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Friday, February 26, 2010

Breaking the cycle of Female Genital Cutting

February 25, 2010
By Patrick Dewhurst

FEMALE Genital Mutilation (FGM) is now a growing concern for Cypriot healthcare professionals, but a visiting expert was yesterday optimistic about ending the barbaric practice across Europe.

Leyla Hussein, a British healthcare worker with Somalian parents – and a former FGM victim – told gathered Cypriot, EU and NGO representatives, “There is hope. I am proof that you can break the cycle.”

The representatives were gathered to discuss and promote a campaign to eradicate FGM in Europe and in Cyprus.

Entitled “End FGM”, the campaign is being led by Amnesty International and also aims to establish a comprehensive and coherent EU-wide approach to the problem, from offering asylum through to social welfare services and education of men in practising communities.

FGM, defined by the World Health Organisation as “All procedures that involve the total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” is an established practice in 28 African countries, across the Middle East and in Asia. It affects up to 140 million girls and women worldwide.

However, it is not just a matter for third countries; the practice is happening Europe. Christine Loudes, Director of the programme, said yesterday “We have to remember that FGM is an EU issue.

“The European Parliament estimates that there are around 500,000 cases in Europe, and 180,000 young girls at risk from parents who continue the practice.”

Already a number of cases have appeared in Cyprus. The anti-racism organisation, KISA cites the case of one asylum applicant who was a victim of FGM, while a clinic owner at yesterday’s conference had two clients who had been mutilated.

Though the government has no recorded cases, Elena Neocleous of the Interior Ministry recognised the need for more measures.

“For example, in France it is criminalised and they have taken measures to prevent parents taking daughters abroad for FGM.”

Dina Akkelidou, President of the House Committee on Equal Opportunities, said “The average age of FGM is between four and eight, and it happens on average every 10 seconds.

“It threatens life and health, and does irreversible mental and psychological damage. Moreover, it is a serious form of discrimination and a cultural offence.”

FGM is now recognised as being in contravention to the Geneva conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and European Law.

It is therefore grounds for asylum. Any woman who has suffered or could potentially suffer FGM in the future has the right to asylum. Neocleous also confirmed that parents (including fathers) of young daughters who could be victims were entitled to asylum.

So far in 2010, only five of 32 applicants have been women (and one reported FGM abuse). However, given that in Egypt, 96 per cent of women are estimated to be victims, there is a high chance that many women will arrive in Cyprus bearing the physical and mental scars. Many will be too afraid to mention it, or be unaware that this is grounds for asylum.

The programme therefore aims to educate authorities about best practices in treating victims. Hussein said, “I was lucky to meet a service that knew how to speak to me, not as if I was an alien.

“It is important that everyone who works with FGM victims, such as police, immigration and doctors understands the issues. Especially important are the men. If they refuse to marry a mutilated girl, it will end immediately.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Senegal’s First Region-Wide Declaration of FGC and Child/Forced Marriage Abandonment: Communities in Kédougou Accelerate Towards Goal of Total Abandonment by 2015

February 25, 2010
By Tostan

KÉDOUGOU, Senegal, 19 February 2010—256 villages from the region of Kédougou gathered on Sunday, February 21, to announce and celebrate their historic decision to abandon the harmful traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. In this first region-wide declaration in Senegal, 108 villages publicly declared their abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage for the first time, alongside 148 additional villages that confirmed their continued commitment to the promotion of the rights and health of women and girls.

In spite of the intense heat, roughly 2,500 people travelled from through-out the region to attend the day-long celebration in the Municipal Stadium in the town of Kédougou. Amongst other government officials, religious and community leaders in attendance, the Minister of Communication and Ndeye Khady Diop, Minster of the Family, National Solidarity, Food Security, Female Entrepreneurship, Microfinance and Infancy, flew to Kédougou from Dakar especially for the ceremony. Also present were the Mayor and Governor of the Kédougou Region and the Chief District Officer from the Department of Mali, Republic of Guinea who accompanied representatives from Guinean communities abandoning these practices along with their extended family networks.

Representing the 108 declaring villages, three young girls from the youth network of the region, including Hassatou Boubane, President of the network, read the declaration of abandonment in Manding, Pulaar, and French. Youth and dance groups entertained the crowds with sketches explaining their reasons for wanting to abandon FGC, as well as dance and music.

The declaration in Kédougou followed just two days after the launch of Senegal's National Action Plan for the Abandonment of FGC 2010-2015, which was launched at a ceremony in Dakar on Friday, February 19th and represents a significant step towards the Government’s goal of complete abandonment of FGC in Senegal by 2015.

According to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), over 57% of the Pulaar, Mandinka, Djalonké, and Bassari communities in the Kédougou region practice FGC and/or child/forced marriage.

Since October 2007, 50 villages in Kédougou have participated directly in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP). An additional 211 villages in Kédougou and neighboring Guinea and Mali have been sensitized to issues of human rights, health, hygiene and the risks of FGC through outreach activities such as community-run radio programs, part of the community communication strategy that Tostan calls "organized diffusion."

Amongst the 211 villages reached, 41 of these communities are located in Guinea and 10 are in Mali. This collective and cross-border decision to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage was made possible through the organization of international community meetings in 2009.

Tostan has been engaged in the region of Kédougou since 2002, where declarations have taken place twice before in Tomborokonto and Salémata. With the support of UNICEF, the Government of Senegal, and community and religious leaders, all communities of the region of Kédougou will now join the historic movement for the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage started by the women of the village of Malicounda Bambara in 1997.

Since 1997, a total of 4,229 villages (84%) in Senegal that traditionally practiced FGC and child/forced marriage have publicly declared their decision to abandon these harmful practices, a number which has led to claims that Senegal will be the first country to totally abandon FGC.

The declaration was preceded by a press panel on Saturday, February 20, in Fadiga, two kilometers from the town of Kédougou. Press had the opportunity to learn about both the processes behind the historic declaration as well as other community-led successes amongst villages participating in and reached through the Tostan CEP.

Gamcotrap Recruits Niani Elders In Fgm Fight

February 24, 2010
By Today News Paper

GAMCOTRAP, a non governmental organization, is recruiting the elders of Niani in its campaign against female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C). 

According to a press release from the organization, over one hundred participants from nine communities recently converged in Wassu to discuss FGM alongside other issues affecting the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and children in an UNFPA-backed initiative.

The objective of the community sensitization is to work with traditional leaders within the district to support the abandonment of harmful traditional practices in particular FGM and domestic violence in their communities as well as promote the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and children.

Speaking on behalf of the chief of Niani, the Alkalo of Madina Lamin Kanteh, Faburama Kanteh thanked GAMCOTRAP for bringing the campaign to stop FGM to their district. According to him, this was the first time they have had any such training on the effects FGM has on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls. He called on traditional leaders to support the campaign to protect their women and children and appealed to GAMCOTRAP to reach out to the other clusters in the district.

In her statement, Dr. Isatou Touray, executive director of GAMCOTRAP, noted the effect FGM has on maternal and child health.
She informed the participants that The Gambia's participation at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York is an indication of the country's commitment to international and regional conventions and protocols to improve the lives of women and girls in particular, thus The Gambia reporting to the Commission on the status of women.

She further informed them that Gambian parliamentarians are being engaged to enable them to pass a law against FGM, making reference to the Declaration against FGM by the Gambian parliamentarians in September 2009.

The GAMCOTRAP executive director also noted the importance of awareness creation on FGM and the need for a law to protect women and girls. She called on parents to discipline their children to be responsible citizens and for couples to engage in dialogue and be part of the wind of change to stop FGM.

