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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Female Genital Mutilation FGM common in Iraq's Kirkuk: Study shows

April 10, 2012
Pana and Wadi

For the first time, an empirical study proved that female genital mutilation is also prevalent in parts of Iraq beyond the borders of the Kurdish Region.

April 10, 2012

KIRKUK, Iraq's border with Kurdistan region, —  WADI and the local women’s rights organization PANA have conducted an in-depth research about the existence and background of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kirkuk. They interviewed 1212 women above the age of 14 and asked each of them 61 questions.

Two years ago, WADI did a similar research in Kurdish Northern Iraq which revealed an alarmingly high prevalence rate of more than 72%. Around the same time, Human Rights Watch published a qualitative study which backs and complements WADI’s results. Meanwhile, after extensive protests and lobby efforts from activists and women’s rights groups (see notably the campaign STOP FGM in Kurdistan), the Regional Government has adopted a legal ban of FGM and other forms of violence against women and children.

Not so in Southern and Central Iraq, which also comprises the multi-ethnic, oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The public authorities assume that FGM is non-existent outside the Kurdish Region.

The new Kirkuk study proves this assumption to be utterly false. According to its findings, 38.2% of Kirkuki women live with the consequences of FGM.

With 65.4%, Kurdish women are the most affected ethnic group. Arab women hold 25.7% and Turkmen women 12.3%.

Focusing on the religious affiliations, 40.9% of the Sunnis, 23.4% of the Shi’ites and 42.9% of the Kaka’is are genitally mutilated. No Christians were found to be affected.

The FGM prevalence rate among girls under the age of 20 is a “mere” 15% which may indicate that the practice is about to decrease gradually. Among women aged 60-70, it is up to 80%.

When it comes to the reasons for the practice, the answers are evenly divided between “tradition” and “religion”, i.e. Islam.

In most cases, FGM means the amputation of the clitoris. Some women however – in the Arab-dominated countryside it is 21% – experienced more severe types, including the cutting of the inner and/or outer labia.

The Kirkuk findings prove that FGM is a common practice also among non-Kurds – Sunnis and Shi’ites alike. This data constitutes strong evidence for the assumption that FGM is prevalent throughout Iraq. Millions of women and girls are likely to be affected by these grave human rights violations.

Therefore, we call on the Baghdad parliament to address the issue as soon as possible, support public awareness and discuss further ways to counter female genital mutilation in Iraq.

The complete study will be published in June 2012.

For more information please contact us through the phone or email listed below:

Wadi e.V. - Association for Crisis Assistance
and Development Co-operation
Herborner Str. 62
D-60439 Frankfurt am Main / Germany
Phone:             +49-69-57002440      
Wadi Office Sulaimaniyah/Northern Iraq Phone:             +964-7701588173      
Pana Kirkuk Phone:             +964-7701512007      

Stop FGM Kurdistan

Published with cooperation with

To read the full article on the website, click here

Monday, April 9, 2012

Steps towards ending female genital mutilation in Mauritania is in progress

April 9, 2012
NOUAKCHOTT, Mohamed Abderrahmane (IPS) – A multi-pronged strategy to end female genital mutilation in Mauritania is making gradual progress, though campaigners acknowledge much remains to be done in a country where more than two-thirds of girls suffer excision. A 2007 Demographic Health Survey found that 71 percent of women and girls in Mauritania have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), carried out by traditional birth attendants on girls before they reach the age of five. The survey reported the reasons given in support of the practice were religion, aesthetics and the promotion of modesty. It also found that the practice was less common among better educated families.

Khatto Mint Jiddou, who heads the campaign against gender-based violence at Mauritania’s Ministry for Social Affairs, Childhood and the Family, told IPS that the initiative involves a wide range of people, including civil society activists, doctors and religious leaders. The national programme, supported by several development partners, includes lobbying for the adoption of a law criminalising excision, raising awareness of a fatwa (a religious notice) forbidding excision, and the setting up of regional offices to monitor the practice. In March, 35 excisors – including many from the central Tagant region, where an estimated 97 percent of girls suffer excision – publicly announced that they were voluntarily abandoning the procedure. Jiddou said the women had been convinced of the dangers of the practice by the explanations put forward by doctors and theologians.

