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Friday, January 29, 2010

Female Genital Mutilation - a European issue

January 28, 2010
By Mary Honeyball (Member of European Parliament)

FGM/C (female genital mutilation/cutting) is a controversial and divisive issue which tends to spark strong feeling from those on all sides of the debate. This practice, which in my view is deeply abhorrent, is typically associated with countries such as Somalia and Nigeria. Yet what most people fail to realise is that this harmful custom is also increasingly affecting girls and women in parts of Europe, including the UK.
While figures on FGM are patchy (particularly in Europe as it is often not reported to authorities), it is nonetheless estimated that almost 130 million women throughout the world have been subject to mutilation. The UK has in recent years seen a rise in the numbers of cases. A study by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, usually prior to leaving their country of origin. The 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act is supposed to protect girls and women taken overseas for the purpose of genital mutilation; yet, shockingly, there have been no prosecutions under the law to date.
In order to raise awareness about this issue, I was asked to host an event yesterday in the European Parliament, ‘Abandonment of Social Norms Harmful to Girls and Women’, which focused on the practice of FGM. It was organised by UNICEF, and brought together speakers, predominantly women, from all over the world. I opened the event with a few words about how the problem of FGM has been addressed at the European level. Others, such as Francesca Moneti, who is a Senior Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF’s office in New York, spoke about how the practice has been impacting upon women generally.
While there is currently no harmonised EU legislation on FGM, the EU has nonetheless made some important gains. The EU-funded Daphne programme, which seeks to combat violence against children, young people and women, has been the prime source of funding for awareness-raising, prevention, and protection of those who experience, or are at risk from, FGM. As of September 2008, it had financed 14 FGM-related projects, involving a total of €2.4 million.
During the past two years, The European Network for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation (EuroNet-FGM) has supported the establishment and development of National Action Plans for the elimination of female genital mutilation in 15 EU countries. It also organised an International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation in the EU, held in Brussels in April 2009.
The problem is that measures like these, while praise-worthy, have so far been ineffective in stopping FGM in Europe. So what more should we expect of the European Union? In a 2008 report by the Women’s Rights Committee, it was suggested that a European Health Protocol should be established to monitor the numbers of women who have undergone FGM. It is true that the gathering of scientific data might be an important tool to assist efforts in ridding the world of FGM. Yet before that can happen, I believe that all European governments should publicly recognise the problem of FGM in Europe and bring it up as a key issue at all levels. One opportunity to do this would be on ‘International Zero Tolerance to FGM day,’ which began in 2003 and takes place on the 6th of February.
However, simply denouncing FGM and condemning perpetrators cannot alone bring about the necessary change. FGM will only disappear if people, both women and men, are satisfied that they could give up the practice without doing away with important aspects of their culture. For this to happen there needs to be more dissemination of information and appropriate education about this issue.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

GAMCOTRAP targets LRR in campaign against FGM

January 27, 2010
By Today, The Gambia's Quality Newspaper Online

The community sensitization was conducted with over three hundred and fifty participants targeting Community Leaders including Chiefs and Alkalolu, Women of Reproductive age, Women leaders and male and Female Youths from the six districts of the region.
The series of training workshops aimed at reaching out to communities in the region to create awareness on issues of traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, early and force marriages, inheritance, amongst other sexual and reproductive health and rights issues affecting women and girls and gender based violence.
In his welcome address to participants, the Chief of Jarra West, Seyfo Yaya Jarjusey noted the campaign to stop female genital mutilation which has been going on for more than twenty years and observed that people are accepting to stop. He observed that to change peoples' attitude and practices, it is important to go through the right structures and reaching out to different target groups in the region including the community leaders such as the Chiefs, Alkalolu and Council of Elders is in the right direction. Chief Jarjusey informed the participants that many countries in Africa have enacted a law against FGM and as Gambians "we have to move on with the changing circumstances in life".
He called on the participants to share the knowledge they gather from the training with others who could not have the opportunity to attend.
He informed them that the advocacy for a law in The Gambia is advancing, and it is important for people to be aware before a bill is presented to the Parliament.
FGM is not a religious obligation, yet it affects women's sexual and reproductive health. He welcomed the campaign in the region and was optimistic that the region would be the next to have the Dropping of the Knife celebration sooner rather than later.
He thanked Dr. lsatou Touray and her team for respecting the rights of the people in the communities and expressed appreciation to the Honourable Member of Parliament for Jarra East, Bafaye Saidykhan and the chairperson of Mansakonko Area Council for attending and giving support to the programme.
In his remarks, Honourable Bafaye Saidykhan informed the youths that the Members of Parliament had training with GAMCOTRAP and they recommended that they should reach out to their constituencies.
This training targeting the LRR has proven that GAMCOTRAP is reaching out to their people as recommended by the Members of Parliament. Honourable Saidykhan called on the girls to pay specific attention because they are most affected and to learn and be aware of the efforts to empower them.
The chairperson of Mansakonko Area Council, Foday Camara said they are obliged to change and would collaborate with GAMCOTRAP to bring about the desired change in protecting the children.
FGM, he noted has complications on families and when they get the information; they should champion the course of change and protect the children. "I attended the first programme at the Soma health Centre and that night I could not sleep. Henceforth I decided never to subject my children through the practice because the health of my children is my priority," he asserted.
He called on participants to open up and allow for change through seeking information that will free them from the practice. He urged GAMCOTRAP to target more young people and work towards law reform.
Mr. Camara was optimistic that the batch of youths trained would make change and would share the information with the right targets.
He thanked GAMCOTRAP for the work and described it as "reducing the burden on government in terms of health care".
In her remarks, the executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Touray informed the participants that the advocacy work towards law reform is to ban Female Genital Mutilation, as The Gambia has signed and ratified international and regional conventions to protect women and children from FGM and other harmful traditional practices that need to be domesticated to specific laws.
She pointed out that the lack of law against FGM in The Gambia is creating opportunity for Senegalese in border villages to come to The Gambia and perform FGM.
She thanked the trained circumcisers for their commitment to protect girls wherever they are and commended Hawa Chune of Misira, Jarra Kabada for protecting eleven girls brought from Karaful village in Cassamance Region of Senegal for FGM.
Dr. Touray called for promotion of positive traditional practices that would protect the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in order to reduce maternal and child mortality and morbidity amongst women of reproductive age.
She further dilated on the other issues where GAMCOTRAP works in the promotion of women's human rights and awareness raising. She called on the women to join together and fight their cause.
Speaking to the young people, Dr. Touray welcomed the participants and informed the youths that GAMCOTRAP puts emphasis on the youths and thus the creation of the GAMCOTRAP Youth Advocacy Group - GAMYAG.
She asserted that no girl should be a drop out because of early and forced marriages; and noted the importance of training youths as future leaders who have to be well informed to protect the next generation of girls from FGM, as well as respect the rights of women and children.
Women's leader and GAMCOTRAP community based facilitator, Aja Fatou Njie Fofana-Jarjusey of Soma called on the participants to take leadership in their own families and be firm as role models in protecting girls from FGM. Similar sentiments were shared by the Women's Councilor for Jarra West, Mbaka Drammeh, who called for women to unite for their own benefit.
Participants were exposed to issues of gender based violence, women and children's rights, lslam and FGM, reproductive health and the effects of FGM.
Most of the participants came to consensus that FGM should stop and called for sensitization in all the districts in Lower River Region, as well as advocate for a law to protect girls from FGM.

Monday, January 25, 2010

UNICEF and European Commission support drive to end female genital cutting in Senegal

January 22, 2010 By Chris Niles - Unicef

SOUDIANE BAMBARA, Senegal, 22 January 2010 – Marie, 19, is home for the school holidays and is helping her aunt with the household chores. In the heat of the midday sun, she washes clothes by hand and hangs them out to dry.

Her village is remote and her family is poor, but young women like Marie are the face of the new Senegal, a country that is making a historic push to end female genital cutting, or excision.