Islamic Scholars Muhamadou Sanuwo and Abubacarr Kanteh of Soma enlightened the participants about Islam and the debate on FGM and women's rights in general.
It was noted that Islam promotes equality and partnership between men and women, thus created them in pairs.
They further enlightened the participants on the process of understanding Islam from its principles and sources from the Holy Quran, Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad and the various classifications of Hadiths.
It was pointed out that Islam respects human live and therefore any act that could cause harm to human beings would not be accepted as part of the faith. They called for reflection of practices and the issues raised.

The outcome of the training included consensus amongst participants to stop FGM and a circumciser from Wassu village, Nakebba Fofana making a declaration at the training that after having realised the impact of FGM on women and girls, she has joined her cluster to stop FGM.
This decision was applauded by the participants and representatives of the women elders' reiterated their commitment to change and to protect girls from FGM.
The Wassu Tolay Kafo also asserted their commitment to the campaign by affiliating with GAMCOTRAP.

The training brought together elders, male and female including Imams and Alkalolu, women and youth leaders in the Wassu cluster.

A Powerful New Opportunity to End Female Genital Cutting in Senegal

February 24, 2010
By Molly Melching for the Huffington Post

Last Friday, the Senegalese Government launched a National Action Plan for achieving its goal of total abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) by 2015. This may not seem noteworthy as governments around the world launch plans and programs on this and other development issues each year: some are good, many go unnoticed or unfunded, still others never really get off the ground.

Yet this action plan is something unique and it deserves our full attention. This is a rare case of a government willing not only to respond to the will of its people, but willing to respond with care and to implement a strategy that was developed and proven first at the grassroots level.

FGC is a painful and dangerous practice, yet laws passed by governments across Africa have for decades had little effect because FGC is a cultural practice linked to status, honor, and marriageability. In many countries it is simply impossible to enforce these laws because large percentages of the population still practice FGC and it is simply impossible to imprison all of the hundreds of mothers, fathers, and other family members who have their daughters cut. Thus, even in Senegal where a law banning FGC was passed in 1999, the practice has continued unabated in many communities.

The number of communities in Senegal still practicing FGC, however, is shrinking rapidly as the result of a widespread social movement. The movement began in 1997 when a group of 30 women going through the Tostan education program in the village of Malicounda Bambara decided to abandon the practice publicly. A local village chief, Demba Diawara, joined the women's efforts and showed Tostan that to end FGC, one must work respectfully with the whole community and its extended social network and hold public commitment ceremonies to mark abandonment.

Since 1997, thousands of community activists have joined the movement that those first 30 women started and over the past 14 years their collective efforts have built a movement that now includes over 4,200 communities in Senegal, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Guinea, and Somalia that have publicly declared their abandonment of FGC.

This movement is an example of how lasting social change can occur through the leadership of informed grassroots activists: mothers and fathers, youth, and traditional and religious leaders. Yet, such movements still need support and reinforcement. In making a formal endorsement of the human rights approach in their National Action Plan, the Government of Senegal has made a bold and historic move. The government has chosen to give highest priority to a coordinated strategy rooted in empowering communities through human rights education to bring about the total abandonment of FGC by 2015.

For too long now, many have believed that the best way to address this issue is punitive legislation. Laws can punish, but laws combined with effective policy can educate and empower communities. Yes, there must be laws against FGC, but there must also be support for the transition to a system in which those laws can be effectively and justly applied. In Tostan's experience, this transition involves communities understanding and applying their human rights and responsibilities, and it is wonderful to see this so clearly laid out by the Senegalese government. I am certain that this movement, and the government's deepened commitment to it, can become a model for addressing other harmful social traditions as well.

To seek to understand FGC and why families practice it is not to excuse it. The families Tostan works with have often suffered the consequences of the practice. The women and girls have experienced hemorrhage, serious infection, and complications during childbirth. Some parents have even watched their daughters die. The government has a duty to protect these young girls.

I am thankful however that the 2010-2015 Government of Senegal National Action Plan places priority on empowering education and working respectfully with those communities involved to bring about positive social change. I believe millions of girls will be thankful also

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Developing a Common European Asylum Strategy

End Female Genital Mutilation (FGM):
Developing a Common European Asylum Strategy
Wednesday 24th February
EU House, Nicosia

The Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies in cooperation with the European Parliament Office in Cyprus will host an event tomorrow, Wednesday, February 24, 2010 titled End Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) - Developing a Common European Asylum Strategy.

For questions, visit the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies website.

Commemorating the ban on female genital mutilation in Eritrea

February 22, 2010
By Kutloano Leshomo

ASMARA, Eritrea, 22 February 2010 – Letenkiel Misghina, a former practitioner of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), recently attended an all-day event commemorating the banning of the practice in Eritrea. The colourful procedings included speeches, poems, testimonies, information sessions, a marathon, a bicycle race and a carnival.
At the event, Ms. Misghina, 63, recounted the horror she experienced in 1993 when she was circumcizing her first granddaughter. The child bled so much that she turned pale blue. Fortunately, she survived, but it was a close call.
Ms. Misghina had learned how to perform female genital mutilation from her grandmother, who circumcised her first daughter. Ms. Misghina then performed the practice on her next five daughters. But after the scare with her granddaughter, she swore never again to perform FGM/C.
“We thought it was our ancestor’s beliefs, but it is just the devil’s work,” she said.

Three years on
In 2007, the Government of Eritrea passed a proclamation banning FGM/C. An intensive, multi-faceted advocacy and mobilization campaign ensued, aiming to change attitudes among different groups of society – including traditional birth attendants, circumcizers, community elders and religious leaders.
Speaking at the anniversary event, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Eritrea Juan Carlos Espinola Ayala called FGM/C a violation of human rights and, in particular, children’s rights. He implored everyone to stop the practice and congratulated the Eritrean Government for passing the proclamation banning it.

Despite the ban, much work is still needed to ensure the full elimination of FGM/C in Eritrea, where the practice is still seen by many as an important factor in attaining social acceptance and improving girls' marriage prospects.

Advocates for change
In 2002, the Eritrean Demographic and Health Survey showed that 89 per cent of Eritrean women had been cut. This prevalence rate is among the highest on the African continent. In the survey, 42 per cent of women said the practice was beneficial for social acceptance; 25 per cent for marriage prospects; and 18 per cent for religious approval.
Since the ban, it appears that traditional birth attendants and circumcizers have increasingly dropped the practice and become advocates for change. UNICEF Eritrea’s goal is to attain a 30 per cent reduction in the practice of FGM/C by 2011.
The European Community, the Swedish Government and the Swiss National Committee forto UNICEF have contributed financial resources to facilitate the abandonment of this and other harmful traditional practices in Eritrea.

© UNICEF Eritrea/2010/Leshomo

Monday, February 22, 2010

FGM, once a taboo now a breached silence

February 21, 2010
By The Kurdish Globe

Encouraged by houses built by the KRG, Kulajo residents return home.
"I was seven or eight years old, playing on the street opposite our house when I heard girls yelling and screaming. I followed the sounds and it preceded to a neighbor's house; the front yard was packed with young girls my age, whispering each other of their fear." Begins Fatma Aziz*, as she recalls her story of the day she escaped from becoming a victim to Female Genital Mutilation.

"There was a room with an old lady, my friends told me she had a knife with her, I put my head through the door and saw the old lady, wearing black head to toe, there were a lot of girls lying on the ground crying." Aziz now realized those girls were 'done' and the turn was coming to those terrified in the front yard.

"The old woman saw me and called out 'bring her in', I ran as fast as I could back to our house and reported what I had seen to my mother. My mother did not let me leave the house until the old lady was gone."

Aziz knows, if she had not ran as fast she did that day, she too, like her friends in the village, over 55 years ago, would have also been circumcised, or mutilated. She is one of the few success stories, as the phenomenon over half a century ago was not rare in the Kurdish region.

