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Monday, January 11, 2010

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.