"I can say that I am the first girl in the village to get a high school diploma," she said.

Senegal has made astonishing progress. In little more than a decade, nearly four of the five thousand practicing communities have announced that they will abandon cutting. Many feel it is now possible to totally end female genital cutting in Senegal by 2015.

Total abandonment in sight

"Senegal might be, very soon, the first country to declare a total abandonment of excision," said UNICEF Representative in Senegal Mariam Coulibaly Ndiaye.

The last two years have seen the most rapid change, thanks in part to support from the European Commission for UNICEF partners in Senegal.

"It's very important to highlight that through the support UNICEF receives, it is changing mentalities—that has happened through a focus on human rights," said European Commission Spokesperson Anne Jean Bart.

Non-formal classes lie at the heart of this enormous change. They're conducted by UNICEF partner Tostan and they start with villagers learning about vital health issues such as handwashing and malaria prevention.

Sharing knowledge

The classes encourage participants to think about their goals and desires in terms of human rights—making it possible for them to reconsider practices that are discriminatory and harmful.

The programme, which encourages people to take responsibility for their own communities, brings taboo subjects such as domestic violence and sex abuse into the open.

Non-formal learning encourages role play, poetry and song. Afterwards, participants share their new knowledge with others.

"When you talk about transforming social norms you can't do it just by one community. You have to go from one community to another; you have to go beyond the boundaries," said Ms. Coulibaly Ndiaye.

Thanks to the support of the European Commission, UNICEF and Tostan are helping Senegalese communities to take the lead and spread the word to other countries in the region.

Meanwhile, Marie's life is a testimony to the wider possibilities that have opened up for girls here. She—and the other girls in her village—know that they do not have to get married early, and they can decide to pursue a career.

"I would like to go to university but my parents are so poor I can't afford it, so I'm going to become a nurse so I can help my parents," she said.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Mauritanian Muslim imams initiate rare ban on female circumcision

January 21, 2010 By George Fominyen - AlertNet DAKAR (AlertNet) - Human rights campaigners who have been struggling for years to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) in West Africa got a boost this week as news emerged that a group of Muslim clerics and scholars in Mauritania had declared a fatwa, or religious decree, against the practice. The centuries-old practice involves removing part or all of a girl's clitoris and labia, and sometimes narrowing the vaginal opening. About 72 percent of the women in Mauritania have undergone FGM which health workers say often causes severe bleeding, problems urinating and potential complications during childbirth. "Are there texts in the Koran that clearly require that thing? They do not exist," the secretary general of the Forum of Islamic Thought in Mauritania, Cheikh Ould Zein, told Reuters. "On the contrary, Islam is clearly against any action that has negative effects on health. Now that doctors in Mauritania unanimously say that this practice threatens health, it is therefore clear that Islam is against it," he added. In many parts of West Africa, FGM has been presented as a religious obligation for practising Muslim women, leading most to believe that if they are not circumcised they are unclean and their prayers will not be heard. Which makes the decision by 34 imams and scholars -- supported by the government of Mauritania and UNICEF, the United Nations' children's agency -- all the more unusual. "The fact that the religious leaders in Mauritania are standing up and doing this is quite amazing. It shows how concerned Islam and the religion of Islam is about the health of women," said Molly Melching, executive director of Tostan, a Senegal-based organisation that has been working with 30 communities in Mauritania on FGM and rights issues. MORE DECREES TO COME? UNICEF estimates that 3 million girls and women are cut each year across communities in 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East. So, what is the likelihood of seeing similar bans on female circumcision in other countries? Well, it's hard to say. A fatwa in itself is generally binding only to those who follow a particular imam, so communities could be subject to contradictory decrees. Moreover, not all the communities in the other countries of sub-Saharan Africa where the practice continues are Muslim -- reflecting the fact that, as a longstanding cultural practice, FGM may be hard to end especially when campaigners use judgmental approaches. "In the past, people have gone into communities and simply told them to stop this practice because it is bad and they display pictures of naked women and their reproductive organs in communities where this is shocking," Melching said. Many organisations including Tostan and Save the Children believe this approach failed to stop the practice because it ignored the cultural context in which the targeted communities were living. "I once asked a community: 'do you have the right to cut somebody's hand?' They said no. 'Do you have the right to cut somebody's head or foot?' They said no. So why do you cut somebody's sexual organ?" said Ame Atsu David, a former regional programme coordinator for HIV and harmful traditional practices of Save the Children (Sweden) in West Africa. "This got them thinking," she told AlertNet. Many campaigners back an approach which involves human rights, education, community development, health care and leaves the decision to the communities themselves. A Save the Children-backed campaign run by the Mali Centre Djoliba based on this approach has seen 40 villages abandon female circumcision and set up community groups to oversee the implementation of the decision in a country where over 80 percent of the women have experienced FGM. In Senegal, 4,121 villages have abandoned FGM since 1997 with the support of Tostan whose work has been praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and has also contributed to a law against FGM which was passed in the country in 1999. "But a law is not what will change a social norm. For it to be sustainable it has to come from the people, a decision made by the people, because they really believe in it," Melching said. "The key is empowering people to make their own decisions but with good information," she told AlertNet. (Additional reporting by Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott)

The latest Human Rights Watch World Report and FGM in Kurdistan

January 21, 2010

By Thomas v. der Osten-Sacken - Stop FGM in Kurdistan Blog

Human Rights Watch mentions FGM in Iraqi-Kurdistan twice in its latest World Report.


Female genital mutilation is practiced mainly in Kurdish areas of Iraq; reportedly 60 percent of Kurdish women have undergone this procedure, although the KRG claimed that the figures are exaggerated. Girls and women receive conflicting and inaccurate messages from public officials on its consequences. The Kurdistan parliament in 2008 passed a draft law outlawing FGM, but the ministerial decree necessary to implement it, expected in February 2009, was inexplicably cancelled.

And here:

In 2009 Human Rights Watch found that health providers in Iraqi Kurdistan were involved in both performing and promoting misinformation about the practice of female genital mutilation.

FGM is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as all practices “involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The investigation found that FGM was practiced by midwives, but that its prevalence and harm were routinely minimized by physicians and government medical officials. For example, one physician explained to Human Rights Watch that she counselled patients that “circumcision is nothing; it does not influence life because a woman is sensitive in all her parts.”[8] Government medical providers routinely told Human Rights Watch that FGM was uncommon-despite surveys finding nearly half of all girls to be circumcised-and promoted false information in media campaigns. One woman told Human Rights Watch that on television “a [government] doctor explained that FGM is normal…. The doctor said, ‘If you do it or not it’s still the same.’”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

FORWARD Awarded £30,000 To Help Protect Bristol Girls From Genital Mutilation

January 20, 2010

By Bristol City Council

National campaign group, FORWARD have been awarded a £30,000 contract to work with Bristol communities to help support girls and women who may be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Illegal in the UK, FGM involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia and is a cultural practice carried out in more than 28 African countries, plus some Asian and South American countries.

In Bristol, the Bristol Safeguarding Children's Board has been leading a multi-agency effort to raise awareness of the issue and train professionals in spotting signs that a girl may be vulnerable to FGM. Forward will be working with community groups, training local advocates, talking to young people, running a pilot drop-in advice centre and providing feedback and training to health workers to improve services.

Chair of the Bristol Safeguarding Children Board Dr Ray Jones said:

“Female genital mutilation has very serious health implications for girls in this country. Cutting is usually performed before puberty and we estimate that around 1500 girls in Bristol are at risk.

“There are many myths around the practice but there is no religious text that supports or promotes any form of FGM. By commissioning FORWARD to do this work we will help girls and women build confidence, awareness and self-determination to make informed choices and access the services they need.”

FGM carries the risk of death from bleeding or tetanus, and long-term problems including urinary incontinence, recurrent infections and chronic pain. Reversal procedures are necessary for childbirth.