Recently, a German relief organization, WADI, Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Cooperation, published results to a study of the prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the Kurdistan region.

In the study a total of 1408 women were interviewed, the survey results, according to WADI revealed that the overall mutilation rate in the Kurdish region, except Duhok amounts to 72.7%, In Erbil the rate is lower at 63.0% and Suleymaniya is 77.9%. The higher rates of FGM stand at 81.2% in the Garmyan and the New Kirkuk areas.

Shna Abdulla * is a university student who argues that the results of the study, to a large degree, are not a clear reflection of the Kurdish society and the participants are not selected randomly. "I know from my relatives and friends, many of my direct family members are not circumcised, I can speak for many others are well." Although she does confirm in the villages this is a different story, but not to the extent that has been demonstrated in the study.

"You cannot selectively survey a thousand women and use them as an example representing all other females in the Kurdistan Region" said Revan Sherko* another student, she points out: "I come from a village and so do all my relatives and family, and we never experienced what is stated in the study, it did happen, but they were a few households that practiced the routine on their female children."

The study does affirm that "today, the odds of girls escaping mutilation seem to be better than only some decades ago. Among women under the age of 20, the mutilation rate is 57.0%, while in the 30-39 age group, it is 73.8%. The rate rises up to 95.7% among women over 80." These results are a clear illustration that the rate of FGM is decreasing generation after generation.

Most women, who have undergone the process of FGM, went through the same experience as Aziz. Going under the hands of an old lady who had plenty of experience, as 80% of those interviewed alleged to be victims of the FGM process at home and 13.5% at a neighbor's house.

Some of the ideas that have been revolving around the idea of FGM, Aziz explains that food prepared by an uncircumcised women was allegedly unhalal.

The analysis of the results revealed a clear link between Islam and the practice of FGM. "The considerable influence of Islamic religious authorities on the practice of mutilation is evident. Thus almost one third of the women who indicated that FGM was a common practice in their communities also indicated that the local mullah supports the mutilation." When participants of the Garmiyan and New Kirkuk areas were questioned regarding the reasons of their mutilation, 84.7% said religion is the main reason, in Suleimaniya this stands at 32.7% and 17.8% in Erbil. Those in Erbil and Suleimaniya stated that tradition played a larger role.

"FGM is extremely taboo in Erbil governorate and only a few men in this governorate even know that it goes on." The study further clarifies that "Other indices support the conclusion that men in the Erbil region are largely disconnected from the practice of FGM. Thus, only one interviewee in Erbil affirmed that her husband had forced her to mutilate their daughter,"

The issue of FGM still remains a taboo in most households, but recently becoming an open issue in society, where both governmental and non-governmental organizations are working to erase the culturally rooted phenomenon that is undertaken on the basis of religion. Yet the study has been proven to be an exaggeration and does not by any means represent the entire female population of Kurdistan.

* Names have been changed for ethical reasons

Kenya: A call to end female genital mutilation

February 19, 2010
By Lucy Murunga -  World Vision

At the age of only eleven years, Irene was forced to run away from her home to escape what the community made her believe was a traditional obligation - female genital mutilation.

Through the support of World Vision, Irene has been offered a safe haven in a rescue centre that accommodates girls who have been circumcised against their wish or who, like her, are escaping the practice.

World Vision’s programme manager in the Marigat area of Kenya, Pamela Wamalwa, expresses optimism in World Vision's anti-mutilation campaign. The prevalence of genital cutting and early marriage is slowly but steadily decreasing in the area.

“We have been working closely with community members, educating them on the negative effects,” explains Wamalwa. Instead of the traditional ceremony in which the girls had to be circumcised, now they undergo an alternative rite of passage. Communities maintain the rituals that lead adolescent girls to womanhood but exclude the dangerous cutting.

Finding new ways to make a living

Female circumcisers, who did not want to be identified for fear of being condemned, expressed their willingness to stop the practice only if the government assisted them with alternative income generating activities.

Through KADET, a microfinance unit of World Vision, many women are able to access loans to start up small businesses.

“Through the organisation’s projects in the [programme area] like water, food security, microfinance and education, community members are keener on development,” explains Wamalwa.

Alternative rite of passage

Tabitha Parteneu, World Vision’s girl child project coordinator cannot hide her joy as she prepares more than 80 girls for graduation.

She explains why the alternative rite of passage is such an important part of the girls upbringing while removing the risks of bleeding, blood poisoning, shock and childbirth problems that often follow female genital mutilation, also called FGM.

“We put the girls in a secluded place for one or two weeks and train them on the effects of FGM, early marriage and HIV and AIDS,” she explains.

“We also train them on life skills, the advantages of not undergoing FGM and address attitude change. We train the boys as well to make them understand why girls do not have to undergo circumcision.”

This December, 89 girls were awarded certificates and 27 boys trained. The ceremony is held every April, August and December.

Irene has just graduated. “I am very happy today because I went through [the rite], and have graduated to adulthood without losing my dignity,” she says.

Poverty and early marriage

Zakayo Lolpejalai, World Vision programme manager for the North Rift area in Kenya, says that the community has become so enslaved to the retrogressive beliefs that girls have no say in what happens to their bodies. Society makes decisions for them and holds that once the girls are circumcised then they are ready for marriage.

“More often than not, the girls are married off to men old enough to be their grandfather,” he adds. "The parents receive blankets, sugar and tobacco in exchange for the girls.”

Lolpejalai also cites poverty as the major causes of early marriages. The sentiment is echoed by Samuel Lerono, a member of the Ilchamus Moran dancers. Lerono narrates how his two sisters were married off in their early teenage years.

“We held celebrations all night and the next day my sisters were gone,” he explains. "Maybe if we had refused to conform to traditions things would have been different. I vowed the same will not happen to my daughters.”

Lerono deems it unfair to deny the girls education and a decent life by resigning them to tradition. He sings in all community gatherings his message, “stop FGM, and educate the girls”. He makes an appeal to his fellow parents to embrace change, emphasising that mutilating girls is a barbaric and archaic act that must be shunned.

An important role for government

As the fight against the practice goes on among the Njemps community in the Baringo Central area, law enforcement officers and political leaders in the region are playing their part. Leaders have stated in different gatherings that the vice must be rooted out for good.

Peter Kitilit, an administrative officer in the region says they have partnered with World Vision to ensure that girls are protected and the people who practice female circumcision are apprehended.

“We have managed to educate parents in local gatherings and convince them that circumcising girls is not a gate into womanhood. For those who do not cooperate we let the law deal with them,” he explains.

According to Kitilit, prevalence has decreased by 25%.

Ending FGM

Seventeen-year-old Daisy has just completed her high school education. “I said 'no' to FGM because I knew the dangers,” she says, adding that the alternative rite “is a decent way of transitioning girls to adulthood without exposing them to health complications."

Sixty-year-old Napunyu Letaparkwe practised girls’ circumcision for more than thirty years. Now she has stopped. “I have heard of girls who bled to death during the process,” she says.

Caroline Nalianya, child rights national coordinator at World Vision Kenya, says female genital mutilation is a child protection issue. “The children and sexual offences acts passed in 2006 outlaws FGM,” she explains.

“FGM affects the education of the girl child, causing premature school drop-outs and early marriage. The girl's life stops the moment she is married off, hence denying her life in all its fullness. FGM infringes the rights of the girl child. It is a health right for them not to be circumcised.

“World Vision is committed to the protection and well-being of all children in Kenya and through partnership with the ministry of education and other government departments, we have been able to tap into funds set aside for women to provide an alternative source of income to female circumcisers,” explains Nalianya.

Changing attitudes

The area Member of Parliament, Hon. Sammy Mwaita, expresses appreciation for World Vision's efforts to raise public awareness through education campaigns and encouraging alternative rites of passage.

