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Friday, February 27, 2009

Genital Mutilation: Women fight Africa's taboo

They broke the silence from tribal elders and politicians – but paid a high personal price for trying to protect millions of young girls from the knife By Katrina Manson in Sierra Leone Friday, 27 February 2009 The female journalist was snatched by members of a secret society, forcibly stripped and made to parade naked through the streets. It might sound like an atrocity from the time when Sierra Leone was ripped apart by a bloody civil war, but in fact the public humiliation was exacted in the diamond-rich eastern town of Kenema just this month. The woman's alleged crime was reporting on female genital mutilation. While the attack was condemned by media watchdogs as "disgraceful behaviour worthy of a bygone age", one woman who was not surprised was Rugiatu Turay. When she was 12 Ms Turay was stolen away by family members and underwent what some politely refer to as "circumcision". She calls it "torture". For the past six years, she has been waging a war against the practice, which many in Sierra Leone, including senior politicians, see as an initiation rite. Her organisation, the Amazonian Initiative Movement, tries to protect young girls from the knife. "I picked the name because I am trying to talk about strong, powerful women," she says Ms Turay, who works with her 20-strong staff in and around the northern town of Lunsar. So far, she has persuaded about 400 practitioners of female genital mutiliation (FGM), who are often called soweis, to lay down their blades and stop their role in the traditional bondo ceremony. "Silence means consent. But if you say the truth people listen ... We go to the schools, mosques, everywhere." As reward for her tenacious efforts, she has received death threats and been attacked by juju men, sometimes armed with magic, sometimes with machetes. She describes a time when more than a hundred people paraded a symbolic corpse outside her home to suggest her own death: "They came right in front of me sharpening their cutlasses." But so many times has she failed to die, that locals now think she is immune. "Now they believe I have special powers. They do nothing to me." Ms Turay was mutilated at her aunt's house where she was staying with her three sisters and her cousin. "We didn't even know that we were going to be initiated," she says. "They called me to get water and then outside they just grabbed me." She was blindfolded, stripped, and laid on the ground. Heavy women sat on her arms, her chest, her legs. Her mouth was stuffed with a rag. Her clitoris was cut off with a crude knife. Despite profuse bleeding she was forced to walk, was beaten and had hot pepper water poured into her eyes. "My mother had always told me never to let anyone touch me there. I was scared and I tried to fight them off. Nobody talked to me but there was all this clapping, singing, shouting," recalls Ms Turay. "When I tried to walk on the seventh day I could not walk. All they could say is 'Today you have become a woman'." Ms Turay is among the estimated 94 per cent of girls who undergo FGM in Sierra Leone. The practice – which forms part of a ceremony of initiation rites overseen by women-only secret societies such as bondo and sande – can cause severe bleeding, infection, cysts and sometimes death, but is largely ignored. Reasons for the process vary, but many people cite tradition and culture, saying it is essential preparation for marriage and womanhood; binds communities to each other and to their ancestors; and restricts women's sexual behaviour. Last year, UN agencies came out strongly against the practice, labelling it "painful and traumatic", a violation of human rights and demanding it be abandoned within a generation. "It has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways," said the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO). "The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth." Yet many international aid organisations are too scared to do anything about it in public for fear of being labelled cultural imperialists. A recent Sierra Leone child rights bill dropped any mention of FGM at the last minute, and politicians – including President Ernest Bai Koroma – baulk at the mention of the subject. A decade ago, a female politician who later became the minister for social welfare said: "We will sew the mouths up of those preaching against bondo." More recently, politicians are rumoured to have sponsored mass cutting ceremonies, which can be relatively costly affairs in one of the world's poorest countries, in an effort to secure votes in elections. "Secret societies have become intertwined with modern political life in Sierra Leone and retain considerable power and influence," wrote the anthropologist Dr Richard Fanthorpe in a paper commissioned by the UN. When I asked President Koroma – whose country receives more aid per person from Britain than any other donor recipient – about his position on the practice, it was the first time I saw the usually affable leader lost for words. Unable to reach for his usually ubiquitous wide toothy smile, he meandered awkwardly through an answer: "Let people in civil society deal with this issue." That leaves the fight against FGM, which the WHO says has been conducted on 92 million African girls – and rising by up to three million a year – to the odd brave soul such as Ms Turay. The 26-year-old is among a number of anti-FGM campaigners slowly achieving results. In her effort to keep some safe from cutting, Ms Turay has even adopted 14 children from Sierra Leone and Guinea. Girls under 15 regularly undergo the cutting and for the newly initiated, it remains a frightening process shrouded in secrecy. "You should not tell anybody about circumcision or else your stomach will swell and you'll die," one young girl who didn't know her age told me quietly in her local Temne language. Ms Turay hopes her struggle will help break such taboos of talking about the cutting in public, although it may also spur more reactionary moves, such as this month's punishment meted out to the journalist in Kenema. And it is no easy task persuading the practitioners to abandon what they see as a rite of passage. Girls as young as five are trained to become circumcisers and it is an income-generator in a poverty-stricken country, still struggling to shrug off the legacy of the 1991-2002 civil war. "I didn't like it when it happened to me and I worry about the pain of the girl, but I do it because they pay me, and because we met our ancestors doing it," says practitioner Marion Kanu, 35, whose two children are also practitioners. Others have seen the error of their ways. "I regret it now," says another sowei who has vowed to stop. But it is not always easy to hang up the knife. One woman practitioner who said she would stop the cutting was kidnapped by members of the bundu society. Both her and her baby were beaten and taken to the bush for three days without food or water; the mother was raped. Her life was saved only by Ms Turay's intervention.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spotlight: Saying no to the mutilators

(From the New Straights Times)
Last week’s Global Meeting for Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family saw some of the world’s most spirited individuals engage in law reform discussions and activism. CHAI MEI LING sits in for a tale of how three such personalities defied convention to champion for social change in their home countries
TWENTY years ago, moments after the birth of her daughter, Assita Monique Tamboula stood her ground -- there would be no genital mutilation on her newborn.
In a country where more than half its population still subscribes to this age-old practice today, it took more than conviction on Tamboula's part to put her foot down.
Any girl in Burkina Faso who has not been cut up runs the risk of growing up single and unwanted by the males in the West African country.
So, families engage the service of the mutilators, rural women who mainly hail from the "blacksmith" caste, to sever the genital tissue of their girls - either at birth or just before they start school.
"During the process, a girl's clitoris is cut off to stop her from masturbating. If a woman wants pleasure, she has to go to the man," says Tamboula, 51.
"They do the cutting with a small instrument that looks like a scythe. It's flat and the edge is very, very sharp. No anaesthesia, nothing. Casualty due to blood loss is not uncommon."
In two provinces, girls undergo the procedure just before they wed.
The act itself is part of the marriage ceremony, celebrated like a festival, taken on as a feat of courage and adds "value" to the bride.
"Women have no right to speak up, because the society is layered, with men on top and women bottom. Full stop.
"Even if a man is aware of the problem of genital mutilation and wants to stop it, and he decides not to have the girls in his family mutilated, the girls would still be rejected by the rest of the society.
"People laugh at them. So what to do?"
So set in stone is this custom, whose origin predates Islam and Christianity, that it continues to thrive in the country despite its stringent law, affecting some 70 per cent of the rural female population and 30 per cent in town.
The government condemned the act, passed a law which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years of jail term, and beefed up enforcement.
But perpetrators found haven in neighbouring countries.
Mutilators reside to the north in Mali, where they can't be touched by law and are sometimes protected even by the society, crossing over to Burkina as and when their clandestine service is needed.
These women would pass on their skills to their daughters, making sure that tradition lives on with the lineage.
The fight against the controversial practice, which dates back to the 20th century, is uphill because social will is lacking, but local group Maia Association, of which Tamboula is a member, strives towards its end.
With support from family planning and health groups from France and Switzerland, the association goes to the ground to raise awareness and impart knowledge with the aim to sensitise men and women and influence mindset, not only on female genital mutilation, but also on a host of issues from gender power imbalance.
Maia talks families out of the norm of casting their unwed, pregnant daughters out to the streets, where many, unable to fend for themselves, would die from hunger.
It works closely with secondary schools to provide easy support and assistance to pregnant students.
Aminata Diallo, the association president and also an educator, had three pregnant girls in her class last year, not counting those who have had abortion.
Diallo caps the rate of teenage pregnancy at 10 per cent, but says the problem is worsening with more girls getting pregnant at a younger age.
The legal age for marriage is 17, but girls as young as 15 are already pregnant, she says.
Maia also addresses rape, forced marriages, poverty, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS.
It teaches girls and women to how convince men to wear condoms during sex, and in cases where negotiation fails, encourages them to put on the femidoms.
It also discourages levirate, a custom where widows are made to marry a male member of the deceased husband's family. Those who refused to toe the mark have been known to be poisoned.
"When you see something so horrible happening before your eyes, you have to react," says Diallo, 53, explaining how she got into the movement.
"A girl sleeps with a boy, gets pregnant and is expelled by the family to sleep on the streets while the boy merrily carries on with his education. Where is the justice?"
Since being set up 15 years ago, Maia has achieved notable success in alleviating the lives and status of women in the country.
Through advocacy, women are now allowed to work on the land and keep their earnings from crop yields. It was just as recent as four years ago that women were not supposed to touch the soil.
In the area of female genital mutilation, Maia's programmes with the youngsters bore fruits.
"When mutilation is being carried out, it's always a youngster - girl or boy - who calls the police in," says Diallo.
Another young boy reported on his twin sisters' case and got them rescued in the nick of time.
For Tamboula, her personal accomplishment didn't stop at relieving her daughter of the physical and psychological scarring that she herself experienced as a child.
No girls in her family born after her daughter has to ever undergo that.
The interview was done with the assistance of French interpreter Francoise Liaunet-Hughes. 