FORWARD Executive Director Naana Otoo-Oyortey said:

“Community engagement forms a vital entry point in changing this old practice of female genital mutilation. Creating spaces and dialogue to discuss and build skills of key community stakeholders and players will help strengthen change and safeguard rights and wellbeing of affected communities.”

Avon and Somerset Constabulary Detective Chief Inspector with the Public Protection Unit Dave McCallum said:

"Female genital mutilation is a serious crime attracting a prison sentence of up to fourteen years. If underage children are involved it is also classed as child abuse. Because the consequences of female genital mutilation for girls and women are so harmful, our primary focus must be on preventing it from happening.

"Anyone considering instigating this procedure, carrying it out or arranging for it to be performed on their children or any other female should be in no doubt that Avon and Somerset Police will thoroughly investigate any suspicion or incident with a view to prosecution.

"We would strongly urge anyone with information about any woman or girl who might be at risk to report it without delay. We would also ask the public to tell us about anyone involved in carrying out or arranging this practice. It can be reported to the police directly or through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 - they never ask your name and never trace your call.

"We are fully committed to working with our communities, partner agencies and organisations to stop this damaging practice and this new work will be invaluable in assisting us to achieve this objective."

NHS Bristol Designated Nurse for Safeguarding Children Jackie Mathers said:

“One of the best ways that we can raise awareness and encourage reporting is by making sure that front-line health staff are trained to recognise the signs that girls might vulnerable to FGM. Six hundred professionals working in health, education, the police, social services and the voluntary sector have already been trained and we hope to reach more this year.”

FGM will be discussed in Davos at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum

January 19, 2010
By Care2
Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of End FGM Now has won the Davos Debates 2010 on YouTube. Julia from London will pitch her cause to end female genital mutilation before the 2500 participants attending the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos from 27-31 January 2010. Julia was among the four finalists chosen by the independent jury and her pitch was voted on in a popular vote on YouTube. In her winning video Julia said: "Why send me to Davos? Because I want to ask those innovative and intrepid world leaders to put their hearts and minds and power behind ending FGM. Because it has existed in the margins for too long, it needs to be in the mainstream!". Julia will be defend her cause on a special panel with Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Managing Director of the Grameen Bank and Nicholas Kristof, Columnist of The New York Times. In the coming days you will be able to put your questions to the panel through the YouTube Davos channel. The panel will be streamed live on Saturday 30 January from 15.30 - 16.45 CET on Livestream and on the YouTube Davos channel.

Mauritania: Islamic Leaders Speak Against Female Genital Cutting

January 19, 2010

By Alex Thurston - Sahel blog

Thirty-four Mauritanian ulama have come together to ban female genital cutting:

The fatwa, signed in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, states that the procedure has been proven to be harmful either at the time or subsequently.

[...]Health campaigners estimate that more than 70 percent of Mauritanian girls undergo the partial or total removal of their external genitalia for non-medical reasons.

Magharebia adds some context. The fatwa was signed early last week, at a seminar organized by the Forum of Islamic Thought. Given the unprecedented level of participation (individual fatwas against circumcision have come out before, one source said, but never a fatwa with so much backing), and government support, the event’s organizers are expressing satisfaction and optimism:

“The meeting was important. Lots of arrangements had to be made, since the topic is sensitive and vital,” Dr. Sheikh Ould Zein Ould Imam, the forum’s secretary general and professor of jurisprudence at the University of Nouakchott, told Magharebia in the capital on Thursday.

“There’s no doubt that the fatwa will substantially curb [FGM], since it removes the religious mask such practices were hiding behind,” the professor said. “We do need, however, a media campaign to highlight the fatwa, explain it and expound upon its religious and social significance.”

Though popular reaction is hard for me to gauge, some women were happy to go on record in support of the fatwa.

Many of the women that Magharebia met in the capital on Thursday applauded the seminar’s outcome.

“I believe that convening an Islamic seminar in Nouakchott these days to discuss [FGM] is a gigantic step, because it has smashed the religious taboo shrouding that phenomenon,” said Alia, 24, a student. “Using religion to justify harm is nothing but systematic ideological terrorism.”

“That workshop, which we all followed, has substantially contributed to containing a danger that threatens women in a socially conservative country like this one,” she added.

Some women told Magharebia that the recent change was actually long overdue.

“Where were those imams for the past decades, when [FGM] killed dozens of girls each year?” asked Alia’s friend Miriam, a 30-year-old housewife who was circumcised at an early age. “Were the imams and circumcision victims on two different planets? Personally speaking, I find no answer to those questions.”

“All I am trying to say is that we needed that circumcision-prohibiting fatwa a long time ago,” she added. “I was victimised by that brutal custom when I was seven, and it left an indelible psychological scar.”

Searching around for information on the Forum of Islamic Thought, I found relatively little. However, this essay by Dr. Cheikh Ould Zein Ould Liman on “The Role of Ulama in Development in Mauritania” (French) from a May 2008 conference makes it clear that the anti-circumcision fatwa did not come out of nowhere. In the essay Liman argues that Islam has been and should be a positive force in development, and outlines proposals for how Islamic scholars can contribute to development in Mauritania. It appears this fatwa forms one part of that strategy.

Last summer, we saw one type of Islamic political engagement in democracy in thedebate over the Malian family code. This fatwa represents a very different type of engagement by Islamic actors in civil society, and I don’t want to draw a direct comparison, but at the broadest level we can say that Islamic thinkers throughout the Sahel are experimenting with new techniques for making their voices heard in society and politics.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


January 188, 2010
By cooljoe - NBF Topics

Thirty four Islamic scholars in Mauritania have signed a fatwa, or religious opinion, banning the practice of female genital mutilation.

The fatwa, signed in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, states that the procedure has been proven to be harmful either at the time or subsequently.
Many Mauritanian women have welcomed the move.
Female genital mutilation has been recognised globally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
But that message has been slow to filter down in parts of north, east and west Africa where the practice is still widespread.
Health campaigners estimate that more than 70 percent of Mauritanian girls undergo the partial or total removal of their external genitalia for non-medical reasons.
The World Health Organisation says there are no health benefits and many potentially damaging consequences, from severe pain and blood loss to recurrent infections, infertility and an increased risk of complications in childbirth.
Taboo ’smashed’
Mutilations are carried out for a mix of cultural and social reasons, and many believe the practice has Islamic religious support, even if this isn’t always the case.
A law professor at Nouakchott University said the collective fatwa would greatly reduce female genital mutilation in Mauritania because it would remove what he called the religious mask that the practice hides behind.
Mauritanian women in Nouakchott also welcomed what one said was the smashing of a religious taboo.
However, others have cautioned that a publicity campaign will now be needed if the fatwa’s message is to be spread into outlying areas where genital mutilation is most common.

Innovative Approach to Ending Female Genital Cutting in Africa Praised in New Book by Kristof and WuDunn

By Health Promotion

“Half the Sky” devotes chapter to uplifting story of nonprofit Tostan and its founder, Molly Melching, whose grassroots program has empowered over 4,000 communities in Africa to publicly abandon this centuries-old practice and lead movements for change in many other areas of their lives.

NEW YORK – Tostan, an international nonprofit organization whose program has catalyzed more than 4,000 villages in Senegal, Guinea, The Gambia and elsewhere to publicly abandon Female Genital Cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage, is featured in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

The book, due for release September 8th, is a tour de force of women’s oppression worldwide and describes advances now being made by women that not only improve their lives but also the welfare of their families and communities in some of the poorest regions of the world. The book cites the "stunning difference” being made by Tostan and its founder, Molly Melching, in the lives of thousands of young women whose communities have decided to abandon the practice of FGC after going through Tostan’s education program, which engages communities to work on democracy, human rights, health, literacy, microcredit, and leadership.

Kristof and WuDunn emphasize the unique approach of the program to successfully address the practice of FGC, based on a deep understanding of local culture and the need for grassroots community leadership, not a top down imposition.