World Vision has assisted the community through the construction of two dormitories which have acted as rescue centres for girls as they wait to be reconciled with their parents.

“We are dealing with people who are deeply entrenched in cultural beliefs. At times, when you tell them to abandon the FGM practice, they feel like they are being coerced into discarding their culture,” explains Mwaita.

“We as the leadership in this area want to emphasise that FGM is not an obligation. It lowers the dignity of women." We have role models who have succeeded in the community because they got an education which could have been impossible if they saluted tradition,” he continues.

"Attitude change takes time. We will meet resistance and the practice cannot be stopped overnight, but the efforts will go a long way.”

Sister Fa dit no à l'excision

Trailer about the engagement of Sister Fa to sensibilise the population of Senegal for the dangerous consequences of the practice of female genital cutting.


Tostan-Empowering Communities to Abandon Female Genital Cutting (FGC)

This film describes how Tostan's unique Community Empowerment Program (CEP) has successfully promoted human rights and health in villages throughout Africa. Through interviews with Tostan's Executive Director Molly Melching, UNICEF's Director of Child Protection Dr. Nick Alipui, and past participants of the CEP, viewers will learn about the social structure of female genital cutting (FGC), and how Tostan's approach of community led development has led to the abandonment of FGC practices in thousands of villages.

Tostan is a Senegalese non-governmental organization whose mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights. Since 1991, Tostan has brought its holistic 30-month education program to thousands of communities in ten African countries: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and Sudan. For more information please visit our website at

Life after female genital mutilation

February 17, 2010
By Mark Gould - The Guardian

Consultant gynaecologist Geetha Subramanian is one of only a handful of medical professionals in the UK to carry out FGM reversals

In a calm voice, Ann relates how, at the age of 12, she was drugged, blindfolded, stripped naked and held down by a singing and chanting group of women, who then used a surgical blade "to hack off my ­clitoris like it was a piece of meat".

Ann (not her real name) is one of tens of thousands of women in the UK who has undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), which can cause a host of health problems, infertility and even death. FGM – generally referred to as "cutting" – is illegal to carry it out on a UK citizen and punishable by 14 years in jail. Yet ­latest research gives a conservative estimate that 77,000 women and young girls in the UK have been mutilated, and around 24,000 young girls are at risk.

Anecdotally, it seems that cutting is on the increase, either being carried out in the UK or on "cutting holidays", like Ann's to Sierra Leone. One explanation is that it reinforces cultural ties of migrant communities with their countries of origin.

Cutting can mean anything from removing the hood of the clitoris to cutting off all the external genitalia and sewing up the wound, leaving only a tiny opening for menstruation. It can be ­performed using razors, metal, glass, string and thorns, often unsterilised.

Consultant gynaecologist Geetha Subramanian is one of only a handful of medical professionals in the UK to carry out FGM reversals, known as deinfibulation. From her NHS clinic at Mile End hospital in east London, she sees women whose families originate in sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Subramanian, who has carried out more than 200 reversals, first saw the problem over 20 years ago when a young Somali woman came for an abortion. "She had been assessed by another doctor, who had not spotted the FGM," she says. "So many doctors and nurses are simply ­ignorant of it.

"I knew the woman was unmarried and that it would be important for her to be stitched, but it would be illegal and unethical for me to do it. I left it open and explained what I had done. She was happy and spread the word."

Last month, at a conference held by the FGM National Clinical Group, a DVD paid for by thriller writer Lady [Ruth] Rendell, who is a passionate campaigner against FGM, was launched to show health workers how to perform a reversal. Ann, who was about to undergo surgery to undo the damage done 13 years ago, bravely agreed to talk at the conference.

On the day she was cut, she says, the women of the village invited her to a celebration of becoming an adult. "They promised it would be wonderful – I would get new clothes, my hair would be done, and there would be music and all kinds of food," she recalls. "But I was stripped. They rubbed stuff on my body and gave me leaves to eat that made me feel woozy. Then they blindfolded me and led me along with a lot of other girls. There was a lot of chanting and singing. They held me down and opened my legs and I said, "This is not what you said would happen. Don't do it.'"

They gave her a local anaesthetic and used a sterile surgical blade – both supplied, she later learned, by her father, who is a doctor.

"Then they hacked at me like a piece of meat until it was off," she recalls. "They said that cutting would make my vagina flat and beautiful and not dirty or smell bad and would not itch. They said that if it didn't happen then no man would touch you, and they also told me not to tell ­anyone."

Ann tried to blot out the trauma, but finally went to a counsellor at school, who referred her to hospital. When she confronted her father, his response was: "I did what was best for you. If I did not, you would not be respected as a woman."

Because many men in cutting cultures say they will only marry a woman who has been cut, Subramanian says it is women who perpetuate the abuse.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Senegal: Total End of Female Genital Cutting Now in Sight

February 18, 2010
By Tostan

Senegal: Total End of Female Genital Cutting Now in Sight
Government of Senegal launches major national action plan to seize on momentum created by local communities and the NGO Tostan to end the practice by 2015

DAKAR, Senegal, 18 February 2010—Building on a massive grassroots movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) which has seen thousands of communities in Senegal join its ranks in recent years, the Government of Senegal will announce on Friday, February 19th  the launch of a comprehensive strategy for achieving its goal of nationwide abandonment of FGC by 2015.

The strategy, to be announced at an event attended by Senegalese Prime Minister Souleymane Ndéné Ndiaye, is largely based on the human rights approach developed by Tostan, an NGO working in Senegal since 1991. Through Tostan's respectful, cross-cutting model of engagement, over 4,200 communities in Senegal have publicly declared their abandonment of the practice since 1997. A recent UNICEF study confirmed the long-term abandonment of FGC in communities that participated in the Tostan program.

The National Action Plan for FGC Abandonment 2010-2015 will focus on three key components of the Tostan strategy: implementing empowering education programs in national languages, engaging extended social networks through an "organized diffusion" model of communication, and supporting public declarations for the abandonment of FGC.

The Action Plan also stresses the importance of working with populations in the regions where FGC is most commonly practiced, Saint Louis, Matam, Kaolack, Tambacounda, Ziguinchor, and Kolda─regions which are among the poorest of Senegal.

The launch event will recognize the local community leaders who have led this movement from infancy to its current tipping point. Special recognition will be given to the first community to publicly declare abandonment of FGC in 1997, Malicounda Bambara. The Tostan organization and staff will also be recognized for their dedicated work on this and other development issues over the past 19 years. Khaldiou Sy, Director of Tostan Senegal, will speak at the event.

The launch event comes just days before a massive public declaration of all 256 communities of the Kedougou Region of Senegal, where, on Sunday, February 21, participating communities will declare an end to the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage on a regional level, marking one of the largest such events to-date. The event will be attended by the Minister of the Family and the Country Representative of UNICEF in Senegal.

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About Tostan: Tostan, a US 501c3 organization that was 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. Over 99% of Tostan’s staff is African. The organization’s 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

Thursday, February 18, 2010

EUROPE: Fight Female Mutilation Harder Activists Urge EU

February 17, 2010
By Pavol Stracansky -  Ethiopian Review

VIENNA, Feb 17 (IPS) With hundreds of thousands of girls and women believed to be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Europe, rights groups have mounted a campaign to get EU leaders to stop what they see as a barbaric and dangerous procedure.

FGM – an umbrella term for procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons – has been condemned by governments, rights groups and health organisations across the world.

But while many European governments have introduced laws to ban the practice, campaigners have warned that far from dying out it continues in communities across the continent and those same governments must do more to stamp it out.
"We need action. Political commitments are encouraging but the time has come for concrete action at national and European level," Dr. Christine Loudes, who is heading an Amnesty International-led European campaign on FGM, told IPS.