Female genital mutilation among Israel’s Negev Bedouins has virtually disappeared — BGU study

(from ScienceMode on Feb 20th)

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL – February 20, 2009 – A follow-up study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beer-Sheva has determined that the once prevalent custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) among Israel’s Bedouin population in the Negev has virtually disappeared. The findings were reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine 2009; 6:70-73.

FGM, also known as “female circumcision” or “female cutting,” is still practiced in many cultures around the world. “It is of great interest to define processes or situations that can lead to a reduction in the incidence of this phenomenon in cultures where it is practiced,” explains BGU Professor of Psychiatry Robert H. Belmaker. “FGM is a culturally entrenched procedure and unless a prohibition of the practice is accompanied by educational efforts, the effectiveness of legal action is low.”

In 1995, Prof. Belmaker studied the Bedouin of Southern Israel, a heterogeneous group of tribes for which FGM was a common practice. At the time, a large number of women said that they planned to continue this custom, which involved a ritual incision but no tissue removal, and would perform it on their daughters. This led the researchers to believe at the time that the process was already undergoing modification.

BGU researchers decided to re-survey the Bedouin population nearly 15 years later, and again focused on women in the tribes previously reported to have performed this practice. In the new study, 132 women under 30 were given a gynecological examination and oral questionnaire. They found that none had scarring from the type reported in 1995.

Bedouins have become more westernized since Israel’s independence in 1948. Israel’s Bedouin demographic data shows that health care, school attendance, school years completed, and literacy have continued to improve over the last 15 years and may be associated with the long-term decrease in FGM since 1995. Today, approximately 180,000 Bedouin live in Southern Israel.

The World Health Organization has made the eradication of female genital mutilation a major goal in Africa, Asia and Australia. Prof. Belmaker says, “Direct eradication by making the custom illegal has had limited success. As in several other areas, such as childhood immunization and literacy, in the elimination of female genital surgery Israel’s Arab population is among the leading populations in the Middle East.”

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Statement by African Women Are Free to Choose (AWA-FC), Washington DC, USA