"We have achieved this breakthrough mainly because we have listened carefully to the communities and have followed their lead,” says Melching, who has lived in West Africa for the past 35 years. “As shocking as FGC may be to some, we have come to understand that people were not following this practice to harm their daughters but rather that it was deeply rooted in their culture, accepted as the norm by the community, and adhered to because they love their daughters and want them to be accepted.”

The book also highlights the important role played by language and respect in Tostan's program, noting Tostan's refusal to use the phrase “female genital mutilation” or to claim that it is "fighting" this practice. Melching explains that “harsh judgmental messages or impositions from the outside don’t lead to substantial change and can actually be counterproductive, stimulating resistance and anger."

As Kristof and WuDunn note, Tostan has instead focused on a key insight in most cases the practice can only be addressed when large social networks come together to make collective decisions.

“For one family to give up FGC means stigma and total exclusion; a social death that no parent would wish for his or her daughter,” Melching explains. “This is why we work through social networks, so that communities can discuss this practice in a way that is uniting rather than dividing, and come to consensus. When communities make the decision to stop, they announce it through a public declaration, which sends a powerful signal to the entire group that they are making this change.”

A UNICEF evaluation released in September, 2008, confirmed that Tostan's model leads to long-term abandonment of the practice, and the Government of Senegal has decided to fully integrate Tostan’s model into its national strategy for FGC abandonment. Tostan also recently announced a plan for rapid expansion, committing to reach 3,000 new communities in the next five years.

“We know that foot binding in China ended in a similar way, in one generation” says Melching. “The same is possible with FGC.”

About Tostan: Tostan, the US 501c3 organization that Melching founded in 1991, currently has over 1,000 full-time staff and community facilitators, and is working in over 800 communities in eight countries in Africa. Its US office is based in Washington, D.C. Tostan has been the recipient of several awards including the 2007 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the UNESCO King Sejong Prize for Literacy, and Sweden’s 2005 Anna Lindh Award for Human Rights. For more information, please visit

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mauritanian Islamic leaders ban genital mutilation

January 15, 2010

By Mohamed Yahya Ould Abdel Wedoud - Magharebia

Thirty-four renowned Mauritanian religious and national figures this week signed a fatwa banning female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that remains widespread in some parts of the country.

The fatwa, whose authors convened in Nouakchott on Monday and Tuesday (January 11th-12th), states that FGM "has been proven by experts to be detrimental, immediately or subsequently. Hence, such a practice, as is performed domestically, is hereby prohibited, on account of the harm it gives rise to".

The authors cited the work of Islamic legal expert Ibn al-Hajj as support for their assertion that "[s]uch practices were not present in the Maghreb countries over the past centuries".

FGM is "not an instinctive habit, according to the Malkis; therefore, it was abandoned in northern and western regions of the country," added the authors, who were meeting in a seminar organised by the Forum of Islamic Thought. Mauritanian Islamic leaders, the association of ulema and government officials all took part in the event.

"The meeting was important. Lots of arrangements had to be made, since the topic is sensitive and vital," Dr. Sheikh Ould Zein Ould Imam, the forum's secretary general and professor of jurisprudence at the University of Nouakchott, told Magharebia in the capital on Thursday.

"There's no doubt that the fatwa will substantially curb [FGM], since it removes the religious mask such practices were hiding behind," the professor said. "We do need, however, a media campaign to highlight the fatwa, explain it and expound upon its religious and social significance."

Many of the women that Magharebia met in the capital on Thursday applauded the seminar's outcome.

"I believe that convening an Islamic seminar in Nouakchott these days to discuss [FGM] is a gigantic step, because it has smashed the religious taboo shrouding that phenomenon," said Alia, 24, a student. "Using religion to justify harm is nothing but systematic ideological terrorism."

"That workshop, which we all followed, has substantially contributed to containing a danger that threatens women in a socially conservative country like this one," she added.

Some women told Magharebia that the recent change was actually long overdue.

"Where were those imams for the past decades, when [FGM] killed dozens of girls each year?" asked Alia's friend Miriam, a 30-year-old housewife who was circumcised at an early age. "Were the imams and circumcision victims on two different planets? Personally speaking, I find no answer to those questions."

"All I am trying to say is that we needed that circumcision-prohibiting fatwa a long time ago," she added. "I was victimised by that brutal custom when I was seven, and it left an indelible psychological scar."

In his opening address at the seminar on Monday, the secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Mohamed Ould Ely Telmoudy, said it was necessary to arrive at a commonly-agreed on medical opinion that highlights the hazards of FGM, in collaboration with international organizations such as UNICEF.

"FGM is one of the harmful customs that victimise Mauritanian women, especially in Brakna, Gorgol, Assaba, and Hodh Ech Chargui, where FGM is practiced against 72% of the local women," he added.

"We used to hear – from time to time – about some individual fatwas prohibiting circumcision," sociologist Mukhtar Ould Waled told Magharebia. "This time, however, we have a collective fatwa presented by 34 eminent religious scholars."

"[FGM] is a social phenomenon whose religious cloak we need to unravel," added Waled. "Only then can it become penetrable and destructible. The present event is a clear signal that circumcision can be totally eradicated in the future."

Uganda - Education will end Female Genital Mutilation

January 13, 2010

By The Observer

Parliament last month passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, which makes it a criminal offence for anyone to perform, aid or promote female circumcision. Given the harmful effects of this practice, the enactment of the law is a positive step. It is a strong indicator of the goal that Uganda should be shooting at as regards our girls and women.

But whereas Parliament and anti-FGM activists jumped a tall hurdle when this law was passed, in reality a lot remains to be done to ensure that this unfortunate cultural practice comes to an end.

According to our investigations, some in areas that practise FGM feel that government has not done enough to persuade traditionalists to discard this culture.

Others feel that the MPs didn't explain the bill even as it was being tabled in Parliament. Although progressive elites in these areas have long fought FGM, the more conservative, less educated people will want to see the bill as a Kampala-made law.

So, besides enforcing the law, what is critically needed is mass sensitization in homes, churches, mosques, markets and villages, etc. The government and all stakeholders should embark on an elaborate plan both to explain the law and further explain the dangers of FGM.

The law should only come in to supplement the campaign, rather than banking on it per se to end female circumcision because it may not succeed. One of the most effective ways to make the practice unattractive is to send all children - both boys and girls to school.

In addition, why can't the ministries of gender and Education team up to ensure FGM is taught in all schools in affected areas, for instance from primary three upwards?

As one elder who spoke to The Observer suggested, if the government established very good schools and emphasised education, particularly of the girl child in these areas, the practice would die a natural death.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Female Circumcision: Challenges Remain Despite New Law

January 13, 2010 By Richard M. Kavuma - The Observer As a 27-year-old primary school teacher, Doreen is among the most educated people in her village in Binyinyi Sub-county, Kapchorwa District, and it is not surprising that she is not “yet” circumcised.

For generations, the Sabiny have been circumcising both boys and girls as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. For females, the circumcision, also practised by the Pokot, Tepeth and Karimojong, involves cutting part of, or the whole of their clitoris. Traditionally, one of the reasons for circumcising women is that it suppresses the sexual appetite of women and therefore makes them less likely to commit adultery.