As many as 140 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to FGM, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). It also estimates that as many as 8,000 women per day are at risk of mutilation.
The practice varies in its form according to factors such as the ethnic background of the victim and the location of her community. Girls less than a year old are victims of the procedure and it is most commonly practiced on girls up to the age of 15.

Carried out in what rights groups describe as ‘’horrific" conditions, it often involves terrified young girls being held down while traditional practitioners use a sharp object such as a knife, a razor blade or broken glass to carry out the mutilation.

There has been some evidence too that doctors and medical staff are also involved in some cases.

Four types of FGM have been classified by the WHO. Type I or clitoridectomy consists of partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or its prepuce. Type II, also known as excision, is where the clitoris and labia minora are partially or totally removed, with or without excision of the labia majora. Type III is also known as infibulation and consists of narrowing the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or labia majora, with or without removal of the clitoris.

A small opening is left for urine and menstrual blood to escape. An infibulation must be opened either through penetrative sexual intercourse or surgically. Type IV consists of all other procedures to the genitalia of women for non-medical purposes, such as pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.

The practice is justified in communities on grounds like local tradition, religion and culture. Some argue that it is carried out to protect girls from illicit sexual desires or because female genitals are considered to be unhygienic. In some FGM-practicing societies, unmutilated women are regarded as unclean and are not allowed to handle food and water.

But health organisations say that FGM has no medical benefits and instead carries life-threatening health risks. The short-term risks of the procedure include severe bleeding, chronic pain, infection and death through shock, haemorrhaging or septicaemia. The long-term effects include infections, genital ulcers, damage to the reproductive system as well as psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

A multi-country study by the WHO in six African countries showed that women who had undergone FGM had significantly increased risks for adverse events during childbirth, and that genital mutilation in mothers has negative effects on their newborn babies. According to the study, an additional one to two babies per 100 deliveries die as a result of FGM.

FGM has been largely documented in African and Middle Eastern states and among ethnic communities in central and south America – creating a false impression that the problem is confined to poorer, less developed parts of the world, say rights groups.

But migration has spread the practice to Europe and groups like Amnesty International as well as WHO say that up to 500,000 women in Europe are living with FGM and 180,000 are at risk of mutilation every year.
Waris Dirie, a Somalian former supermodel who is also a victim of FGM and who heads her own foundation campaigning against FGM headquartered in Vienna, Austria, said that although legislation has been passed in Europe to try and stop FGMthe practice is thriving illicitly in communities.

She told IPS: "FGM is a social taboo in many countries. In Europe it is practiced by different immigrant communities from African or Asian countries where FGM is practiced. It is estimated that 500,000 victims of FGM live in Europe, but most estimates are based only on the number of women from African countries although FGM is also practiced in many Asian countries, as well as in Iraq and Iran (by the Kurds) where many refugees in Europe come from.’’

"We know that many girls in Europe are taken abroad during school holidays to be mutilated in their parents’ home countries. But there are also cases of FGM being performed here in Europe.’’

"Since this happens in secret and illegally, it is impossible to say precisely how it is done. There have been cases where doctors have illegally performed FGM, but usually it is done by African circumcisers who sometimes come especially to perform FGM."

The WHO has said that the true scale of the problem in Europe could be much larger than current estimates suggest.

Elise Johansen, WHO spokeswoman on FGM issues, told IPS: "There have only been small-scale studies carried out in Europe on FGM so a lot of what we know of the problem in Europe is guesswork and estimates. As it is illegal it is very hard to find out the scale of the problem because so few people would admit to planning to have it carried out. The situation could be much worse than we think."

Legislation specifically banning FGM has been passed by some European states, including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Britain. It is also illegal under existing criminal legislation in countries such as France where prison sentences have been handed down in more than 30 court cases involving FGM practices.

Rights groups claim the legislation is only partially effective. They warn that problems in detection and reporting of cases, as well as frequent lack of sufficient evidence to take a case to court prevents effective protection of girls at risk.

"Some European states have included the term FGM explicitly in their legal code. Enforcement is very difficult, however, and rarely happens," Dirie told IPS.

Groups also point to unclear asylum rules in cases of female refugees who have fled their home countries for fear of becoming victims of FGM.

"FGM is grounds for asylum under EU directives, but not all EU countries have implemented the directives properly into their laws and some women refugees are not getting the protection they should," Prerna Humpel, spokeswoman for Amnesty’s campaign against FGM, told IPS.

Amnesty International has now launched a campaign with 12 partner organisations across Europe calling on European politicians to do more to stopthe practice.

The ‘END FGM’ campaign involves events in Lisbon, Vienna, Nicosia, Brussels and London this month and next, aimed at raising awareness of the issue and also to press EU officials into creating a definitive strategy on FGM.

The campaign is urging EU officials to adopt measures to protect women and children from FGM, including access to healthcare for women living with FGM in Europe, better protection mechanisms for women and children against violence, clear asylum guidelines for those threatened by FGM, as well as data collection on FGM prevalence in Europe and mainstreaming of FGM in EU dialogues with third countries where FGM is prevalent.

"Women and girls need protection from FGM. Governments have a responsibility to inform immigrant communities about FGM and its effects on women and girls.

"EU governments also have a duty to put in place measures to protect women and girls against FGM, to prosecute those who carry it out and to prevent and stop the practice. Awareness has to be raised at a community level," said Loudes.

Meanwhile, other groups are also urging governments to act, arguing that only comprehensive information campaigns can help stop the practice.

Johansen of WHO said: "Systematic and repeated discussion of FGM is needed in communities where it is practiced. This has been shown to be the most effective method of reducing it. People involved in it need to be educated and fully informed about it. This is happening in Africa but something like this is lacking in Europe’’.

"It is down to governments to put this in place. It is their responsibility."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New Hope - Can African First Ladies Intervene in FGM Fight

February 14, 2010
By Florence Mutesi - The New Times

Kigali — Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) also called Female Genital Cutting, is beyond what some people normally call circumcision.

Countries like Uganda and Egypt have shown interest in fighting the vice through efforts of abolition. But with a country like Kenya, it is said that policy makers don't want to interfere with their political interests, by tackling the issue, therefore at this point first ladies can intervene.

First ladies in East Africa and sub Saharan Africa at large have made a great impact in several areas such as the fight against HIV/AIDS, where they are recognized for the positive changes manifested.

Although their intervention requires the support of the policy makers, they cannot wait for the political will but rather advocate for the abolition of FGM. And it will be possible if first ladies put it on their agenda, taking it serious.

Rwandan First Lady Mrs. Jeannette Kagame at the end of 2009, at the African AIDS Vaccine Programme (AAVP) forum, called on African leaders to collaborate in coming up with viable policies or systems to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa, fighting FGM should be a similar chorus sung in the same way, by the first ladies. FGM may not only lead to contracting HIV/AIDS, but undermines women's choice, since most women are mutilated at an early age, and others do it just because of a tradition.

The first time to look at the video where the cutting was carried out, it was trauma. And to most people, who have never seen this, trust if you are a humanitarian, you would hate the practice with passion.
The most severe cutting is what is called type 3 (Pharaonic circumcision 3 or infibulation).

No wonder the ones who cut women, which women include those are cut when still babies, are never seen during the function of cutting but rather hide somewhere, where they carry out their operation.

This cutting consists of thinning of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and sealing the labia minora and or labia majora with or without excision of the clitoris (these are the external parts of a female genital).

Those who do the cutting may use thorns or stitches to hold the two sides of the labia majora together and the legs of the victim are bound together for up to 40 days. Only a small opening is left to allow urine and menstrual blood to escape, which at initial stage uncontrollably find their way due to the agony the victim lives in.