Djeinaba Ba, a gynaecologist in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, told IPS that FGM causes pain and trauma, and often results in serious infections. Massive haemorrhaging, which can lead to death, also occurs frequently. Aziza Mint Meslem, a midwife and civil society activist working against FGM, said that girls who survive the harmful procedure only have more difficulties ahead. “Some infections create dysfunction in the external mucus membranes of the uterus, which prevents the passage of sperm to the uterus, thereby creating sterility,” she said. She added that the practice also provokes obstetric fistulas and haemorrhaging during childbirth. Religious leaders have also lent their voices to the campaign. Hademine Ould Saleck, the imam of the old mosque in Nouakchott, said that he and his colleagues issued a religious notice, or fatwa, forbidding FGM in 2010, based on the risks identified by doctors and taking into account the emphasis Islam places on the dignity of human beings. “We consider this practice, in its usual form, to be forbidden because of the damage it causes, and call on civil and criminal authorities to act against perpetrators,” he told IPS.

Saleck said that the fatwa issued by the Mauritanian religious community in 2011 received support from colleagues in eight West African countries: Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Chad. There are additional incentives for birth attendants to renounce FGM: although those who give up the practice do not receive any compensation, they will be prioritised in the allocation of loans for income- generating activities and given preferential access to literacy classes. But Meslem, who works with an NGO called the Mauritanian Association for the Health and Development of Women, says her experience in the field underlines the need for the adoption of laws specifically targeting FGM. She told IPS that twice in the past two years, she has come across cases of young girls who have died due to haemorrhaging after FGM. In each case, it was her NGO rather than the girls’ parents who alerted police; both times, the woman responsible was arrested, held for questioning for several days, but then released with no further action taken.

The midwife lamented the lack of legal sanctions against excisors in the Mauritanian penal code. “It’s a flagrant violation of the rights of girls, because international human rights law stipulates that every person has the right to the integrity of her body,” said Meslem. Gynaecologist Ba told IPS she has seen shifting attitudes recognising the harmful effects of FGM, early marriage and closely-spaced pregnancies. She observed, however, that the shift is noticeable among better-educated women living in cities and towns, and not among those who practice a nomadic lifestyle. Meslem too sees reasons for guarded optimism. “We are seeing a positive trend, even if this phenomenon, rooted in socio-cultural considerations, is far from being brought under control.”

To read the full article on the Newstime Africa website, click here

Monday, April 2, 2012

Female Circumcision Temporarily Stopped in Liberia

March 29, 2012
PRI's The World
Bonnie Allen

Traditional female leaders who operate a powerful secret society in Liberia have agreed to shut down their bush schools and stop female genital cutting, also known as female circumcision, for several years, while still rejecting any criticism of the cultural practice.

Mama Tormah, head zoe for the Sande Society and one of the most powerful traditional leaders in Liberia, has confirmed that she transferred traditional land over to the Poro Society for men this past November so that it can use the bush for its ceremonies and training. The women have been monopolizing the land since 2005 for their bush schools and the initiation ceremony of female genital cutting.

“We have given [the traditional land] to the men – it is their time now,“ Tormah told PRI, while sitting on her porch, dressed in a blue and yellow ‘lappa’ gown. The gray-haired grandmother never had the chance to learn to read or write, and said this suspension of activities will allow young girls to stay in school rather than being forced into the bush.

“When the time comes for the women [to resume operations], by that time, our children will be big big and willing to go.”

Tormah refused to discuss female genital cutting (FGC), but the land transfer effectively shuts down Sande bush schools and FGC – often called mutilation – for four years. The Government of Liberia, which has never taken a public position on the issue, is now seizing the opportunity to work with traditional leaders to phase out the cultural practice altogether.

“Government is saying this needs to stop,” declared Liberia’s newly-appointed Gender Minister, Julia Duncan Cassell, during a sit-down interview in her office. “The process is on in making sure that it’s stopped.”

In Liberia, two out of three teenage girls – sometimes younger – are pulled out of school and taken into the bush for several weeks or months for traditional training called “Sande bush”. The girls learn proper hygiene, hair braiding, basket weaving, and how to take care of their future husbands. As part of their initiation, part or all of a girl’s clitoris is cut off.

It happened to Kulah Borbor when she was 16.

“They will lay you down and sit here,” Borbor said, pointing to your chest. “[They] will tie your hands like this (over your head) and tie your face so that you will not see the instrument they will use.”

Borbor said her clitoris was cut off using a razor or knife, she’s not sure, while a group of women held her down. “It was a lot of pain. I can’t measure that pain with any other pain.”