(From The Patriotic Vanguard)
February 20, 2009
Statement by African Women Are Free to Choose (AWA-FC), Washington DC, USA.
It is with great concern that we, members of the newly formed African Women Are Free to Choose movement, regard recent situations in Sierra Leone, immediately stemming from the press release issued on Feb 6th by the U.S. Embassy in Freetown.
We are concerned about recent accusations of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) made against an important and valued female institution in Sierra Leone, the Bondo sodality of women. Though we do not condone the use of violence or intimidation we are also deeply affected by the inflammatory impact of language such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). We declare categorically that this language is offensive, demeaning and an assault against our identities as women, our prerogatives to uphold our cultural definitions of womanhood including determining for ourselves what bodily integrity means to us African women from ethnic groups that practice female and male initiation as parallel and mutually constitutive processes in our societies.
We declare that thus far the representation of female circumcision (FC) - its social and ideological meaning in terms of gender and female sexuality and impact, if any, on reproductive health and psychosexual wellbeing has been over the last thirty years dominated by a small but vocal number of African women that make up the Inter-African Committee (IAC) with the enormous backing, if not outright instigation of powerful western feminist organizations and media personalities. Through aggressive use of the media to portray African women as passive and powerless victims of barbaric, patriarchal African societies, their efforts have succeeded in influencing and tainting the objectivity of such institutions as WHO and UNICEF, among other international organizations that have taken the lead role in promulgating anti-FGM policies and legislation worldwide.
Through political pressure from first world countries on whose aid they continue to depend as well as internal political expediency, several African countries have introduced anti-FGM legislation over against the full knowledge, participation and desires of the majority of affected women. This will not happen in Sierra Leone.
Thus far, the negative medical or health claims about various forms of FC have been disputed as grossly exaggerated by several independent medical researchers and practitioners. The claims that various forms of FC reduce or eliminate sexual desire and feeling in women have also been disproven by affected women themselves, the researchers who relentlessly question them and medical doctors who examine and treat them. We can provide ample references for anyone who is interested in any of this work.
That FC was designed by men to control women’s sexuality is a western feminist myth constructed in a disturbing dismissal of African gender models of male and female complementarity and of our own creativity, power and agency as adult women in the social world. The assertion that FC violates the rights of children falters in the face of WHO’s promotion of routine neonatal male circumcision (MC) to protect against HIV infection in Southern African. Incidentally, circumcised African women also have some of the lowest rates of HIV infection among women in the world, so why the double standard?
We remind the world that all what is being said today about FC - barbaric, dangerous, reduces sexual pleasure, parochial - has also been said about male circumcision by its detractors, usually and conveniently, by those who are themselves uncircumcised. Just as racist remarks were made and aggressive legislation to criminalize practitioners (sometimes with the threat of capital punishment) were introduced by host countries or cultural outsiders to abolish MC with the support of some prominent male Jewish insiders, so too such negative actions are taken against practitioners of FC with the zealous support of some cultural insiders. Just as the bulk of Jewish men resisted and openly defied these edicts so too do the bulk of circumcised African women daily and openly resist global eradication policies and continue to define and celebrate their heritage. Just as MC has not ended and is even now seen as desirable with health and aesthetic benefits, so too FC has not ended and is even desired and being repackaged as vaginal cosmetic surgeries or “designer vaginas” by affluent segments of the very population of western women that today condemn us as “barbaric”.
We recognize the legitimacy of claims of the minority of circumcised African women who view their experiences in a negative light. Like the minority of circumcised men who have organized anti-circumcision campaigns, they emphasize their experiences of unnecessary pain and suffering and see their genital surgeries as an attack on their gender identities. We have no problem with these women, just as their male counterparts, organizing to seek change or even referring to their experiences and their own bodies as mutilated. However, these women, like their male counterparts, must take their case to the bulk of others who are circumcised and convince them of their worldview through peaceful, democratic and lawful means. If, where and whenever they fail to convince the majority, the minority must respect the choices and freedom of the bulk of practitioners to positively define their own experiences and bodies. This is a key cornerstone of any modern liberal, democratic and plural society. While we respect and do not support the coercion of the minority to uphold a tradition they find offensive, we certainly will not allow the minority to impose their will and worldview on the majority of women who are circumcised and their prerogatives as parents to make this decision for their children, both male and female. The minority of uncircumcised women in Sierra Leone, as elsewhere in Africa, must have the freedom to remain uncircumcised if they so wish (and many do request circumcision); and, for those already circumcised who wish to abandon the practice, we advocate for and stand with the Government in protecting their rights to not circumcise their own children. This is true, non-coercive abandonment.
As a newly formed association, Free to Choose will not accept attempts to delegitimize the positive experiences of most circumcised women and any attempts to deny African women, circumcised or not, our rights to self-determination. Further, most of us are not fooled by the substandard research evidence - anecdotal and those purporting to be objective science - to manipulate and coerce circumcised women into submission, that is, to give up a practice that is culturally meaningful to many African women. We question the appeal to a common sisterhood by our western feminist sisters who pretend they do not have a stake in seeing their own uncircumcised bodies as “normal”, “healthy”, and “whole” and therefore morally superior to our own supposedly “mutilated” African bodies.
Therefore, we call on restraint and respect on all sides. To the Soweis and Sokos of Bondo - you are mighty and need no other justification than that which we your daughters have just given you. No amount of western education and modernization can replace our ancestral rites and rights so we are with you. In that small place in Kenema you are showing the world that ours is not just about training women to be good wives and mothers (another myth constructed by our feminist critics and oft repeated from our own culturally ignorant western educated mouths) but that ours is a militant African feminist indigenous institution equipped with a hierarchy and election process that was set in place long before the very western feminist organizations that ridicule us now came into existence and won the right for their own women to vote in their male constructed and dominated social worlds. While our Bondo women warriors fought and died together with our Poro brothers in revolts against colonial injustices, where were our western feminist sisters who are today so interested in the intactness of our genitalia?
As we honor and carry on that militancy in our communal female spirit, let us seek ways to (re)educate our critics and to correct their misunderstandings and biases about female sexuality in particular and gender in general. We have ample intellectual, scientific and religiously grounded resources to do this. Let us also stand strong and united as our female ancestors have in the past against any attempts to allow the vilification of our own practices while our critics overlook or turn a blind eye to their own. Let us be united as African women to stand against any attempt to deny us our cultural rites and rights as adults equal to any other adult in the world whatever their religion, race, and country of origin. My sisters, mothers and grandmothers in Kenema, continue your peaceful protests, you are an exemplar to other so-called oppressed third world women who are portrayed as so passive and ignorant that they need western women to interpret their experiences and speak for them on the world scene. We stand with you in your resistance.
To SLAJ, while we support you in condemning any form of violence against journalists or any other civilians in Sierra Leone for that matter, we too are watching you. We will not allow the media in Sierra Leone to be hijacked and used to spread inflammatory language and messages in a country in which the bulk of women are members and strongly support Bondo. You do not need to use the term FGM, unless you state explicitly that the M refers to Modification and not Mutilation. You can use the term excision, which describes the procedure that can be associated with most women in the country. You can contact us and we will be happy to advise on culturally sensitive approaches. We can also provide you with lists of independent (i.e. non-activist) researchers and experts who are prepared to address any issues you have concerning FC as it pertains to health, human rights, cultural meanings and so on. We support the free flow of information so that women can be informed on both sides.
What we will not support and will expose is deliberate provocation by any member of the press of an international crisis to create a perception of Bondo as archaic, barbaric and unlawfully persecuting that very symbol of modernity, the innocent journalist in a truth-seeking mission to correct social injustice. If someone is itching to receive an international journalist of the year award and a free trip to the UN in New York, it will not be at the expense of our culture and our bodies.
To the U.S. Embassy, we recognize that you are following U.S. Policy. As Americans (some of us born, others naturalized) and permanent residents, we are proud of our great nation and commend your office. We are particularly thrilled that you represent the President of the United States, a man born to an African immigrant. Many of us are African immigrants or first generation African-Americans. We are also especially proud that the US President is of Kenyan descent, given the role of Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya and nationalist hero, who championed the practice of female circumcision among his ethnic group, the Kikuyu, in his stance against colonialism during the struggle for Kenyan independence from British rule. President Obama’s father was a Luo, as we are told, an ethnic group that does not practice either male or female circumcision whose members are sometimes persecuted by neighboring groups because of this as well as forcefully circumcised. Thus, this is perhaps an opportune moment for the US to lead the world in pausing for a moment to rethink the female (and male) circumcision controversy in global health policy: the homogenizing as well as hegemonic (and hypocritical) claims of western feminism over this issue; the cultural meanings FC and MC hold for the majority of practitioners and their right to self-determination; and importantly the internal ethnic politics of economically deprived African countries whose leaders often manipulate the female circumcision question, whether promoting or banning it, for political and economic expediency.
In the spirit of true diplomacy, we advise that the use of the term FGM is a slight to the very women you claim to support and speak for. Women in Sierra Leone do not form a homogenous group - most of us come from ethnic groups that practice female and male initiation, a section of the minority Krio who are descended from freed slaves do not. Most women support the continuation of FC and some are against it. We expect the US Ambassador, to show respect for all women of Sierra Leone and not use derogatory language that diminishes the majority of women over a minority. This would never happen in the United States where the public use of racist language can be viewed as an incitement to violence, and can be punishable by federal law. Prior to the civil rights movement, it was commonplace and uncontroversial for whites to refer to blacks by the n-word (and many blacks to refer to themselves as such, as some do today); the moral inferiority of blacks was not really in question. However, there is no doubt that the use of the n-word then (as it still does today) caused resentment and anger among many blacks. Similarly, the term FGM causes resentment and anger among circumcised women, even though the common perception of the day is that we are mutilated and hence morally inferior to so-called intact women.
In our local languages we too have vulgar terms for uncircumcised women, which is the marked category in our cultures. Even when used by circumcised women to refer to other circumcised women in a derogatory way it is an automatic provocation that spurs violence. In your proclamation against FGM you have given, albeit unwittingly, license to a minority group to use insulting language against the majority of women. If Bondo women were to respond by using their own vulgarities to refer to uncircumcised women there would be all out war among women in Sierra Leone eventually and inevitably - unknowingly or unintentionally triggered by the US Embassy. And, all Sierra Leoneans are tired of senseless war. Thus, we ask that the US Embassy and other western diplomats show due restraint and respect to all Sierra Leonean women, even as you, your NGOs and International Organizations advocate against our cultural practice.
To the Inter-African Committee (IAC) that has declared February 6 Zero-Tolerance to FGM Day, we do not know you, you have not made yourselves known to us, we have not elected you, you do not represent us and your organization has no legitimacy in the eyes of the masses of grassroots women across the sub-Sahara African belt. If the world does not know this, it will soon be made evident. Though you insult (and support the imprisonment of) our traditional female leaders as financially benefiting from the modest sums of money and basic goods they receive from families of initiates, you do not tell us the amounts of your own salaries, consultancy fees and per diems in the burgeoning anti-FGM global industry in which some African sisters (and brothers) are now fighting to outdo one another for international recognition. It is your leaders and your members (how many, 10, 20, 50 women?) who will need to start looking for alternate sources of income other than the horrific lies and images you have packaged and sold a world too ready to believe the worst of Africans. We will continue to celebrate and uphold our initiation practices and we will challenge whatever global international process that has given you official status to decide what happens to our bodies over against our knowledge and what name others should call us over against our will.
Finally, to our main judges, mostly otherwise liberal-minded uncircumcised women: please understand that the global feminist movement to eradicate female circumcision in Africa (and anywhere else) masks what is in fact a global movement to standardize and universalize the white European female body as the cultural, psychic and moral ideal. To the extent that many African and other third word women do not practice female circumcision within their own ethnic groups then these women’s bodies conform to the “healthy”, “normal”, “beautiful” and “desirable” European prototype for all women. We ask that you not ignore the blatant racism which underlies the zealousness of western feminists in abolishing FC but not MC, in marking African women’s bodies and sexuality as mutilated, while remaining quiet on other forms of women’s bodily and even similar genital surgeries. Their agenda is not really about our bodies, circumcised or not; it is about justifying theirs and thus resolving the uncomfortable dissonance that the existence and support of female excision by subversive African women poses for western feminist imperialism.
We ask that you consider what is happening to the minds of some of our immigrant daughters in western countries as they watch the sensationalist media spectacles of young circumcised African women who, in order to break into the modeling industry, accept invitations to publicly condemn their bodies as mutilated (as a couple of their infamous, albeit tragic predecessors did previously in bestselling tell-all books) on talk shows, reality TV, as well as magazine spreads where they exhibit their barely clothed bodies for the gaze and wonderment of the western world. We ask how different is the circulation and consumption of these images from that of South African “Hottentot” women paraded around Victorian circles; their photos eliciting feelings of sexual horror in a perturbing voyeurism engaged in by those (both European men and their wives) with the power to gaze as well as to define the “other”.
In that Victorian era, when white European women were defined as sexually repressed they projected their fears (in complicity with their husbands) onto African women who were viewed as sexually licentious and immoral. Today, to the extent that the descendants of these women view themselves as sexually liberated (calling attention to their external clitoris as the phallic symbol of theirs and so all women’s liberation and autonomy) they project their fears of past repression onto circumcised African women, who given their deliberate excision of the external clitoris, are conveniently marked as sexually repressed and passive. As circumcised women are already defined by white women and in comparison with them as mutilated, no one has bothered to ask what it is that circumcision symbolizes to African women. This would require a great leap of faith that Africans, not the least African women, have constructed, defined and continue to reproduce a meaningful social world, worthy of existence and defense, outside of dominant European socio-cultural and religious contexts and hence, moral control.
Thus, though we see that most of you are sincerely convinced of your concern about the health, sexuality and bodies of African women and girls, we suggest you remove first the plank in your own eyes: What are your own fears and concerns about your own bodies and how do these relate to your individual experiences of male oppression or violence in your lives as well as your societies’ historical experiences of patriarchy? What myths have your own cultures evolved about women’s sexuality including the relatively recent (re)discovery of the external clitoris as the supposed ultimate site of women’s pleasure and orgasm? How do you condone the routine circumcision of your sons, if this is the case in your own cultures, and react emotively to the idea of the circumcision of girls? Do you see no issue with the increasing popularity of Beverly Hills 90210 genital cosmetic surgeries among well to-do western women, including clitoral and labia reductions, vaginal rejuvenation or tightening and even restoration of the hymen?
And, to our formidable opponents, the radical few western imperial feminists who arrogantly say that multiculturalism is bad for women (and really mean only Euroamerican culture is good for all women), we suggest that in your self-righteous determination to draw the line at FC you reveal more about your hidden racism and xenophobia than you allow the world and yourselves to see. Whatever the case, my sisters, while we will not interfere with your rights to promulgate your steadfast beliefs in the superiority of western gender norms, cultural and aesthetic practices and pretend as if they are the same for women the world over, we will not allow you to deny us what is truly our own: our African cultural rites and our rights to uphold them. Your global power and financial resources, your attempts to divide and conquer us by handpicking, promoting and rewarding those of us who will do your dirty work on the ground in Africa, in the parliamentary and congressional halls of western countries and in secretive, exclusive UN meetings as well as your manipulation of the global media will never match our communal African feminist spirit of resistance, stretching from one end of the Sahara to the other, from the beginning of human history to this day.
We cannot end without acknowledging the sincere efforts of those circumcised and uncircumcised women, insiders and outsiders, activists, scholars, medical researchers and so on who believe in the equality of individuals and cultures and have tempered their individual beliefs with a commitment to evidence-based interventions and research that do not prejudge or stigmatize individuals, entire groups and cultures. We will continue to work with the growing number of such individuals in advocating for rigorous design, implementation, analysis and dissemination of scientific studies that look at the reproductive and sexual health outcomes of both circumcised and uncircumcised women in a wide range of geographic contexts and SES levels. We will continue to respect the rights of NGOs and other entities to try and convince women to abandon these cultural practices as long as their methods are culturally sensitive and respectful.
We will, however, also insist on the rights of African women to continue their traditions if they so choose and will challenge and protest any unjust laws and policies that unfairly discriminate against them. We will step up to organize and sensitize affected girls and women to the full range of their human rights and not just the ones anti-FGM activists choose to share with them. Our new movement includes both circumcised and uncircumcised African women, those who are for and some who are against the continuation of FC as a personal and family decision. We believe that it is in such open and honest woman to woman dialogue and collaboration that we can come up with policies and interventions that protect the rights of minorities to dissent and the rights of the majority to rule as well as the dignity of the individual to choose what happens to her (or his) own body. This is not a subversive idea or a radical one, it is the principle of pro-choice and respect for privacy applied to African women; it is the same principle that supports a woman’s right to abortion, though critics view this as the killing (read: worse than mutilating) of an innocent child; it is the same principle that supports the right of a sixteen year old to opt for genital and bodily piercings, though others may see this as mutilating and repulsive; it is the same principle that invokes sympathy for gender confused individuals and supports their right to radical surgery to change their genitalia and gender.
As for those girls too young to give consent, we must accord to their parents the same rights we accord to the parents of boys in neonatal male circumcision and not discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity or country of origin. We will work with willing stakeholders on all sides to determine appropriate ages of consent in varying socio-cultural contexts depending on how majority is determined for decision-making in other important life-crises or stages of development. None of this will be easy and western feminist opposition seems daunting, but from today we, African feminists, educated and illiterate, professionals and rural rice farmers, Christian, Muslim and followers of traditional religion, take the important step to begin speaking up for ourselves in local, national and international contexts in support of our global rights.
The AWA-FC is announcing a press-conference on March 6th 2009, in the Washington DC Metropolitan area, specific time and location to be announced shortly.
Statement by African Women Are Free to Choose (AWA-FC), Washington DC, USA