But over the last 50 years, more and more girls – especially the educated – have escaped this female genital mutilation (FGM), which dehumanises women and may lead to complications during child birth. In December, Parliament passed the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Bill, moved by Kinkizi East MP, Chris Baryomunsi, which provides for prison sentences for anyone carrying out or aiding FGM. Yet, despite her education and the new law, Doreen says she just may decide to undergo the circumcision ritual, which explains why she says she has not “yet” been circumcised. “I am very happy that the law has been passed but I don’t know how effective it will be here because these cultural things are very strong,” says Doreen, who has been married for four years and already has two children. “I have not undergone circumcision but for many reasons, I am likely to go for it. I am facing so many disturbances because I am not circumcised.” Around the time MPs were passing the anti-FGM bill in Kampala, Doreen and an uncircumcised neighbour walked down to the village stream to draw water. As they waited in the queue, a group of women, some of whom were only circumcised in December 2008, arrived and reminded them that much as they are mothers, they are still considered children. “These women just pushed our jerry cans away, saying there was no way girls like us could get water before them,” Doreen recalls, narrating the stigma and social discrimination that uncircumcised married women often face. They, for instance, may be barred from speaking at community meetings and they are not allowed to get grain from the granary or cow dung from the kraal. Another hurdle for women like Doreen comes at the time of circumcising boys. A mother who is not circumcised is not allowed to attend the circumcision of her sons. And her husband’s great friends with whom he was circumcised – the Pasiben – may boycott the party. “Even at home, whenever you make a mistake, your husband may go like ‘ah, this girl!’ as if to suggest that if you were circumcised you would not have made such a mistake. I am tired of being called a girl all the time,” Doreen says. Because of such social pressure, many married women decide to undergo the ritual. Doreen’s neighbour, Lillian, already married for three years with two children, was one of 17 women circumcised here in December 2008. Before then, she was not allowed to serve her father-in-law tea or meet her husband’s friends when they visited. “We were smeared with ash-like powder, dressed in kitenge and we went dancing and singing from one home to another for the whole day,” Lillian, 23, says of the day before the ceremony. “I really enjoyed it.” Qualified support All people talked to in Kapchorwa said they supported the law stopping FGM, but they admit that the tradition is still valued among older and less educated people. With Parliament having passed the bill, it may be understandable that no one came out to oppose it, although there are smothered pockets of discomfort with a law that criminalises something that is a way of life – albeit a brutal one. One elder in Binyinyi, who asked not to be named, says the bill should have been widely explained to the people before being tabled in Parliament. He argues that if districts where FGM is practised get good girls’ secondary schools and government ensures that girls are educated, FGM will die by itself. “Since the law was passed, for us here we have just kept quiet; no MP has come down here to tell us what is in this law,” said the old man, proudly revealing that none of his four daughters was circumcised. “A law involves imprisonment and fines. Although we want this thing to go, it must go gradually.” Another 70-year-old man, Yovani, used the image of a chameleon to show the speed at which FGM should be allowed to die. “For sometime we were hearing that the councilors have decided on this thing and we heard about the law from Parliament, which is a good thing, but we were not updated properly,” Yovani said. It is thus clear that the war against FGM has been fought by a loose alliance of activists, politicians, progressive parents and younger enlightened people. But villages have many traditionalists who still value the practice. It is to these less educated conservatives that the war must be taken. 20-year fight The presence of Peter Kamuron at a January 7 meeting of activists against FGM in Kapchorwa town summed up a journey of 21 years. In 1988, Kamuron was chairman of the Kapchorwa District Council, which passed a resolution making FGM compulsory, meaning that women could be forced to face the knife. Kamuron, who later joined Parliament and the Constituent Assembly, recalls that the Sabiny were worried that their culture was under threat from external forces that were fighting female circumcision. This council resolution was opposed both by the educated elite in the area and by the government in Kampala. “Many grown-up daughters and their parents rejected the idea that force should be used to make every woman to go for circumcision,” says George William Cheborion, 84, chairman of the Sabiny Elders Association, formed to fight the council’s resolution. Cheborion, a retired primary school teacher, believes that education helped him to appreciate the dangers of FGM and to spare his seven daughters the brutal ritual. The following year, Kapchorwa councilors changed their resolution to make the cutting “optional” and the campaign against FGM has continued. By 2007, all Kapchorwa’s sub-county councils had bylaws banning FGM and in 2008, the district council made the ordinance prohibiting the practice, before the national law followed last month. Cheborion knows that some of his fellow Sabiny people still value FGM, but estimates that they may have reduced to barely 20% of the population. Education Sixty years ago, says Kapchorwa LC-V Chairman, Nelson Chelimo, it would be unthinkable that a law would be passed banning FGM. And although the law is now in place, it will take some time and a lot of work to eradicate FGM completely. “Of course there are a lot of disadvantages of FGM but because it is a way of life, not everybody is going to look at the law positively,” says Chelimo. “In other societies where laws have been made against what is seen as cultural, you find that the practices may go underground.” This is true for the United Kingdom, which made a law prohibiting FGM in 1985 and another, in 2003, banning girls from being taken abroad to be circumcised. The Independent newspaper reported last month that no one had been convicted under the British law in 25 years, although thousands of girls have been secretly circumcised. As the cases of Doreen and elder Cheborion show, one weapon against FGM has been education. Girls and parents who have studied beyond Senior Four have tended to shun the practice. But some of these educated girls have, after getting married, opted for circumcision in order to avoid the stigma directed at uncircumcised married women. LC-V boss Chelimo believes education will also help to curb this psychological torture that drives FGM. “Very often people who pressurise others are those who never went to school. You can’t find a graduate woman torturing another because of something [FGM] that is not really very useful,” Chelimo says. He also urges sustained sensitisation in villages in communities where FGM is practised to educate people both about the new law and about the dangers of FGM. According to Ms Brenda Malinga, a national programme officer at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Kampala, there is some money, from a 17-member programme, for supporting community dialogue against FGM, but more will be needed. Malinga says more money should be raised once the Ministry of Gender completes a national strategy on implementing the FGM law, which is expected soon. In Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts, the body most associated with fighting the practice is REACH, formerly a UNFPA programme and now an NGO led by Ms Beatrice Chelangat. Since January 1996, REACH (Reproductive, Educational and Community Health) has been campaigning in communities against FGM. They have also lobbied local and central government officials and Parliament for support. Hence in Kapchorwa and Bukwo the passing of the anti-FGM bill is seen as a victory for REACH as well. “What the community now wants is educating people about the law that has been passed so that they can get to those resistant people who feel that FGM is still the way to graduate to womanhood,” Chelangat says. “I met a team from Bukwo yesterday and they asked for the Bill. They want to take it to the people so that people know. We don’t want our women to be cut this season of 2010.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Une fatwa contre l'excision

January 13, 2010


Sous l’impulsion du Forum de la pensée islamique et du dialogue entre les cultures, en collaboration avec le ministère des Affaires sociales, une trentaine d’oulémas ont débattu du 11 au 12 janvier 2010 à Nouakchott du thème des mutilations génitales féminines. Très nuisible à la santé, l'excision est une pratique courante dans une vingtaine de pays africains, et notamment en Mauritanie.

A l’unanimité, ces leaders religieux ont décidé de lancer une fatwa, un décret religieux, contre la pratique de l’excision. Le docteur Cheikh ould Zein, secrétaire général du Forum de la pensée islamique, explique les raisons qui les ont conduits à cette décision :

« Les points essentiels sur lesquels il convient de s’interroger : est-ce que vraiment, il y a dans le Coran des textes très clairs qui demandent cette chose-là ? Ils n’existent pas. Cette pratique relève de la tradition plus que d’affaires religieuses. L’autre aspect du raisonnement, c’est que notre islam est contre tout acte qui a des répercussions sur la santé. De ce fait, aujourd’hui, les médecins de la Mauritanie sont unanimes : cette pratique là porte atteinte à la vie humaine. Elle n’est pas une obligation, elle est néfaste pour la santé. Il est très clair que notre islam est contre ».

Cheikh ould Zein est convaincu que cette fatwa sera d’un grand poids pour la lutte contre l’excision en Mauritanie. « C’était un grand pas en avant qui a été franchi aujourd’hui. L’excision féminine était un tabou. Dès aujourd’hui, des imams, des oulémas vont parler de cela dans leur mosquée et dans leur mahadra. Partout, tous les gens qui combattent pour la société doivent prendre cette fatwa là pour convaincre les autres et dire que l’excision féminine n’est plus acceptée en Mauritanie. Ce sont oulémas qui ont dit ça, ouvertement et sans équivoque ».