Information provided by 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) indicates 96.8 percent among Somali prevalence and 98.9 percent for the North Eastern Province, where the majority live. And Type III is predominant. One Maryam Sheikh Abdi, a Somali Kenyan lady who at one time underwent the trauma of FGM, has decided to preach change in her community, Kenya and internationally.

She is somehow taken unserious by those from her family and FGM believers, but she is not ready to reverse her decision of saving the young generation by creating awareness.

FGM is among human rights abuses that are being ignored in 28 countries of sub-Saharan Africa, some countries in the Middle East and Asia.

And 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone the practice, with at least two million girls being at risk of being cut each year and about 6,000 girls a day.

It is of recent that a Kenyan Doctor mentioned Rwanda among and western countries to be practicing FGM due to the changes women make on their genitals.

He mentioned as a way of undermining women's rights/pleasure as to please their male counterparts. There is need of more research what may be called female genital prolongation, to find the right definition (not FGM) and its effect and the reasons of carrying it out.

Also for the Western world, there is need of knowing why the female genitals are pierced and put rings for what is called beauty.

FGM has continued to exist due to lack of political will to fight the vice, since politicians fear to lose votes through promising or tackling the issue.

It is at this point that the efforts of the first ladies are most needed since the problem has been given attention by most of the international community, for example USAID.

The practice, to those who are still sticking on it argue that it prevents immorality among females as it is perceived as a way to reduce women's sexual desires through infibulation , to enforce the cultural value attached to sexual spotlessness among females, by making sure that virginity before marriage and female faithfulness throughout living.

However, the question is, as females are forced into painful moral practices, men who are married to victims of FGM are said to be more unfaithful as they seek "uncircumcised" women.

Maryam who has also carried out studies on the vice asserts: "FGM is a deeply rooted and widely supported cultural practice that is supported by many cultural reinforcements for its continuation.

Several closely related reasons are used to sustain the practice: being a Somali tradition and the belief that it is an Islamic requirement formed the two main reasons given."

"The practice is also perceived to prevent immorality as it is seen as a way to reduce women's sexual desires through using infibulation to enforce the cultural value of sexual purity in females by ensuring virginity before marriage and fidelity throughout a woman's life. It was evident from the studies that there is a fear of women becoming promiscuous if not circumcised and so FGM/C was erroneously believed to be in compliance with Islamic requirements of chastity and morality".

Also, the practice is believed to be a way to enhance women's cleanliness and beautifying the genitalia.
'Marriageability' is another reason for the practice, since the community believes an uncut woman or girl cannot be married, or if married, will be divorced once the husband discovers she is not. FGM/C plays no role as a rite of passage in the community, however, as it is generally performed on girls aged 6-7 years, and on girls as young as four years.

Most of the tribes in many countries have practiced genital cutting for so many years in that the practice has continued to even affect the young generation which would be willing to give up on it.
And, unfortunately health system does not have advanced equipment to serve women who have been cut, especially those infibulated, during their pregnancy time and delivery.

The unfortunate part, as men from the practicing tribes marry cut women, they are unfaithful to their wives as they normally have uncut lovers, therefore FGM victims suffer in vain. There should be great efforts to end the practice, as gender equality, gender based violence, human rights, fight against HIV/AIDS are given attention.
Otherwise some people might not benefit from the good policies.

Film breaks silence over female circumcision

February 15, 2010
By Elizabeth Pears - Haringey Independent

YOUNG African women will screen a film in Tottenham on Friday to break the silence about female genital mutilation.
The Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (Forward), a charity promoting women's rights, worked with the young women to create a film called Think Again, in partnership with the Haringey African Women's Welfare Group.
It follows one 11-year-old's struggle between family honour and the facts of female circumcision after learning that her mother wants her to undergo the procedure.
It also helps to answer why it still exists in the 21st Century and sheds light on the physical and psychological impact it can have.
The cultural practice, most prevalent in Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Egypt, involves partial, or total removal, of female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
With 24,000 girls at high risk in the UK, critics are calling for more awareness about the custom which can cause serious health concerns and make sexual intercourse painful.
According to the Haringey domestic and gender based violence strategy 2008-2012, there are no definite figures of how many Haringey residents are at risk, but some schools have reported female pupils being taken abroad in the summer to undergo the procedure.
Even the local health authority, NHS Haringey, said it did not record that type of information.
Up to 20 young women aged between 11 and 23 participated in the five-month Young People Speak Out project to educate their peers and their community to abandon the practice.
As well as tackling a difficult issue, the young women also developed skills in acting, filming, editing, event management and campaigning.
The film will be aired on Friday, February 19, between 6pm and 9pm at the Haringey Irish Cultural and Community Centre, in Pretoria Road, and will include a presentation, poetry performances, a question-and-answer session and a cultural dance performance.
Think Again will be used as part of Forward's schools programme.

Second set of 'fake' documents in deportation case

February 12, 2010
By Ireland On Line

The Supreme Court has been told a second set of documents provided by Nigerian woman Pamela Izevbekhai to prove her daughter died of Female Genital Mutilation are fakes.

Izevbekhai has spent the last five years challenging a deportation order, arguing her daughters' lives are at risk from FGM if they return to Nigeria.

She says her first-born girl died from the brutal procedure.

The case has now been put back for another three weeks, after more legal issues were raised by the five Judges of the Court.

Women in Kurdistan - Female Circumcision Ban Urged

February 11, 2010
By Qassim Khidhir - Global Arab Network

Mariam Nadr, 77, has a fine home in an upscale neighbourhood of Erbil and is a prominent member of the community. She has a bright smile, a calm demeanour and wears the white shawl of a respected Kurdish matron.

Part of Nadr’s social standing stems from her past: for many years mothers came to her to perform genital mutilations on their daughters. For these women, the act was a cultural and religious rite.

The custom of female genital mutilation, FGM, upheld by Nadr and other women of her generation, has been condemned in recent years by activists, medical groups and religious leaders who consider the practice barbaric. They argue that FGM is physically and psychologically damaging to girls and women.

Change has come slowly, and Iraqi Kurdistan remains a battleground where education and awareness campaigns must overturn centuries of ingrained tradition.

"No one told me mutilation is bad; I did it for the sake of religion," Nadr told IWPR.

Results of an 18-month study released this week in Erbil give a stark picture of the prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan. The German relief organisation Wadi, which organises campaigns to stop the practice in northern Iraq, found that a large majority of Kurdish women have undergone the procedure.

In Iraq, the practice mainly occurs in Kurdish areas. According to interviews with 1,690 women and girls over the age of 14, the average rate of FGM across Kurdistan is 74 per cent.

In Erbil province, the FGM rate is 63 per cent, while in Sulaimaniyah it is 78 per cent. The highest reported incidence is in the largely rural area of Garmyan, where 81 per cent of women and girls surveyed had undergone FGM.

Even so, the NGO points to age discrepancies that suggest the practice is falling out of favour with younger parents. Among women under the age of 20, the mutilation rate is 57 per cent, while in the 30 to 39 age group it is 74 per cent. For women in Nadr's age bracket, the rate rises to nearly 96 per cent.

"The study shows a clear correlation between the level of education and the attitudes towards FGM. Still, the FGM rate amongst university graduates is 30 per cent. But it becomes clear that with an increasing social status, women are more likely to question harmful traditions and alleged religious obligations," read a Wadi press statement on the report.

FGM is an ancient procedure involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. It is commonly performed in family homes under unsanitary conditions by women with no formal medical training. By some accounts, the clitoris of a girl is sliced off and ash is applied to the incision to ease the pain.

Practitioners say FGM is a religious tradition, although research shows the custom preceded Kurdistan's conversion to Islam and Islamic leaders have disavowed any connection. Rural folklore holds that food prepared by women who have not had the procedure is not halal.