Friday, February 13, 2009

Portugal ‘high risk’ for female circumcision

(from Portugal News Online)
The World Health Organisation has classified Portugal as ‘high risk’ for practice of female genital mutilation due to the large number of immigrants from countries like Guinea-Bissau where the custom is widespread, an expert said this week.
Sandra Piedade, a research fellow at Lisbon’s state Higher Institute for Labour and Business Sciences (ISCTE), told the Lusa News Agency that although the issue of female circumcision in Portugal “is surrounded by secrecy” over ten percent of healthcare workers interviewed in a study said they have come across cases of young girls being mutilated.
Guinea-Bissau is the ex-Portuguese colony with the highest rate of female circumcision - at 45 percent of all women. Piedade said her study focused particularly on Guinean women in Portugal and their continued belief in the traditional practice, usually carried out on girls between five and 11 years.
There is a gap in Portuguese law in relation to female genital mutilation, said Piedade, calling for “more severe penalties” for practitioners of female circumcision in Portugal.
Victims need better medical and psychological support, the researcher added, and Portugal’s medical profession needs to gather more accurate data on increasing cases of female circumcision among Portugal’s immigrant communities. TPN/Lusa

Mary Walker: Fund makes all the difference

(From the Steamboat Pilot)

Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 with funding from the United Nations, and it provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

At the time of my last update of my work at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Kenya, the nationwide teachers strike had paralyzed primary education in that country. I described the possible repercussions if the strike moved into secondary schools, which was to happen any day at the time of my writing.