Pour l’érudit Baba ould Mata, accélérer l’abandon de l’excision nécessite aussi de faciliter la reconversion économique des femmes qui la pratiquent et touchent aujourd’hui 25 euros par opération.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Uniting Europe and Africa to Fight Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Circumcision

November 25, 2009 From the International Conference on Prevention of Female Genital Cutting, speech by Minister Koenders

"I am convinced that community dialogue is one of the most effective ways to put an end to harmful traditional practices like FGM. Fathers want their daughters to marry, so they have to agree together that FGM is not a condition, to the contrary, it makes marriages impossible and unhappy."

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

You have just seen a film by the Nike Foundation.This is where this conference is all about in a nutshell. I was in Addis Ababa just recently at a conference on MDG5, where I spoke to Maria Eitel, director of the Nike Foundation. I congratulated her on her views and ask her permission to use this movie.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to show you this film because of its underlying theme. If girls and women get the rights and opportunities to develop, they can build their own futures. And ultimately, they will make a substantial contribution to the development of their countries. That is why we need to look at girls from a different angle, from oppression to opportunity.That is also where this conference is all about.

Today we are talking about an instrument of oppression: Female Genital Mutilation. A practice that condemns girls to a lifetime of pain and affliction. A practice that stunts girls' – and society's – development.

Invest in a girl and she will do the rest.

The practice of FGM makes this very difficult and that is taking place when effective development can make all the difference. A girl who has had seven years’ education marries four years later and has two children fewer. She is at less risk of dying in childbirth. A girl with an education invests 90% of her income in her family. A boy will invest just 35%. Each member of her family is healthier and better nourished, and the economy of both her community and her country grows.

That is implicitely where this conference is all about – about contributing to equal rights and opportunities for women and girls – MDG 3 – and to sexual and reproductive health and rights – MDG 5. That is a priority of my development cooperation policy and is also hampered by FGM.We know the statistics.

It is therefore not only a privilege but also a duty to be delivering the opening speech at this conference. Especially since today is the twenty-fifth of November, the day the United Nations has proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Because the subject of this conference, Female Genital Mutilation, is all about violence against women, and it is one of my main concerns.

FGM destroys a young girl’s body and possibly her life. From the outset, she is denied the prospect of a healthy, successful, enjoyable life. The World Health Organisation estimates that in Africa, 92 million girls aged ten and over have undergone genital cutting, and that every year three million girls are at risk of it happening to them. And this is done for cultural, traditional or religious reasons, for the girl's ‘own sake’.

Ladies and gentlemen, I refuse to accept that FGM should be practised because of cultural and religious tradition. It has absolutely no health benefit, but puts the health of millions of girls at risk. FGM must be banned. I know that many people agree with me on this point. The question is, what is the best, most efficient way of working together to tackle this problem. Together we will achieve more. That is why we are here today to discuss freely openly and with respect.

A few weeks ago, I was in Egypt where I spoke to Ms Moushira Khattab, Minister of State for Family and Population. Ms Khattab wants to create employment opportunities for girls. She is working to control population growth, and is committed to children’s welfare. We talked about reproductive rights and female genital mutilation.

In 2005, 91% of all Egyptian women in the 15 to 49 age group had been cut. In 2000, that figure was 97%. There has been a decline, though it has been slow.

Ms Khattab and I discussed how religious and traditional values can determine and dominate a culture. They are the social norm, which is very difficult to change.

That is why eradication of FGM is a difficult, complex problem, not only in Egypt but in other countries too. And yet there have been some successes. It is very important for the government to assume its responsibility. A ban on FGM is a major step, but I am convinced that change must come from within the community. That is where it has to happen, where traditional values and norms have to change. And that transformation is taking place in Egypt at the moment.

Ms Khattab told me that for many years now, various NGOs have been active in Egypt in the fight against FGM. They are receiving increasing support and cooperation from the community. That means that the people themselves are questioning their traditional values and norms. And we want to help them do so in the future.

Fortunately, it is people themselves who are beginning to oppose the practice of female circumcision. Whenever I visit an African country where FGM is practised, the issue is always raised, even if it wasn’t the main focus of my visit. During my visit to Burkina Faso in September, I talked to the President’s wife about the subject. She is working for its abandonment in her country, but of course it was also raised with her husband. This ia also an issue for men and for political leaders.

I have told you about my experiences for a reason. What matters to me is that countries are not imposing changes on the norms and values of other countries where FGM occurs. Increasingly, there is a worldwide movement that wants to abandon this horrible practice.

Many developing countries are launching campaigns and setting up special programmes. I believe that there couldn’t be a better departure point for change. What is more, the western world can learn from these countries. That, ladies and gentlemen, is development cooperation in reverse, and that is what I am aiming for with my new-style policies reverse development cooperation. I will come back to that in a minute.

I saw a good example during a recent visit to a health centre in Mali, a country that still hasn’t banned female genital mutilation. Supported by Dutch development aid, this centre is running a highly effective campaign against female circumcision. During the same visit to Mali, I talked frankly about female genital mutilation with President Toure, and with members of the government. I also listened to people in the community. They explained how the practice of circumcision is taken for granted, how the tradition is passed on from mother to daughter. That circumcision is part of growing up. They also said that very few people dared to question the need for the ritual. The issue is totally off limits.

But the information and activities campaign run by volunteers and students breaks through the taboo. Using wooden models and plays, they inform people about the enormous health risks attached to circumcision. Risks many parents have never heard of – to their daughters' lives, their sense of enjoyment and future well-being.

The campaign in Mali aims to persuade both individual men and women and communities as a whole to decide collectively to abandon the practice of circumcision. I am convinced that community dialogue is one of the most effective ways to put an end to harmful traditional practices like FGM.Fathers were really taking a stand for their daughters and women who had made FGM their profession were now part of the campaign against it. Fathers want their daughters to marry, so they have to agree together that FGM is not a condition, to the contrary, it makes mariages impossible and unhappy.

In addition to community dialogue, it is essential that traditional and religious leaders play their part in bringing about this change of mentality. If they condemn harmful traditional practices, the community listens to them. It is important that they tell the community that the Koran does not require female circumcision at all. I am glad to see so many participants from Sudan here today. Because despite all its international problems, Sudan is devoting quite a lot of attention to the abandonment of FGM.

A good example here is the Sudanese Sheikh Ali al Hashim al Siraj. He has campaigned for the past twenty years against female circumcision. He has even written a book about it – Circumcision: Killing Girls Alive. And he has sparked discussion on the issue. We are working closely with him and other religious leaders.

Ladies and gentlemen, genuine change is only possible if the entire community takes part. If we are to tackle FGM, we will have to take account of social pressure from the community. And we will have to make use of the fact that parents want the best for their children. We will need to focus not on abandoning bad old traditions but on giving their daughters a better future. We will need to convince parents that their daughters can have the opportunity to build their own future, that abandoning FGM will give their daughters the prospect of a prosperous, happy and healthy life.

To eradicate FGM forever, we have to invest in the futures of girls and women, and adopt a multisectoral approach. Apart from effective legislation, we need to invest in decent health care services and education and in information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Only then will girls and women get the opportunities they need to develop. Only then will they be able to develop into fully-fledged members of society, and find a route out of poverty. Only then will they be able to contribute to society, and will others benefit.

Invest in a girl and she will do the rest.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have said it before: more and more often, I am reaching the conclusion that African countries themselves want to eradicate FGM. And that for them too existing cultural norms and values are an obstacle to this.

In the west, we are also being confronted with these norms and values, brought here by African immigrants. FGM is migrating with them, literally and figuratively. The practice was outlawed in this country in the 1990s. But because African immigrants send their daughters home to be circumcised, Europe is nonetheless being confronted with FGM and its consequences.

The point I am making here is that Africa, the Netherlands, Europe and the rest of the world have a shared problem, and that is FGM. We regard FGM as a violent act, we must promote the abandonment together.