As recently as the 1970s, local mosques used loudspeakers during the months of March and April to urge parents to conduct the procedure on their daughters. Because 84 per cent of those surveyed recently said they practiced FGM because of religion, Wadi believes mullahs can help bring its cause to the public.

"The Holy Koran has not ordered females to be circumcised and there is no strong hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) that says females should be mutilated in this way," said Dr Basher Khalil al-Hadad, head of the Kurdistan parliament’s religious affairs committee and the mullah at Jalil Khayat Mosque, the biggest mosque in Kurdistan.

Hadad added that the top Islamic scholars at Al-Azhar University in Cairo had outlawed FGM and issued a decree stating the practice has nothing to do with Islam.

"You must understand, Kurdistan has a conservative society. It is difficult for many mullahs to talk about FGM openly," Hadad said. "But since most of the people who practice FGM say it is because of religion, I think it is our duty to talk to people about it."

While local media, NGOs and women's groups have raised public awareness about FGM, the subject is still considered taboo. A bill introduced to the Kurdish parliament making FGM a crime has been postponed indefinitely and many politicians are reluctant to address it.

"I went to parliament with a group of women. First, they said they had more important issues to deal with, and then they said they didn't want to talk about it with us. We brought a film for them to watch and they were too shy to watch it," said Tara Alif, 27, a lawyer and women's rights activist who has pushed the proposed legislation.

"I can't call Kurdish society modern because we still have problems like FGM. This is a big obstacle to improving society," she added.

Thomas Von Der Osten-Sacken, managing director of Wadi, believes it will take a multilateral campaign by the government, NGOs, the United Nations and the religious establishment to combat the practice.

"If we all together start an organised campaign, in five or six years, we will end FGM in Kurdistan," Von Der Osten-Sacken said.

Wadi’s ambitious goal may not be that far out of sight. Nadr said it has been quite some time since one of her neighbours in Erbil came to her to request the procedure.

"People do not ask me now, because they have stopped performing the ritual on their daughters," she said.  

Religious arguments affect anti FGM debate

February 11, 2010
By Abdoulie John - Jollofnews

Dr Isatou Touray, a leading voice in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), has described as great the challenge of openly discussing FGM, mainly as a result of arguments wrongfully associated with religion. This, she said, made the debate more sensitive for women’s rights activists.
 Dr Touray was addressing a regional conference on the theme: “Generating alternatives against Female Genital Mutilation”, held Wednesday 10th February, 2010, at the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi.
Jointly organised by the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) with its partners, namely the Spanish NGO, Yolocamba Solidaridad and the Region of Madrid, the conference brought together participants from the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau. It is held at the height of a just concluded project in Gambia, with the support of the Government of Spain, which sought to engage families (men and women) in particular targeted areas where this practice is predominant (the Koina and Brikamaba clusters). That project also targeted local authorities, local NGOs, Government departments, the judicial and educational systems, as well as circumcisers and religious leaders in order to discuss on issues pertaining to Generating Alternatives Against FGM in the Gambia.  As a result, a strong unity against FGM was reportedly reached.
Acknowledging those achievements, which were realized in the course of one-year, Dr Isatou Touray, who is the head of GAMCOTRAP, told the regional conference that a good number of activities were conducted targeting various socio-professional groups.
“The project has also provided an opportunity for the development of modules on FGM for different target groups,’’ she said, and then revealed that specially tailored modules on FGM were developed and a draft submitted to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education for subsequent incorporation into the Life skill module for students.
Far from being overwhelmed by the positive results they were able to achieve, the anti-FGM activist warned participants that immense work remained ahead. She noted that with very many more communities to be covered, there was the need for sustained financial and material support to facilitate the work of Gamcotrap in the Gambia and other activist groups in the rest of the sub region.
The conference also provided opportunity for participants to share their experiences, express support against reported cases of harmful traditional practices, child abuse and even early marriage.
Punctuated by the adoption of a resolution against FGM and other harmful traditional practices, the conference participants called on the Gambian government to enact law against the phenomenon.
Additionally, participants pledged commitment to supporting and campaigning for the eradication of practices that have left millions of young Africans plunged into despair. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gambian Rights group advocates alternative to female genital mutilation

February 10, 2010
By Afrique en ligne

The Gambian Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), in partnership with Yolocamba Solidaridad of Spain on Wednesday held a one-day conference on Generating Alternatives to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Speaking at the conference, funded by the Region of Madrid in Spain, the Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray, said the GAMCOTRAP/Yolocamba Solidaridad partnership was based on the need to stop the harmful traditional practices against women.

'These areas of concern are critical for the attainment of the fundamental human rights of women and ensuring their complete wellbeing and empowerment within their communities,' she noted.

According to Dr. Touray, GAMCOTRAP in partnership with Yolocamba Solidaridad, supported by the Region of Madrid, worked with Cluster communities in addressing harmful traditional practices, women's rights and gender-based violence.

She explained that the project "generating alternatives against Female Genital Mutilation" had facilitated in-depth knowledge on the social relations shared by cluster communities in The Gambia and practices that are shrouded in secrecy (FGM).

She admitted that it was a great challenge to open discussions on the jealously guarded secrets about FGM , which was wrongfully associated with religion; there by making the debate more sensitive for women's rights activists to engage in.

She noted that Koina was one of the most resistant communities, but expressed the happiness that through the project, organizers were able to make a breakthrough, adding that 18 communities in the Koina cluster and the 21 communities in the Brikamaba cluster were free from FGM.

On his part, Mr. Santiago De Miguel of the Region of Madrid said that Madrid was interested in the fight against FGM in Africa, adding that in 2006, Madrid organized a workshop in Mali, Senegal and The Gambia in order to stop the dangerous practice.

The GAMCOTRAP/Yolocamba Solidaridad Project Coordinator, Begona Ballesteros Sanchez, argued that eradicating FGM would not be an easy task; but pledged "it is our responsibility to defend women's rights."

Progress in reducing female genital mutilation

February 5, 2010
By United Nations Radio

TRANSCRIPTS FROM AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW (Nafissatou Diop, UN Population Fund) FEATURED ON UN RADIO (to listen to the interview, please visit the original website by clicking on the title of this post).

Despite recent progress in reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation, the UN estimates that 3 million young girls each year remain at risk of undergoing FGM. Bissera Kostova spoke to Nafissatou Diop of the UN Population Fund to find out how UN agencies and governments are trying to overcome this harmful traditional practice.

Diop: In 2010, some recent data show that there is a decrease of the practice when you look at the prevalence of female genital mutilation cutting among older women aged from 35 to 39 and you compare them to those aged from 15 to 19 years old - there is a decrease. For example, in Kenya the prevalence among the younger group is 15% compared to 35% among the older group. In Cote d'Ivoire we have 28% for the younger group, compared to 44% for the older group. I can give Ethiopia example also, which is a very, very successful story where the younger group prevalence rate is 62% compared to 81%. Even in Egypt, where we know that female genital mutilation is widely used, we can find a decrease from 96% in 2005 to 81% among that young age group.

Kostova: And how has this success been achieved. What has worked?

Diop: First of all, during the past ten years, we have seen more and more commitment from the government of those countries, or at least in Africa, there is much more commitment from the policy level, with a lot of countries - 17 countries now out of 28 - that have laws that specifically prohibit female genital mutilation cutting. But in addition to that, I do need to say that at community level, a lot of NGOs are working since 20 years, but recently we can see an acceleration, because we have now better comprehension of what works. And what works is the collective abandonment of female genital mutilation cutting. This is a social norm and as a social norm, we know that the abandonment can happen individually, but it's going to be very slow, so the abandonment in a collective way using education on human rights, using a dialogue to let the people themselves understand and think about this practice and really denounce it and decide that this is something that they can really abandon is probably the way to go. And we can we can give the successful example seen in Senegal with an NGO named Tostan and a recent evaluation shows that in villages where these programmes were implemented there was a decrease on the prevalence rate of 65% compared to other villages where the programmes were not implemented. And we are seeing public declarations of abandonment in now 4,000 villages out of 5,000 that are practicing FGM in Senegal, for example. So we do know now what works and we do want also to accelerate the strategies that we think do work.

