters, all colorfully dressed, snaked their way to the main-table and one by one, handed over their much-treasured tools – the FGM knives – to the Chief Guest of the day, Uganda’s State Minister of Gender and Cultural Affairs, Hon. Rukia Nakadama.

This spectacular event took place during the event to commemorate the 9th International Day of Zero Tolerance against FGM held at Pokot Senior Secondary school in Amudat district, on 6th February 2012. The women had travelled 73km from Karita Sub-County, Amudat district to the venue to take part in the event.

Amidst cheers from the crowd, the women said they made the decision to stop the practice after understanding that FGM was harmful and had negative impact on the lives of women and girls. They said that they were educated about the negative consequences of FGM by REACH (Reproductive, Educative and Community Health Programme). REACH is a community based organization supported by UNFPA.

“I decided I did not want to involve myself in this practice anymore. I don’t want to spill innocent young-girls’ blood anymore,” said one of the ex-cutters Margaret Chebet Kapkoikoi. She had been cutting girls for over four years. She also attributes her decision to retire from FGM cutting to the teachings in the church.

Hon. Nakadama praised the ex-cutters for their gesture and commitment to eradicate the harmful practice. “The handing over of these knives today is a positive gesture that society has now declared the abandonment of the practice,” said Nakadama.

This acceleration in the abandonment of FGM has been attributed to the UNFPA- UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM. This programme is grounded onto the ‘social norm approach’ that provides for community participation in the campaign to eradicate FGM. Community groups, including religious leaders, local leaders (LCs), FGM survivors, youth groups, ex-cutters and individual activists take action to publically denounce FGM; create awareness about the dangers of cutting women/girls; and advocate for change in attitudes towards a culture that is supportive of the social and economic empowerment of women and girls.

more pictures on

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Could there be an end to FGC in Egypt after 2011's 'Arab Spring'?

February 15, 2012
Orchid Project

According to an alarming recent article in the New Republic, “the decades-long movement to stop FGM has become a casualty of the power struggle in Egypt.”

Since the revolution, and despite gradual progress, the fight to end FGC in Egypt has become even more of an uphill struggle. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) has been stilted since the revolution, and there is increasing concern that FGC will fall off the political agenda. Political instability has led to a 75 percent cut in Egypt’s FGM-related donor funds from the United Nations since January. A lack of current funding means that Egyptian NGOs cannot push the issue.

On top of this, the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, filling the gap left by Mubarak’s departure, is worrying due to their past opposition to a complete ban on FGC on grounds that Islam does not forbid FCG. Manal Abul-Hassan, a female leader of the Muslim Brotherhood sees the campaign to end FGC as a promotion of a western agenda by NGOs. Activists fear that the traditionalist elements in the group pose a threat to their work.

First Lady involvement

Another factor negatively impacting the campaign to end FGC is its former association with Mubarak’s wife who played a major role in politicizing the anti-FGC movement. The backlash against Mubarak is a threat to the integrity of the continuing anti-FGC movement, and activists are who are keen to distance themselves from Suzanne Mubarak.
We didn’t wait for Madame Mubarak to talk about FGM,” says Sidhom Magdi, head of the Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development. But there is real fear that Suzanne Mubarak’s former involvement will undo the success of recent years.

The depressing news is that post Arab Spring, FGC activism is making glacial progress. “We have no leader and we have no strategy,” says Nihad Abu Kumsan, a lawyer and head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. The U.N is keeping a low profile, fearful of the minefield of politics surrounding the issue.

The current activist movement in Egypt has tough times ahead. It must be careful to steer clear of being seen as promoting a western agenda, and of carrying on Mubarak’s legacy. However with the wave of optimism and possibility that has swept across the Arab spring, Orchid has every hope that the new generation will lead Egypt’s women away from having to conform to a tradition that no longer holds a place in Egypt’s contemporary society.