And this is the moment to do it.

In the past decades, the Netherlands has contributed to eradicating FGM in various countries. Years of experience have taught us that it is an extremely persistent problem.

I want to thank the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport for taking the initiative to organise today’s conference. It gives everyone here the opportunity to exchange experience and take concrete steps together. My aim to is bring together African and European experience of combating FGM, pool our knowledge and take some big steps forward.

Studies by WHO and UNICEF have shown us the most effective strategy in Africa. UNICEF’s Francesca Moneti will no doubt be telling us all about it in a moment.

What we want to hear from you is how can we adapt this strategy to our own country. As I mentioned earlier, we are talking about development cooperation in reverse. African countries can advise us, the western world, on the most effective strategies to eradicate FGM.

At the International Girl Child Conference last March, recommendations were formulated, including the need to build bridges between communities in countries of origin and immigrant organisations in Europe.

Today, at this conference, we are going to build those bridges. During the workshops we will exchange knowledge and experience. Today, Africa will advise Europe. Today African delegates can tell their European counterparts which strategy worked in their country.

Ladies and gentlemen, you were welcomed here this morning by Jet Bussemaker, our State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport. She too has made FGM a policy priority. She too has gender equality high on her agenda. We have to work together to fight FGM in both Africa and Europe.

Let me tell you what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doing.

This spring I promised to support the European network Euronet-FGM in organising a conference for members of the European Parliament.

I have set aside €1.5 million from the MDG 3 fund for the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. The Committee is active in 28 countries. Thanks to its efforts, legislation against female genital mutilation has now been enacted in 16 African countries. Later today, Berhane Ras-Work, President of the IAC, will tell you more about the Committee's work. For the past 25 years, she has been trying to convince authorities and communities in all of those 28 African countries of the damaging, irreversible impact of FGM on women's lives.

What is more, Dutch embassies in Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and Iraq are supporting organisations that combat female genital mutilation.

I am delighted to hear that Plan International’s African and European offices are now discussing ways of adapting the strategies used in Africa to combat FGM in Europe. While money and expertise flow from Europe to Africa, we are now receiving advice from countries like Sierra Leone and Mali. Community agreements to stop FGM are hihly effective. Now they can be made more operational in the Netherlands.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Netherlands is doing everything it can to put gender equality on the global agenda. But we are a small country. To tackle FGM effectively, we need you all. That is why I am delighted that you have come to this conference today. We now have the momentum to launch a joint, international strategy to tackle this joint problem.

I hope and expect that today, at this International Conference on Uniting Europe and Africa to fight FGM, we will take a number of concrete steps.

Ladies and gentlemen, everyone here today is convinced that not one girl or woman should be exposed to genital mutilation. Whether we are talking about a Muslim woman, a girl from Sub-Saharan Africa or a Dutch woman. FGM is unacceptable. It prevents girls and women from developing. It means that they have fewer chances in society, and fewer opportunities to contribute to the development of their countries. And so we all miss out.

So let us invest in girls. They will do the rest.

I wish you a very inspiring and productive conference.

Thank you.

Africa battling Female Genital Mutilation

January 8, 2010 By Frank Kanyesigye - The New Times

Kigali — Egypt, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Lesotho and Sierra Leone have numerous cases of female genital mutilation in Africa.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) sometimes called female circumcision or female genital cutting involves the cutting of the girl's genitals in order to curb their sexual desire and preserve their sexual honour before marriage.

It comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways.

This traditional practice is carried out mainly in Africa and in the Middle East and Far East Asian countries. Over the years, reports from Europe, North America and Australia indicate that, it is practiced among immigrant communities.

This practice is regarded as a disgusting act in the modern world today, many diplomats and academics do not recognize it.

It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls' and women's bodies.

According to Diana Okoth a gynecologist, "female genital mutilation causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth."

The World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics have opposed FGM as a medically unnecessary practice with serious, potentially life-threatening complications.

According to Marian Koster MSc and Dr. Lisa Price of Wageningen University of Netherlands FGM, "reduces women's sexual pleasure and violates their integrity and rights."

The prevalence of FGM varies within each community but it was generally agreed that no matter the level of the practice in each community, the fact still remains that the practice is discriminatory and harmful to women.

Custom and tradition were by far the most frequently cited reasons for FGM. Along with other physical or behavioural characteristics, FGM defines who is in the group especially when mutilation is carried out as part of the initiation into adulthood. A girl cannot be considered an adult in a FGM practicing community unless she has undergone FGM.

The Ugandan parliament recently passed a bill banning female genital mutilation. Convicted offenders face 10 years in prison, but if the girl dies during the act, those involved will get a life sentence, according to the bill.

United Nation reports indicate that, about three million women and girls face female genital mutilation globally every year, and nearly 140 million have already undergone the practice.

Many experts hold that the FGM practice is African. Nearly half of the cases represented in official statistics occur in Egypt and Ethiopia. Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Sierra Leone also record a high prevalence.

The age and time at which FGM is practiced differs from community to community, and can be carried out from as early as a few days after birth, to immediately after the birth of a woman's first child. One of the notable trends in global FGM today is the progressive lowering of the age at which girls undergo the practice.

Among communities that practice FGM, the procedure is a highly valued ritual, whose purpose is to mark the transition from childhood to womanhood.

In these traditional societies, FGM represents part of the rites of passage or initiation ceremonies intended to impart the skills and information a woman will need to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother.

Among social activists and feminists, combating FGM is an important policy goal because the practice has left the victims traumatized. Those who survive can suffer adverse health effects during marriage and pregnancy.

In terms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it is increasingly clear that when perceived as a manifestation of gender inequalities, progress towards abandonment of Female genital mutilation will contribute to the empowerment of women.

The United Nations has supported the right of member states to grant refugee status to women who fear being mutilated if they are returned to their country of origin.

Canada has granted such status to women in this situation. A judge of a Canadian Federal Court declared it a "cruel and barbaric practice."

An increasing number of international instruments underscore the commitments of many nation states to end harmful practices including FGM. Some of the major instruments include the universal declaration of human rights, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and on the rights of children.

UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population Activities) mobilizes people through culturally sensitive approaches that enable community members including adolescents, women, teachers and parents to become involved in behavioral change communication activities at grassroots level and hence contribute to change in attitudes towards the FGM practice.

Also, the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women denounced the practice and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child identified female genital mutilation (FGM) as a harmful traditional practice.

Recently human rights activists converged in Kampala Uganda to advocate for the end of Female genital mutilation, during the conference one of the participants said, "a better marriage results from not being cut because there are no benefits instead the practice is cruel to females."

Media reports indicate that FGM has been a top priority for United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for almost three decades.

As early as 1952, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning the practice.

FGM do not vary across regions and that religion has no influence. As California State University anthropologist Ellen Gruenbaum has explained, "People have different and multiple reasons for some it is a rite of passage.

For others it is not. Some consider it aesthetically pleasing. For others, it is mostly related to morality or sexuality.

There are indications that FGM might be a phenomenon of epidemic proportions in the Arab Middle East. It is reported that traditionally all women in the Persian Gulf region were mutilated.

Arab governments refuse to address the problem; they prefer to believe that lack of statistics will enable international organizations to conclude that the problem does not exist in their jurisdictions.

Many Muslims and academics in the West take pains to insist that the practice is not rooted in religion but rather in culture.

Fighting against Female genital mutilation is a mandate not only because it's a disgusting act but because it's deliberated onto girls and women and destroys their basic right to live.

"Change has begun here and the change must continue."

January 9, 2010 By Paul Vallely - The NZ Herald The agony of female circumcision

Hanna Abera is seven. Her mother and grandmother wanted to slice off part of her genitals. But she was saved by an extraordinarily brave intervention from her aunt after a British charity launched a programme of education on the consequences of female circumcision - which is still widely practised throughout parts of Africa and the Middle East.