Last year, a 17-year-old girl, Lotopoe Yeamah, allegedly died from severe hemorrhage after undergoing the practice in a small village in north central Liberia.

The 2007 Liberia Demographic and Health Survey, the most recent statistics, showed the prevalence of circumcision among Liberian women ages 15 to 49 is about 58 percent. The procedure is usually practiced by 10 of Liberia’s 16 tribes, and is reportedly intended to reduce sexual pleasure and, consequently, the likelihood that a woman will be promiscuous.

The Sande and Poro societies in Liberia forbid anyone from revealing their secrets. When a Liberian reporter, Mae Azango, recently published an expose on female cutting, she received threats and had to go into hiding. The societies are so powerful that membership is necessary for social, economic, or political influence in villages across two thirds of the country.

Likewise, despite international pressure, and a female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian government hasn’t taken a public position against female genital circumcision. But with the moratorium on Sande bush, the Liberian government is now, for the first time ever, taking action at the national level.

“There has been a statement put out by the Ministry [of Internal Affairs] asking all of our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, to start to desist from such practices,” said Gender Minister Cassell, indicating that the Government of Liberia wants to abide by its obligations under international human rights laws.

She revealed that the government has been talking privately to traditional leaders for some time, and it has concluded that an outright ban would cause a backlash.

“You can’t just stop something that years and years ago your ancestors started. You have to be able to work along with [traditional leaders].”

Liberia is one of nine African nations with no laws banning the procedure. The recently passed Children’s Act states that Liberian children should not be subjected to “any unnecessary or uncultured practice” that inflicts physical pain, but the phrase “uncultured” is vague and undefined.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs, the government department that normally sanctions traditional practices, has been refusing permits to any Sande Society as of January 2012 according to Joseph Janga, assistant minister of culture. He wrote a letter to the traditional chiefs and zoes in December that diplomatically “requests” they stop Sande bush activities, but when interviewed by PRI, said he will dispatch inspectors in April to report any zoes who violate the “order”.

In August 2009, the United Nations committee overseeing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) criticized Liberia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs for issuing permits to practitioners of “female genital mutilation” and said it was “an explicit form of support for the practice and thereby undermine[s] any efforts to eliminate it.”
Liberia’s Gender Minister said the next step will be to empower traditional zoes economically. Already, eighty “cutters” from two counties were trained in small business management in September 2011.
“If we don’t do something then these people will go back to where they came from. So we are going to go from county to county now and ask them, ‘Look, if we want them to do this, what are we going to give them in place of that?’ Because for some of them it’s their livelihood.”
As Mama Tormah sits on her porch, watching school girls in yellow uniforms cram into a nearby school alongside boys, she is both diplomatic and defiant.
“We know the country has changed. We are in modern days. So, we are changing the system small small until we reach to the end,” said Tormah. “But it can’t be the way they want it to happen, as quickly as they want it to happen. We’re not ready for people to say, ‘No more Sande’. We can’t do that. You will damage the country.”
To read the full article on the PRI website, click here

"This Needs to Stop": Tempers Flare over the Practice of Female Circumcision in Liberia

March 30, 2012
Travis Lupick

When Kulah Borbor’s daughter was 13 years old, she asked her mother if she could join Liberia’s secret Sande Society. Most Liberian women are members of the Sande, so her daughter’s request was nothing unusual. But Borbor, a gender-based violence officer with the West Point Women for Health and Development Organisation, immediately discouraged her daughter’s interest in the Sande.
“I told her, ‘What? You want to go join?’” Borbor recounted. “I took her in a room and I showed her.”
What Borbor shared with her daughter was one of the Sande’s open, but almost never spoken, secrets – that the society’s initiation includes female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM).
“I said, ‘That’s where they cut mine,” Borbor continued. “From that time, she hasn’t talked about it.”
Borbor went on to deliver a candid account of the day she was cut by the Sande. She was made to feel at ease, dressed in nice clothes and carried on a hammock into the forest. There, a group of older women lay her down, gently tied her hands and covered her eyes, and told her that she should prepare to sail over water.
“They tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, there is no reason for you to fret.’”
Borbor paused, and used a deep breath to skip over the details of the actual circumcision. Her expression turned grim: “There is no means for you to leave from there,” she said. “There is a group of women surrounding you, holding you. Only god can free you from there.”