The history of FGC in Egypt

Female genital cutting is thought to have originated in the Nubia region of the Horn of Africa which is recognised today as Egypt and northern Sudan. Scholars date FGC back to around 200 BC. They suggest that infibulation (the most extreme form of FGC–type 3) was practised across all layers of society, spreading from the ruling classes to lowest class slaves. The term ‘pharaonic circumcision’ stems from the practise of FGC by the ancient Pharaohs.

Two thousand years worth of custom still influences, and today statistics place Egypt as one of the countries where FGC is most prevalent; according to 2008 UNICEF figures, 91% of Egyptian women are cut.

Yet despite high prevalence rates, there has been a gradual change in attitudes over time, particularly in younger generations. Studies suggest that FGC is becoming less common among the younger surveyed age groups. According to UNICEF, the percentage of married women who think FGC should be continue to be practised has dropped from 82% in 1995 to 63% in 2008.


The movement to end FGC in Egypt

FGC has been taboo in Egypt, and in large part continues to be so. Until the last two decades it was not part of any public dialogue. What brought FGC in Egypt into a national and international agenda was the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development, hosted in Cairo.

This conference succeeded in highlighting the negative health impacts of FGC upon girls. As a result, FGC became medicalised and families had their daughters cut by the medical profession.  Prevalence figures in Egypt according to the 2008 DHS showed 31.9% of FGC was medically performed.

At the same time, a movement was emerging in the 90s which brought together grass-roots organisations, human rights activists, feminist groups, doctors and civil society, who began lobbying the government to act to end FGC.

Government champions the case for abandonment


The government was beginning to champion the case for abandonment which the anti-FGC movement was pushing for. In 1996, Egypt’s Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice. However it allowed for exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole that critics described as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless.

Despite this policy and FGC being raised within certain spheres and receiving press coverage, it had not yet widely become a contested issue. In Egypt the practice is common among Muslims, but also in the Christian community which make up 10% percent of the population. Waters were muddied as many religious leaders from all faiths claimed that FGC was a religious requirement. There was also a rising backlash against what was being perceived as a ‘Western conspiracy’ against Egyptian traditions.


High profile tragedy


Then in 1997, two young girls died after botched operations and local media began reporting the details, including making front page news in Egyptian independent daily, Al Masry al Yom. Activists reacted to the deaths with public demonstrations, generating even more coverage.

Prominent Egyptian doctor and activist Nawal El Saadawi spoke out about ten year old Badour Shaker’s death at the hands of a doctor performing FCG:
Bedour, did you have to die for some light to shine in the dark minds? Did you have to pay with your dear life a price … for doctors and clerics to learn that the right religion doesn’t cut children’s organs.”

Following this incident, a broadening movement of opposition to FGC grew from the grassroots upwards, fuelling the case for legal reform. The NCCM, a government agency that sets national health and social policies, played a leading role in pushing FGC onto the agenda. A new generation of medical university professors and doctors established a movement called ‘Doctors against FGC/M’ which publicly announced their support for abandonment. They worked with NCCM to increase awareness amongst medical staff around the dangers of FGC as well as the implications of violating medical ethics codes.

Yet there was still opposition to any kind of ban on FGC. A 2005 government health survey found that, “the practice of female circumcision is virtually universal among women of reproductive age in Egypt.”

Religious involvement


FGC on religious grounds remained a difficult issue and there was a push for Christian and Muslim scholars to publicly denounce FGC. The Al-Alzhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, which is the highest religious authority in Egypt, issued a fatwa against FGC, saying that it has no basis in Islamic law (see our previous blog about that conference).  Religion is powerful in changing attitudes, but this specific fatwa does not seem to have had the influence it could.

A recent UNICEF report for example commented that programmes by the Coptic Evangelical Organisation of Social Services resulted in 50 villages abandoning the practice in 2009. The report also notes that the subject of FGC has ceased to be a taboo and is now widely discussed by men and women especially in younger generations.

In 2008, the Egyptian parliament responded and banned FGC outright, categorising it as a deliberate harmful bodily injury on girls and women.