No one knows how many women are subjected to the procedure but it is thought that over two million procedures are performed every year. Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have been affected by some form of what it calls female genital mutilation.

In Ethiopia, which is where Hanna lives, 70 to 80 per cent of women are circumcised, as are almost all men. But this is not a bad news story. It is about change n for in the region around the town of Woliso in the central part of the country a remarkable project has brought a revolution in social attitudes.

And it has come about through the empowerment of a local community, thanks to a project run by the British development agency ActionAid, which is one of the three charities being supported in this year's Independent Christmas Appeal, which closes today n though staff will remain available to receive donations by post, telephone or via the internet until the end of next month.

Change began in Woliso in 1998 when ActionAid began a project to get local communities to focus on how traditional cultural practices were assisting the spread of HIV/Aids. But it took seven years before that work began to bear fruit and Hanna - and many young girls like her - began to be saved from the circumciser's blade.

The rate of HIV infection in Ethiopia is around 4.4 per cent n which is below the 6 per cent average for the continent or the astronomical rates in some southern African countries, where one in five of the entire population is infected. Still, 1.4 million Ethiopians carry the virus, and one of the key strategies in containing the spread has been to try to curb what became known as harmful traditional practices, including widow inheritance, wife sharing, abduction and circumcision.

Campaigners who had studied the eradication of the 1,000-year-long practice of foot-binding in China in the early 20th century knew that changing social attitudes, rather than passing laws against the practice, was key. ActionAid, which specialises in community-level development projects, sponsored training for 96 young people as facilitators of attitude change. To provide them with a living it also gave them training in crop farming or animal rearing.

The facilitators travelled through villages around Woliso calling community meetings asking local people to identify the taboos which might assist the spread of HIV. "We had to proceed slowly," says one of them, Negusse Beadada, 24, "because we knew that the village elders had the power to decide everything and that they didn't trust us or believe us. What we were raising was a challenge to the older community leaders. So the first move was to obtain their blessing for our discussions.

"We began by raising single issues, such as: how do you see the relationships between women and men in this village? Only after six weeks did we raise the issue of harmful traditional practices. Some villagers insisted female circumcision was essential as it stopped females from being rude," he says, employing the word which Ethiopians of all ages use to describe enthusiastic sexual activity, male but especially female. "Others were less strongly committed to it, but said 'It has been practised here for a long time and that can't be changed.' But we started the discussion."

The starting point for debate in these weekly Sunday community meetings was the spread of Aids, but the conversations broadened into wider sexual politics. Among the issues raised were early marriages and abductions as well as circumcision. Traditionally, girls in this part of Ethiopia were considered marriageable between the age of 12 and 14, though some were wed as early as the age of nine to men who were generally over the age of 30.

"Some of the girls are not physically compatible with their husbands," says Hawariat Petros, a young Ethiopian Masters graduate in her mid-twenties who works for ActionAid. "That means sex can be physically damaging. Fistula [a rupture of the vagina and urethra which leads to urinary incontinence in women] is a common problem.

Even so, she says, thanks to girls' education a "real change" has begun. Hanna's aunt, Tijitu Obsu, is still unmarried at 22 "because I have not finished my studies". Among female graduates the average age for marrying is between 25 and 30. Weddings are expensive in Ethiopia, as anywhere. A dowry can cost 6,000 birr ($635) and a wedding feast 7,000 birr ($740) which together represent two years' wages. Men who are poor have got round this problem by lying in wait outside a different village and abducting a girl to be their bride.

"It's been a severe problem in our area," says Ms Beadada, "and it has been widely accepted in the culture and not seen as a bad thing. Sometimes the man will move far away so her family can't track her down. Or his elders come to the girl's family to apologise and see if they can agree a deal or compensation."

The community conversations have started a significant shift on that. There have been no abductions in the area for more than two years now. But circumcision has proved a more deep-rooted problem. "The assumption was widespread that an uncircumscised woman would be unfaithful and would look for other men," says Ms Petros. "She would be rude. But people are coming to see that it's not a question of being rude; it's about respecting your husband - and him respecting you."

The detail of what was done varied from one area to another. In towns the operation, often performed with unsterilised blades, was often done when the baby girl was about six weeks old but in rural areas it was left until the girl was between four and seven. "The degree of cutting in the Christian areas of central Ethiopia was less severe than in the Muslim areas," says Ms Petros, "but there are only three or four regions in Ethiopia that don't do it. Some men, if they marry a women who hasn't been circumcised, will send her away as an adult to have it done."

The procedure involves the slicing away of the clitoris and the removal of the inner and sometimes the outer lips of her vagina. The genitals are then held together using thorns or stitches with the girl's legs tied together for six weeks to allow the healing of the two sides of the vulva.

The procedure can result in a wide range of problems from infections to sterility and even death from shock or unstemmed bleeding. It can make sex painful - husbands sometimes have to cut the women after marriage to allow penetration. Severe complications in childbirth include the tearing of the vagina to such a degree that death of both mother and child can follow. The chances of the transmission of HIV from mother to child are also significantly increased.

It was after hearing all this that seven-year-old Hanna's aunt, Ms Obsu, was overcome with guilt at the operations she had organised for her two nieces. "I knew I had committed a crime and went to see my brother and sister-in-law and I started discussing it," she says, a confidence and assurance kicking in as she switches from speaking a hesitant Amharic, Ethiopia's national language, to Woliso's local tongue.

Changing attitudes is a long process and involves a number of strategies. "You have to deal with myths, like it doesn't hurt the child very much, and wounds heal," says a local man, Tariku Adinuya, 29, who is one of those whose mind has been changed. "I said to the chief elder: 'If you cut your hand with a knife, does it hurt? Well, then it will hurt a child to be circumcised.' It is also self-evident that there can more easily be physical damage during delivery if the vagina does not expand sufficiently. The child may suffer and the mother may die."

He managed to convince his wife with such arguments. But with the village elders he had to deploy a religious approach. "I asked them: 'Do you think that men and women are different in the sight of God?' And when they said no, I said: 'If we are all equal in front of God if you do something bad to a female you do something bad to God'."

Much of the resistance to change resides not with the male elders but with the older women in the community. "Many illiterate women assume that their circumcision has in some way helped them," says Hawariat Petros. "They assume that it makes it easier to give birth. And the women who perform the operation resisted; because it was their livelihood."

"Hanna's grandmother was very annoyed when her parents decided against the procedure," says Ms Obsu. "But since then something has happened to change her mind. My elder sister was pregnant and there were complications so she had to go to hospital. She was given a Caesarean. The doctors told my mother that if my sister had tried to give birth at home she would have died because she had been circumcised so badly. That altered her attitude entirely."

Other attitudes have been changed through the storytelling techniques which have been taught to the facilitators. "We tell the story of a merchant in a village not far from here who had a wife in the country and a mistress in town. When he finds he is HIV-positive he has to decide what to do," says Negusse Beadada. "We ask the villagers what they would do. Some say they wouldn't tell anyone. Others say they would use holy water. Others that they would kill themselves, because they were so evil. Others that they would tell their wife so she could go to hospital. Then we explore the pros and cons of the various options. And in the process of all this discussion you start to change minds."

It works. There have been no female circumcisions now in the area for three years. Many girls of Hanna's age have escaped mutilation. "My friends Getae and Kumisha are not circumcised either," the seven-year-old says. "They are very happy about that. And so am I. When I grow up I'd like to be a doctor to help people like I have been helped."

Change is rippling through the community. Most people now agree to having an HIV test before marriage. Under a local law those who abduct or practise early marriage are fined and jailed for three months. Sixteen girls have been saved from circumcision in one village of 17 households alone. ActionAid now would like to spread the project into other areas.

"I am not afraid that my daughters will not get husbands when they grow up, " says Tariku Adinuya. His children are aged nine and five. With the money he has saved from the operation and the parties that would have followed he has bought an ox.

"There has been such a change in the community that I'm not worried that my daughters will be left without husbands when the time comes," he adds.