Fortunately, the strike has been resolved, and all children in Kenya have returned to school. The conditions of the resolution are troubling, however, and do not promise a long-term solution to the woeful pay that teachers in Kenya receive from the government. The government has promised most primary teachers a 40 percent pay increase as long as there is “substantial” improvement in the Kenyan economy within two years. I don’t need to belabor the point that the chances of this improvement in a struggling, developing country at this time are nonexistent.

Nationwide events, such as the post-election violence of last year and this year’s teachers strike, pose a particular challenge to the majority of secondary school students in Kenya who attend boarding schools. When schools are closed and students are sent home for long, unspecified periods of time, their access to the resources and tools to guide their education come to a virtual halt for months at a time. The students who can manage the break are those who live in economically stable households with electricity and supportive parents.

But other students go home to living conditions that make studying very difficult. Lack of electricity, poor nutrition, lack of clean water at home and undereducated parents who cannot foster a positive learning environment all conspire against these children. For them, the boarding school environment is their only opportunity to succeed. It is not surprising that only 2 percent of students who complete high school in Kenya go on to college, university or vocational training.

The Tasaru Scholarship Fund is bucking this trend. With about 50 girls living at the rescue center, the fund currently is supporting two girls in teachers’ training colleges in Kenya with sponsorships in place for at least five more girls next year. I’m not a math whiz, but I think that represents seven times the national average in Kenya for college attendance. These girls are Maasai victims of female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. The impact of the opportunity that these girls now have as made possible by this fund is incalculable. They will be the vanguard in the effort to combat these practices through education. They will see the end of these practices in their lifetimes.

Poll: What percentage of women in Mali have suffered genital mutilation or cutting? & Plan
Every year, around two million girls undergo excision (sometimes known as genital mutilation or cutting). Most of these girls live in sub-Saharan and north-eastern Africa. 
Historically, most girls were excised between the ages of 8 and 14 years. Today, the age of female genital cutting has a much wider range. It is performed on newborn babies, during childhood, during adolescence or even on mothers after they have given birth. However there is a general trend of declining age of excision in west Africa. In Mali, this tendency is particularly strong. In the past, the practice was a ritual for adolescent girls, but a recent study by Plan in five regions of the country found that the average age of excision was less than one year. In many cases infants were excised within their first week of life. Most excisions are performed without anaesthesia. For the great majority of girls, the first experience is extreme and unexpected pain. The most common immediate complication is excessive bleeding due to accidental cutting of a major vein or artery. Other typical complications include urinary retention, tetanus and other wound infections, sometimes resulting in septicaemia. The mental scarring can be just as significant. But for the women who practice excision it is often an important part of their tradition, a tradition they are reluctant to abandon because it helps them define who they are. Going into these communities and trying to impose western doctrine upon them won’t work. In the communities where it occurs, Plan is actively pursuing its abandonment – in the right way. Experience has taught its workers to respect the communities they work in and to listen to their members’ views and opinions. Changes of societal norms and behaviours have to come from within. Effecting such changes requires a constructive dialogue. Plan is continuing this dialogue in Mali and elsewhere, and is revolutionising women’s lives as a result. 
(See orginal site for poll)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Catalan police in crusade against cultural ritual

• 12 Feb 2009 •

By Gabrielle Devon

THANKS to members of Cataluña’s regional police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, during 2008, 104 girls living in the region were spared the ordeal of going through the suffering caused by genital mutilation, a practice carried out mainly in African and Asian countries.

They have managed to prevent 18 so far this year.

Since the year 2000, Mossos d’Esquadra have contacted the families of girls whom they consider may be at risk of undergoing this procedure, considering their country of origin and the fact that they may not have abandoned this barbaric custom.

Officers inform them of     the inherent dangers the procedure involves, and try to dissuade them from returning to their country of origin for the ritual to be performed or from having it carried out here by clandestine witch-doctors operating in Spain.

The parents are also informed that in Spain, this practice is considered a  crime which will incur the full force of the law.

According to statistics released by the regional government, in Cataluña alone, there are more than 13,000 girls at risk and 4,846 of them are under the age of 19.

Their objective to bring an end to female genital mutilation is unique in Europe and has prevented almost 100 cases per year since it began.

Last year, some 300 officers      participated in a special course to learn more about female genital mutilation and recently a delegation travelled to the Gambia to provide information on site to families there, even managing to get one community to promise not to carry out any more of the rituals.

Many of the families living in Spain apparently do not want their daughters to undergo the procedure, but upon returning to their countries of origin feel pressured to conform by the society that exists there. Some communities believe that it is beneficial for a       woman’s health, maintaining cleanliness as there are no sexual secretions. Others believe that if a child touches its mother’s clitoris while being born, it will die. However, it is mainly used to prevent young girls from having sexual urges and to maintain their virginity until marriage, something which guarantees they will be accepted by their future husband.

Women allow the procedure as they believe it will bring pleasure to their partners and guarantee them a successful marriage.

The origin of female genital mutilation is unknown and although it is carried out in many Moslem countries, it is not related to Islam or any other known religion.

There are several types of female genital mutilation, but all procedures involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.

In some cases, there is a narrowing of the vaginal orifice as well as cutting of the clitoris, labia minora and/or labia majora, which are then held together using thorns or stitches.

Reports suggest that the girl’s legs are tied together for two to six weeks, to prevent her from moving and to allow healing. This can be reversed to allow sexual intercourse    or when undergoing labour, which becomes extremely difficult and painful, and can result in tearing and death of the child if the birth canal is not opened sufficiently.

Surprisingly, a study has revealed that the majority of women who have been subjected to this extreme sexual mutilation claim to experience sexual desire, pleasure and orgasm, in spite of their being culturally bound to hide such feelings.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) declared February 6 as ‘International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation’, and Egypt has passed a law banning the practice. Sheikh Ali Gomaa stated: “The traditional form of excision is a practice totally banned       by Islam because of the compelling evidence of the extensive damage it causes to women’s bodies and minds.

Female genital mutilation: what schools can do

20,000 girls may be at risk of female genital mutilation in the UK. The charity Forward urges schools to watch out for the signs
Research from the female genital mutilation (FGM) charity Forward suggests that 20,000 girls may be at risk in the UK. The charity says that most FGM takes place at primary school age, with the average age being eight. Girls coming back to school this September may have been subjected to this horrific practice during their summer holidays abroad and Forward suggests that teachers are ideally placed to pick up on signs and symptoms
Although there are many different types of FGM, almost all involve the removal or cutting of some part of the female genitalia. Health risks from this practice include urinary tract infections, infertility, and the spread of tetanus and HIV from unsterilised blades. Because most FGM is carried out on young children under duress and without anaesthetic , there is almost always a psychological fallout.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, but new legislation in 2003 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in 2005 in Scotland, also made it an offence to force a child to undergo FGM abroad. Despite the introduction of this legislation there have been no convictions.
Clare Chelsom, an officer working for Project Azure, the Metropolitan police's leading team against FGM, said at the launch of this years prevention campaign: ‘We know that FGM can be seen as an act of love for children. We know that some parents would like to say no to FGM but feel under pressure. We’re more interested in the perpetrators making money from this practice than the parents.’
Chelsom believes that the lack of convictions is due to the fact the offence is under-reported: ‘Like most cases of child abuse, we have to rely on a child telling on their parent or in some cases their whole community. There may be fears of authority, language or immigration issues. In some cases, hard-to-reach communities may not even know the law.’
According to Forward’s fact sheet: ‘The justifications given for the practice are multiple and reflect the ideological and historical context of the societies in which it has developed. Reasons cited generally relate to tradition, power inequalities and the ensuing compliance of women to the dictates of their communities.’
Signs to look out for
Suspicions may arise in a number of ways that a child is being prepared for FGM to take place abroad. These include knowing that the family belongs to a community in which FGM is practised and is making preparations for the child to take a holiday, arranging vaccinations or planning absence from school. The child may also talk about a ‘special procedure/ceremony’ that is going to take place.
Indicators that FGM may already have occurred include prolonged absence from school, with noticeable behaviour change on return and long periods away from classes or other normal activities, possibly with bladder or menstrual problems. Some teachers have described how children find it difficult to sit still and look uncomfortable or may complain of pain between their legs or talk of something somebody did to them that they are not allowed to talk about.
Where children might be at greater risk
Forward’s recently published research, A Statistical Study to Estimate the Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in England and Wales, is available from the Forward website. This research identifies areas of England and Wales where children may be more at risk of FGM based on the numbers of people resident from known FGM practising countries.
Forward identifies 29 African countries where FGM is known to be practised to some extent; Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda are identified as having the highest numbers of women who have experienced FGM.
However, as the research points out, defining risk based on country of origin may present a false view; families may change their attitudes towards FGM as a result of living in another culture and may have moved to a new country to escape pressure from their community to have their daughters subjected to FGM.
Forward’s research recommends that further research into the risk of FGM to children in this country should be undertaken. It also recommends that all professionals with responsibility for safeguarding should be made aware of FGM as a form of child abuse and how to refer their concerns. Forward suggests that schools should be prepared to talk to families where they have concerns that the family may be planning to take their daughters abroad to undergo FGM and make them aware of the law.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Child Bill Introduced