Taking a stance

There are no thorough statistics on FGC in Liberia, but it is estimated that as many as two-thirds of the country’s women are circumcised, with most undergoing the World Health Organisation’s type II classification – the cutting of the clitoris and labia minora.
UNICEF has long maintained that FGC “violates girls’ and women’s basic human rights, denying them of their physical and mental integrity, their right to freedom from violence and discrimination, and in the most extreme case, their life”. Such international pressure has, in recent years, resulted in a number of African states passing legislation banning FGC. But it was not until this past week that the Liberian government took a position on the issue.
Following a storm of controversy spurred by local media coverage of the Sande and FGC, journalists were threatened, a public debate ensued, and the government finally took a position on the practice.
On March 26, 2012, Minister of Gender and Development Julia Duncan-Cassell went on the radio and stated that government is asking traditional leaders to “resist from FGM”. In an interview the following day, she reiterated that her office is “in the process” of ending FGC in Liberia.
“Government is saying, ‘This needs to stop,’” emphasised Duncan-Cassell. However, she conceded that cultural attitudes will not change overnight.

Sensitive topic

In Liberia, FGC is deeply rooted in the Sande Society, which, along with its male counterpart, the Poro, plays a significant role in the upbringing of much of the country’s youth, as well as Liberian culture as whole.
In his seminal work on religion in Liberia, The Mask of Anarchy: The destruction of Liberia and the religious dimensions of an African civil war, Stephen Ellis describes the Sande and the Poro as “corporations, controlled in each town by local councils of elders whose identity and whose rituals may not be divulged to outsiders”.
The societies exercise less influence now than they once did, but it is still to the Sande “bush” schools that many young Liberian women go to for instructions on proper traditions of respect, to learn how to run a household, and to prepare for marriage.
There is, of course, more to the Sande than the controversy surrounding FGC. There is also community and commemoration, for example. On a recent visit to Grand Bassa County, women were seen returning from the bush schools in a sort of graduation ceremony, racing through the streets on motorcycles, flailing their arms and legs in celebration while crowds danced and cheered their return. But it’s the Sande’s ritualistic circumcision ceremonies that have slowly caught the nation’s attention, and not to everybody’s satisfaction.
On March 8 – International Women’s Day – the Liberian daily ‘Front Page Africa’ published afeature on the Sande Society and FGC. The article’s author, Mae Azango, subsequently received a number of threats and, three weeks later, remains in hiding. The same week, activist Phyllis Nyuma-Kimba was speaking on FGC in the United States when her home in Monrovia was set on fire, allegedly in retaliation to her opposition to FGC. On March 26, journalist Tetee Gebro was confronted by a group of men outside the nation’s capitol building and threatened for sympathising with Azango and her work on female genital cutting.
Despite letters of protest by Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, government and traditional officials’ responses to those acts of intimidation have been largely unsupportive. Blamo Nelson, Minister of Internal Affairs – which oversees Sande and Poro conduct – questioned whether Azango had actually received any threats, despite the fact that her editor and publisher have supported her claims. And Mama Tormah, head of all female zoes (traditional spiritual leaders), called those questioning the practice of FGC “prostitutes.”

The fight continues

In response, Azango, Nyuma-Kimba, and Gebro, have all insisted that they intend to continue their work against FGC.
“Children have been violated,” Azango emphasised. “I’m talking about babies being violated. They say that a girl should be 18 so that she can make the decision on her own. But they take children – five, six, seven, ten-year-old children – to the Sande bush and have them cut. Those children did not make their decisions on their own. So their rights have been violated.”
Gebro argued that in addition to FGC being a matter of human rights, the threats she and her colleagues have encountered have made the debate on cutting in Liberia an issue of free speech and freedom of the press.
“I understand the risks, but I think we’re doing the right thing,” she said. “We need to talk about the issue in this country. If a doctor tells us that it [FGC] is harmful, we have to speak about it because we are journalists, and we have the right to speak about it if it is harmful to people.”
Openly apprehensive about how the debate on FGC is moving forward in Liberia, the Minister of Internal Affairs nevertheless said that advocacy on this issue should continue.
“You’re talking about educating a nation to abandon its cherished heritage,” he explained. “Take time to be holy. Otherwise, you’ll destroy yourself before you even achieve your objective.”
To read the full article on the ThinkPressAfrica website, click here