UNICEF ‘The Dynamics of social change : Towards the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting in five African countries
New York Times, ‘Voices Rise in Egypt to Shield Girls from an Old Tradition
The New Republic, ‘For Young Women, a Horrifying Consequence of Mubarak’s Overthrow’, October 2011

To read full article on the Orchid Project website, click here

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Australia Sees Rising Demand for Female Genital Mutilation

September 12, 2011
Jonathan Friedman

Last year saw the failure of policy considerations to legalize "ritual nicks" in the United States. With increasing immigration from high-prevalence countries, FGM is on the rise in Australia and many are calling for increased vigilance against this harmful practice in all its forms.

Sterilized scissors showing excised clitoris from an infant
(NEW YORK, NY) — A recent article in the Australian Medical Journal by Ben Mathews, LLB, PhD, calls for increased protection of girls and women from female genital mutilation (FGM). Australia is seeing an increasing demand for FGM along with a rise in immigration from high-prevalence countries.

Female genital mutilation (FGM, also known as female circumcision or female genital cutting) refers to a wide range of procedures where parts of the external female genitalia are cut off to satisfy cultural requirements of chastity, cleanliness, and aesthetics. FGM is often practiced in poor sanitary conditions, leading to significant complications.

Dr. Mathews writes in response to last year's controversy surrounding the alleged considerations of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RANZCOG) to legalize "ritual nicking." Less harmful than male circumcision, "ritual nicking" is the practice of extracting a drop of blood from the clitoris to satisfy cultural adherents of female circumcision.

Last year saw the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to legalize "ritual nicking," the reason why the topic was brought under critical discussion by RANZCOG. The AAP policy recommendation was reverted after widespread outrage from human rights organizations, including Equality Now and Intact America, an organization that also campaigns against male circumcision.

Legal Protection
FGM is banned in many countries worldwide, including in at least 16 African countries. Current human rights statutes protecting girls and women from FGM include the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Protocol of the Rights of Women in Africa, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

Children are currently protected from genital cutting under Australian law:

It is illegal to infringe upon a person's right to bodily integrity.
Courts have authority over parents who do not act in the child's "best interests."
Parents do not have the right to perform any treatments without a child's consent once the child reaches "sufficient understanding and intelligence."

Dr. Mathews stands behind the legal protections against all forms of FGM, which currently outlaw even consensual adult FGM procedures.

There are many justifications for these strict legal protections, writes Dr. Mathews, which are based on the following findings:

FGM predates the Koran and the Bible, and is therefore a cultural practice.
FGM is a form of direct social control on females' bodies and sexuality.
FGM victims have a high risk of infection, hemorrhage, and even death.
FGM causes complications for intercourse, childbirth, menstruation, including recurrent infections, chronic pain, and perinatal death.
Infibulation (or FGM type III, the most severe form of FGM, around 10% of all occurrences) requires re-incision for intercourse and childbirth, and includes a higher risk of fatalities during childbirth.
FGM causes severe psychological consequences comparable to rape, including post-traumatic stress disorder and a sense of violation.
FGM has significant effects on longevity.

 Many support the decision to allow "ritual nicking" in a medical setting, believing it preferable to the reality of girls and women being taken abroad or underground to have FGM performed on them in unsterile conditions. To others, legalizing "ritual nicking" is a shocking concession.

"To sanction medically performed FGM would leave undisturbed the damaging assumptions motivating it, and would endorse the unjust attitudes to girls' and women's rights embodied in the practice," writes Dr. Mathews.

FGM presents practical challenges for medical practitioners, who must call upon relevant organizations in case they are asked to perform, treat, or give advice about FGM. Current Australian law requires doctors, nurses, school principals, and police officers to report each suspected instance of FGM.

Dr. Mathews calls for more research on the incidence (annual rate) of FGM, and on evaluating strategies in Australia in response to increased demand for FGM.

Ben Mathews, LLB, PhD, is an associate professor of law at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

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