Khartoum - Zuleikha Abdel Raziq
The National Council for Child Welfare considered the incorporation of article (13) of the child law by the Council of Ministers regarding female genital mutilation into the criminal punishment law as not meaning the end of the road.
"The Council respects the decision of the Council of Ministers and the fatwa by the Academy of Islamic Jurisprudence", the Secretary General of National Council for Child Welfare, Amira al-Fadil al-Amin said.
However, she disclosed that the council's next step will be reopening dialogue at legal an religious levels, adding that the council earlier stated its vision on this deeply rooted malpractice in the Sudanese community. She stressed that the society is responsible for protecting child rights, affirming that the council will continue efforts aimed at eradicating female genital mutilation.   Mrs. Al-Fadil considered the recent approval of Child bill of 2009 as a positive step toward maintaining child rights.  The newly introduced bill containing 92 articles has been legislated in accordance with Sudan's Constitution and the international laws.
Regarding the incident of children abducted by a French organization, she stated that the case is pending compensation and trial of the accused French nationals. Mrs. Fadil affirmed that the parents of the children have hired French lawyers to follow up the case; however, the parents are having financial problems in this connection.
 On her part, Judge Awatif Abdulkareem, legal consultant with the National Council for Child Welfare, said that the new child law has secured various rights, notably on issues regarding compensation and compelling institutions to set up kindergartens belonging to the Ministry of Social Welfare, in accordance with a presidential decree, which demanded modern measures for prohibiting the appearing children before any court of law as witnesses or defendants. She revealed that the new bill has risen child legal responsibility age from 7-12. According to the new law, child rapists may face life jail or heavy fine.

Gambia: Zero Tolerance Against FGM Celebrated

Musa Barrow

10 February 2009

GAMCOTRAP, an NGO working for the eradication of harmful traditional practices, has on Friday, 6th February, 2009, celebrated 'Zero Tolerance Against FGM' at the Barra Hotelin the North Bank Region.

February 6th, is observed the world over as a day meant for calling for an end to Female Genital Mutilation.

Speaking on the occasion, which was attended by school children, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray, said the Zero Tolerance Against FGM was perceived in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), in 2003, when eighteen first ladies came up with a resolution looking at the issue of harmful traditional practices and how it affects the sexuality and well being of girls and women.

Dr. Touray said this resolution was later adopted by the United Nations. She told the gathering that her organisation is quite aware of the fact that a lot of work needs to be done in the North Bank Region and that they are trying to mobilise the necessary resources to carry out activities.

The GAMCOTRAP head used the occasion to read the following press release from the Inter-Africa Committee of UNECA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.:

To observe February 6, 2009, as International Day on Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutulatur, the inter Africa Committee on traditional practices are with her affiliates and partners across the world, calls on governments, parliamentarians, UN agencies, NGOs, donor community, religious leaders, community leaders, youths, communities and members of the press to make a greater commitment to ensure the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.

The theme for this year's observation is political will at the centre of achieving Zero Tolerance to FGM. The objective of observing February 6 is to draw the attention at the international and national levels to efforts that need to be exerted to force women and girls free from FGM, to accelerate action towards its elimination by the said target date of 2010.

According to the common agenda for action or 2015 being the target of MDGs.

Why focus on Female Genital Mutulation? Female Genital Mutulation is violence against women. It a violation of human rights principles, as stipulated in article 24:3 of the Convention on the Right of Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, other internationals and regional instruments and the Protocol to the Africa Charter on Human and People's Right, relating to the Rights of Women.

The MDGs advocate for the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women, reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal health. FGM refers to any practice that involves the partial or total removal or alteration of the external female genetalia or organs for none medical reasons. By a conservative estimate, about two million women and girls are subjected to FGM world wide with devastating consequences. Studies have shown a co-relation between FGM and high infant and materials mortality and mobility in African countries where FGM is practiced. There is also clinical evidence that FGM presents a serious risk in the transmission of HIV/AIDS, especially among societies who practice it as an initiation rite, using the same instrument on many girls at the same time.

February 6 was unanimously adopted at the International Conference on Zero Tolerance, organised by the Inter Africa Committee, from February 4th to 6 2003 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Representatives at the conference came from forty nine (49) countries, including four first ladies from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali and other representatives, ministers and parliamentarians, community and youth leaders.

IAC National Committee in twenty eight African Countries, its affiliates and partners in Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand , Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and USA will mark February 6 2009.

Some of the activities being organised by the inter Africa Committee include press conference, press interviews, theatre shows and songs by a school club in Addis Ababa, the headquarters of IAC.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Journalists forced to strip after being attacked by women's group

Article published on the 2009-02-10 Latest update 2009-02-10 17:07 TU
The road from Kenema to Kailahun District, Sierra Leone(Credit: Wikimedia)
Four female journalists were attacked by a pro-female genital mutilation (FGM) group on Monday and forced to stip naked and walk through the centre of Kenema, a town in the eastern part of the country. The four women were accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign last Friday, which marked the international day of tolerance for zero circumcision.
The women were reportedly still in a state of shock. Witnesses said that the women were forcibly taken to the forest headquarters of the Bondo society, a secret society that traditionally carries out FGM practices.
Secret societies in Sierra Leone have a lot of clout within the country, and politicians refuse to touch the topic for fear of losing votes.
"No comments have been made from the government. The police cannot do anything because there are no laws backing us up," said Laurel Bangura, the head of the Sierra Leone chapter of IACHTP, a pan-African committee on harmful traditional practices.
Bangura said that before now it was taboo to talk about FGM, but this extreme reaction to journalists covering the anti-FGM day shows a breakthrough in the hold that these societies once had.
During the Sierra Leonean war (1991-2002), there was no advocacy against female genital mutilation, said Bangura. Advocacy was started after the war, she added.
"But there is no security for advocates or journalists" in Sierra Leone, she said.
 Some 94 per cent of all women ages 15-49 within Sierra Leone have undergone female circumcision, according to United Nations statistics. The painful operation is usually performed by traditional practitioners in the bush in a non-sterile environment.

EDITORIAL : Ban Bondo in Sierra Leone now

Ya Mbalu , the local Digba or Sowei , is a very highly respected woman in the traditional Sierra Leonean society. She hardly goes anywhere to work for her living. Ya Mbalu, for all you know, may not go to work, but her pot is always boiling .Infact, her pot boils most in the society because the townsfolk larvish her with all she desires. In her yard are tethered the fattest cows, goats and sheep and she is even very strong also  on the monetary side .Women in the villages and towns rever her perhaps more than the Chief and she elicits tremendous clout, awe and respect wherever she goes. She is the local folk heroine .

But for all the benefits, priviledges , respect and awe she commands, Ya Mbalu is by no means a model citizen or inhabitant. She has caused a lot to distress to humanity .The woes that Ya Mbalu has inflicted could better be explained by Sorie, the local palm wine tapper. Seated in his small palm wine stall where townsfolk come to  enjoy the gourds of frothing , potent palm wine he sells, Sorie  could hardly help whispering to his buddies :  " Sengeh  put my daughter out again today . He says she was cold again  last night. He says that  even a corpse would have had some life. I don't know what to do any more .It's been like this for so long.I hear he is looking for another wife . Sisi Tenneh,  his aunt,  is looking for another woman for him. "  The other  men sympathized with Sorie, but some giggled lecherously  in excitement,  though Sorie's in -law's  problem is not uncommon to them. They know what their local palm wine man is talking about but it can only be whispered among men in secret.They dare not complain about it publicly.

The other day, an angry Fatu had her husband ,  the local barber,  Abu,  fined Le. 1 million for venting his frustration  about  her failure "to meet him halfway"  every night.  He attributed  it to "This your women's Society ". Fatu reported Abu to the much-feared Digba,  Ya Mbalu , who in turn  reported his "Offensive remark " to Chief Pa. Komrabai, who issued Abu a summons to appear in his local court. In court , Abu was given no chance to explain himself. He was chastised by the old chief, fined and warned that the Bondo women will be allowed to put a curse on him in future and have him develop "Bossin " if he ever "puts his mouth in their society business again".

In other parts of the town, even  local midwives are cussing under their breaths or complaining to their confidantes when they are sure that the walls have no ears. Their complaints are  different, but still very serious . To some, the women who come to them for delivery almost always seem to have problems during and after child birth. This is a problem they claim is rare in Freetown where their services are often procured. "Could it be true after all ?", Wuyata asked her collegue ,  Mankallay : "Is what the White Man's Book saying about our society true after all? Why do we have these problems only here upcountry or when we deliver native women ? Has it happened to you when you deliver non-native women?" Mankallay shook her head and bowed her face.

Mankallay herself underwent the same complications when she had Amadu, her son. In fact, if the midwife had not been good, both Abu and herself would not have come from the birth bed alive. Wuyata herself has lots of complaints about infections and unexplained pain she has every now and again. Both women, secretly to each other, have conceded that the problems they have could be traced back to the day Ya Mbalu performed female circumcision on them . Both women whisper to each other that they were suffering from the after-effects of their ordeal at Ya Mbalu's hands. However they dare not voice out their conclusions publicly to the hearing of other women. Apart from the torture and punishment that would be their lot, both women would be stigmatized in society forever for having the audacity to talk against a custom that "their great great grandmothers, great grandmothers and grandmothers underwent without complaint."

VERDICT : Sierra Leone faces a clear choice. She must either be prepared to be a nation of disabled and secretly-suffering women or put the Ya Mbalus out of business. The argument that the Bondo society must be banned has been raging in our country for too long and it is high time for the authorities to take action.

There is no reason for our country to continue to practice a procedure that has been proven to be harmful to our female population. Let the  pro-Bondo fanatics advance whatever arguments they want. They can no longer convince anybody that Bondo has a useful function in our society.

It has been proved by scientific studies that there is no correlation between  sexual promiscuity and female circumcision. Sex is purely a function of the human mind and the abuse of it is has no connection with the presence of a certain organ in females. God gave human beings the ability to control and suppress their sexual urges. In fact, it is an insult to the wise, good and omniscient God for human beings to seek to alter his creation. Every human part has a specific and important function and it is not within the rights of any human being to decree that a certain human organ is evil and should be excised. It is wrong. Neither the Bible nor the Quoran has an edict calling for female circumcision. The Bible decreed only male circumcision as a covenant between man and God.  

Women who take offence whenever calls are made for Bondo to be banned should realize that female circumcision, apart from all the harm it creates , is also a violation of the human rights of women. As a anti-Bondo activist, Aminata Toure,  rightly said in an article produced in another column in this newspaper, Female genital mutilation is a violation of the bodies of women . It has to be banned . We cannot afford to continue violating the human rights of women. Bondo has outlived its usefulness in our society, if indeed it was ever useful.

We also call for extensive education of women about the evils of female circumcision. Ignorance is an underlying reason for the fanatical spirit women demonstrate for the Bondo society. With thorogh education about the harm FGM is causing women, it would be easier to convince the digbas and soweis and adherents of the Bondo Society to cease the practice in Sierra Leone, as has happened in some other African countries.

The government must protect women and children yet unborn from this horror of genital mutilation . 

And it must be done expeditiously.

Women , after all, are the hands that rock the nation and we cannot afford to be a nation of disabled and suffering women. 

Ireland: TDs petition Justice Minister on female genital mutilation

Dara Gantly
The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform should strongly consider introducing specific legislation that would outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM) in Ireland.
The Joint Oireachtas Com-mittee on Health and Children also wants to prohibit parents of Irish-born children from sending their offspring to countries to have the procedure carried out. The call came on the same day that Nigerian woman Ms Pamela Izevbekhai lost her High Court challenge against her deportation. The mother of two, Naomi (7) and Jemima (6), claims that her children risk serious harm due to FGM if sent back to Nigeria.
Click here
Speaking after receiving a delegation from AkiDwA, an organisation that works on behalf of African women in Ireland, Committee Chairman Seán O’Fearghaill TD said that the Committee would be asking the Minister for Justice to look at the matter urgently, as there was ‘no place in Irish society for this barbaric practice’.
An estimated 2,585 women living in Ireland have undergone FGM and there are 9,624 women from countries which practice FGM residing here.
The European Court of Human Rights has requested that the Government refrain from deporting Ms Izevbekhai until it considers the case. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Sierra Leone: 'Soweis' Abduct Female Journalists

Sierra Leone: 'Soweis' Abduct Female Journalists
Mohamed Massaquoi
9 February 2009
Freetown — Two female journalists based in Kenema have been released after they were arrested by 'soweis' (initiators of the bondo FGM ceremonies).
Manjia Balama-Samba and Henrietta Youn Kpaka were Saturday held hostage by a group of women who apparently considered their reports, on the controversial female genital mutilation, as a blatant show of disrespect for tradition.
Chief initiator Haja Massah Kaisamba said the incident happened in the absence of the paramount chief who could have intervened before the journalists could be taken to the bush.
"I have told the women that the reporters were never against FGM per se. I have asked for a right to reply and I intend to use that opportunity clarify the issues and call on those women not to take any such actions without due consultation," she said.
Manjia Balama-Samba, a reporter for the United Nations radio and Henrietta Youn Kpaka of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) Kenema, were held hostage on Saturday morning at 'Kpanguwiama' (bondo bush) along Sahara Street.
The journalists had conducted several interviews as part of the media's collaboration with the inter-African committee on traditional practices (IAC) to observe February 6, 2009 as the 5th anniversary of the international day on zero tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM).
IAC said FGM has been recognized as violence against women and girls and coupled with other medical, social, psycho-sexual and economic consequences.
"The practice should not be allowed to continue under the guise of tradition or religion."
In an interview with Concord Times, one of the hostages, Kpaka explained from where she was being held that there was a radio programme on FGM and the Manjia being a reporter in the region was threatened on the phone, first by some unknown persons.
She said certain individuals later called on her to turn herself over to the 'sowies' or she would be attacked and her house would be burnt down.
"When I heard that Manjia was being held hostage, I decided to come and talk to her about the incident. The women did not allow me to talk to her. She was stripped of her clothes and surrounded by senior bondo women. All of them were furious about the incident, some saying the she had openly degraded their society."
Head of the independent media commission Bernadette Cole and the president of the Sierra Leone association of journalists Umaru Fofana have both condemned the abduction.
In a press release the journalist association said We condemn in the strongest of terms these illegal arrests and detention in a Bondo Bush of the journalists and reiterate our appeal to the public that formal and civilized channels exist for seeking redress which must be respected."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Female genital mutilation still persists in Cameroon

APA - Douala (Cameroon) Many Cameroonian women undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), with the magnitude of the disaster particularly reported in four of the country’s ten regions, APA learns Sunday from reliable sources.

The phenomenon affects more than 20 percent of the female population, according to official statistics released by the Ministry of Women and Family Promotion (MINPROFF).

The second World Day to Combat Female Genital Mutilation marked Friday under the theme "Fighting Against Female Genital Mutilation: a commitment for all”, was the occasion to note that the practice was still rooted in Cameroonian society.

These regions are Central, Eastern, Far North and the South-west, where there is a high concentration of animists and Muslims but also among the Christians in Yaounde, the capital.

Studies have shown that three types of FGM are practiced in Cameroon.

These include the type of excision called “Sunna”, which refers to the removal of part of the clitoris, then the “Clitoridectomy”, which is a complete removal of the clitoris with labia minora and finally the “infibulation”, that is an excision combined with removal of the labia majora with suturing of the two stumps.

“People used to cut them with the stalks of millet, then the razor blade, but nowadays knife is used to do so,” an excision practitioner said.

In addition to the psychological implications, women who have undergone genital mutilations face many risks such as the STDs/AIDS contamination, tetanus, including death itself.

The Cameroon Family Code does not recognize female genital mutilation, which exposes practitioners to custodial sentences and fines.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Still playing with the posting formats...

Just as an FYI to new readers there will be some initial inconsistencies on how articles are posted as I play with various ways to make them most useful. Please send feedback and comments on the blog to

UNICEF: Female genital cutting must stop

(UNICEF Press Release)

NEW YORK, 6 February 2009 – UNICEF today called for increased efforts to end female genital cutting, as the world marks International Day against Female Genital Mutilation.

“Some 70 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital cutting,” said Ann M. Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director. “While some communities have made real progress in abandoning this dangerous practice, the rights, and even the lives, of too many girls continue to be threatened.”

Female genital mutilation or cutting is the partial or total removal of the external genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs, undertaken for cultural or other non-medical reasons.

Although this practice is in decline, it remains prevalent in many countries – particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Recent studies have shown that female genital cutting affects women’s reproductive health and causes severe pain. It can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

A girl or woman who has been cut is at greater risk of complications when she gives birth. These complications can increase the chances of death or disability for both mother and child.

In February last year, 10 United Nations agencies expressed their commitment to the elimination of female genital cutting/mutilation, by pledging to support governments, communities, and women and girls to abandon the practice within a generation, with a major reduction in many countries by 2015, the year the Millennium Development Goals are set to be achieved.



UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments

For more information, please contact:

Najwa Mekki, UNICEF Media, NY, 1-212-326-7162,

UNICEF: Female genital cutting must stop

More efforts needed to end female genital mutilation: UNICEF

(From the Hindu News Update Service) New York (PTI): The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) asked for greater efforts to end female genital mutilation as the world body marked the International Day against the harmful practice that three million girls and women endure each year.

"Some 70 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital cutting," UNICEF Executive Director Ann M Veneman said in a message on the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation.

"While some communities have made real progress in abandoning this dangerous practice, the rights, and even the lives of too many girls continue to be threatened," she added.

Female genital mutilation or cutting is the partial or total removal of the external genitalia -undertaken for cultural or other non-medical reasons- often causing severe pain and sometimes resulting in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

Genital cutting can produce complications during child birth, increasing the chances of death or disability for both mother and child. More efforts needed to end female genital mutilation: UNICEF

Friday, February 6, 2009

UN calls for legislation on female circumcision

Kampala The United Nations is calling on the government to enact legislation that will abolish Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice widely condemned by health experts. The call came as the world marked the international day against Female Genital Mutilation  yesterday. ...
UN calls for legislation on female circumcision

PRB: Interview with Molly Melching on Abandoning Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

PRB hosted a session where Tostan founder Molly Melching was interviewed via live chat. Interview with Molly Melching on Abandoning Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

PRB: Interview With Berhane Ras-Work, Founding President of IAC

International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM: Interview With Berhane Ras-Work, Founding President of IAC

S/Leone anti-FGM activists sensitise communities on dangers of the practice

APA---Freetown [Sierra Leone] Gender activists have been commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] by storming communities and urging parents and initiators, to stop the practice, APA learns here Friday. S/Leone anti-FGM activists sensitise communities on dangers of the practice

World denounces female genital mutilation

An estimated 150 million women and children worldwide undergo female genital mutilation each year, in the name of tradition, religion or chastity. Voices are rising against the practice, but they have a hard time being heard. World denounces female genital mutilation

Commentary on Female Genital Mutilation

The Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional practices affecting women and children (IAC) with its National Committees in 29 African countries including Ghana championed the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) because it considered it as violence against women and girls. It also has medical, social, psycho-sexual and economic consequences on women. But the question is how effective is the education on the harmful effects of FGM. ... Commentary on Female Genital Mutilation

Female Genital Mutilation Knows No Borders

PRETORIA, Feb 6 (IPS) - Laws against female genital mutilation are driving the practice underground and across borders, says UNIFEM. A study released in 2008 looked at the flow of girls traveling to be excised between Burkina Faso and its neighbours Mali, Niger, Ghana and Cote d’ Ivoire. Except Mali, all four countries in the study have laws against female genital mutilation (FGM), although enforcement varies widely. ... Female Genital Mutilation Knows No Borders

UNICEF commends Sudan effort to end female genital mutilation

UNICEF commends Sudan effort to end female genital mutilation As the world commemorates International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation today, UNICEF has commended efforts by Sudan’s Government of National Unity, civil society and local communities to bring an end to the practice in the country. ...

Former traditional practitioner helps moving towards the abandonment of female genital cutting in Niger

A ReliefWeb Article picked up from UNICEF: Former traditional practitioner helps moving towards the abandonment of female genital cutting in Niger MARADI, Niger, 6 February 2009 – "I was 17 when I got married. I was young and I wouldn't accept sexual intercourse with my husband. His family was convinced that I was possessed. They decided to take me to the village barber's to save me from evil spirits", Hinda Atou recalls. Today, aged 25, the young woman remembers the intervention she underwent eight years ago: dangouria."I was so terrified that I did not feel the pain during that very moment. But it hurts a lot during the following weeks. And after a while, the pain stopped." ...

UNICEF: International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation observed today

A Press Release/Article from UNICEF International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation observed today KHARTOUM, 6 February 2009 - As the world commemorates International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation today, UNICEF has commended efforts by Sudan’s Government of National Unity, civil society and local communities to bring an end to the practice in the country. ...

Tackle the root cause of FGM

Uganda today joins the rest of the world to commemorate the international day for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This practice, which has no place in the modern world, is still endemic in many countries and locally in the districts of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Nakapiripirit. Tackle the root cause of FGM

Article: Only educating girls can help eradicate female circumcision

An article out of Uganda:

Only educating girls can help eradicate female circumcision

Today, Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark the international day of zero-tolerance to FGM. There have been efforts to fight the practice in Uganda, but, among others, the practice is fuelled by poverty. Frederick Womakuyu writes that it is only through provision of scholarships to girls and benefits to the surgeons that the practice will be completely wiped out...