Kostova: For those girls, who still go through the procedure - what does it mean for them, what are the health consequences?

Diop: There is a lot of health consequences. For the physical aspect, there is of course severe pain, hemorrhaging, tetanus, infection, possibility of infertility, cysts and abcesses, urinary incontinence. There is also an increased complication in child birth. Those who have been cut, who have undergone the procedure of female genital mutilation cutting have a higher risk of morbidity, mortality, much more hemorrhaging and the newborn also has a higher risk of low birth weight and mortality. So that one has been clearly demonstrated in 2006 with a study conducted in six African countries, including Sudan. And what is less documented is the psychological and sexual problems.

Kostova: The World Health Organization has said that some of the cutting is done by health care providers, and they have come out against this. Why is that so, wouldn't it be better for the girls that it be done in a hygienic way?

Diop: Actually, you know, this was debated several years ago, and of course, there were some voices in eastern countries - Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti and some parts of Kenya, where there are some Somali communities. There were some debates that maybe we should encourage, first of all a less intrusive practice. Moving from infibulations, when the woman has been stitched -- cut, but also stitched -- and there is a small hole that is left for of course, menstruation, and when the woman has to give birth she needs to be opened, and then deliver, then she will be sewed again. So this is what we call re-infibulation. So there were some voices that were saying that we can encourage moving from this infibulation practice to less intrusive practice like cutting of the clitoris. Some other voices also you know, defended the fact that maybe if this is done by a health professional in a health facility using some hygienic instruments, but also using anesthesia and all, that will be more acceptable for the woman. But I think that this debate is not anymore accurate. Everybody recognizes today that even if it is done by health professionals this won't reduce the risk for childbirth, for example. Of course, it may reduce the immediate consequences like pain, like shock, like hemorrhaging, like death. It may, we don't know. But the long-term consequences, the consequences on sexuality, the psychological consequences wont' be reduced even if it is done by a health professional. So WHO and most institutions, including UNFPA and UNICEF, working on that issue really took a strong stand against the medicalization of female genital mutilation. And we really do not want to see health professionals engaged in this practice. Unfortunately this is still happening, but there is a global today that has been developed by WHO in partnership with UNFPA and UNICEF to really fight against this trend of involvement of medical professionals and also we need to remind the Hippocrates ceremony and all that providers shouldn't harm and this is a harmful practice, so they shouldn't be engaged in this practice.

Kostova: The Hippocratic oath, you mean?

Diop: Exactly.

PRES: Nafissatou Diop is the coordinator of the joint UNFPA/UNICEF programme against female genital mutilation in Africa.

Duration: 7'13"

YEMEN: New FGM/C law possible "within four years" - minister

February 10, 2010 By IRIN, Humanitarian News and Analysis SANAA, 10 February 2010 (IRIN) - Nearly a decade after a ban on health workers performing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Yemen, the harmful practice continues unabated, with the government saying more research is needed before an outright ban can be imposed. “Nine years after the ban we see that it works the opposite of what was intended,” said Wafa Ahmad Ali, a leader of the Sanaa-based Yemen Women’s Union (YWU). “Now instead of going to the hospital where the tools are at least clean, FGM is carried out at home.” The Ministry of Human Rights supports a new study on the practice. “If the study proves that the practice is still being carried out, we will push for a new law,” Huda Ali Abdullatef Alban, minister of human rights, told IRIN. “We hope this new law can be in place within the next four years,” he said . FGM/C is a practice which includes the mutilation, scarring, partial or full removal of a woman’s genitals for non-medical reasons. It leads to a range of serious reproductive and other health problems, according to the WHO. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently estimated that worldwide 120-140 million women have been subjected to the practice and three million girls continue to be at risk each year. “The practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting. These perceptions can, and must, change,” said a joint UNFPA, UNICEF statement on 6 February, the international day against FGM. A study of over 2,000 women in Yemen in 2001, carried out by the Ministry of Heath in coordination with the Women’s National Committee, found FGM/C particularly widespread in five coastal governorates. In Hodeidah, Hadhramaut and al-Maharah an average of over 96 percent of women had undergone FGM/C. In Aden it was 82 percent, and in al-Amanah 46 percent of women. The waiting room in a Sanaa health clinic is full of women waiting to see a leading gynecologist, Arwa Elrabee. The doctor has just seen a patient who has undergone FGM/C. “She is married, but she does not want to have intercourse with her husband because of the pain,” she said. “In many cases the pain is physical, but often it is psychological.” “I view it as a criminal attack on children,” said Elrabee. “Often people don’t use anesthetic and they risk giving the girl both physical and psychological traumas.” “Simply put, FGM/C is violence against girls,” said the YWU’s Ali. “There are laws against it in Yemen, but they are not adequate and they are not enforced.” Meanwhile, the YWU argues the position of the government on FGM/C has “never been assertive” and allows for the custom to continue being carried out privately. Ali and others acknowledge that ending FGM/C in Yemen will require changing society’s attitude towards women in a country which in 2009 was rated by the World Economic Forum as having the world’s largest gender disparity for a third consecutive year. “At the heart of this problem is the lack of equality between men and women,” said Ali. “We are struggling for our rights in Yemen. Personally I am angry, but we need to take baby steps when it comes to changing Yemeni society.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Female genital mutilation declines

February 8, 2010 By Leonard Mwakalebela - Daily News CASES of female genital mutilation (FGM) have declined in Mara, Kilimanjaro, Morogoro and Iringa regions, but rose in Singida and Arusha plus Manyara regions. The Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children, Mrs Mariam Mwaffisi, said that generally the rate had declined from 18 to 15 per cent over the last 10 years. She was addressing the FGM Zero Tolerance Day held at national level in Dodoma today. The event was organized by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) on behalf of the National Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Network (NAFGEM). The Permanent Secretary noted that the rate in Mara region had declined from 44 to 38 per cent, Kilimanjaro from 37 to 25.4 per cent, Morogoro from 20 to 18 per cent and Iringa from 27 to 22.7 per cent. Mrs Mwaffisi noted further that the rate in Singida had increased from 25.4 to 43 per cent and Arusha plus Manyara regions have reached 81 per cent. According to research done by LHRC in collaboration with with NAFGEM in 2002, 18 per cent of women in the country were mutilated. ''The ministry has discovered the Penal Code Act has some shortcomings and should be reviewed to curb this problem," she said. The Permanent Secretary however said that the ministry had strategic plan (2001-2015) to eliminate the malpractice. In her message on behalf of NAFGEM, the Director of Anti Female Genital Mutilation Network (AFNET), Ms Sarah Mwaga said that Tanzania was among 28 countries in Africa which were still practicing genital mutilation. Somalia, Egypt and Gambia are taking the lead. She explained that Tanzania had no updated and correct statistics of female genital mutilation and the currently used ones were outdated and mere guess works. Ms Mwaga said that despite having the strategic plan, there was no any mechanism in place to coordinate the elimination process and that already 10 years of the plan had elapsed.

Female circumcision happening in Australia

February 6, 2010 By Emily Bourke - ABC News

Health authorities in Australia say they are concerned about the growing number of women who have undergone some form of genital mutilation.

Female circumcision is illegal in Australia, but experts say there is evidence that it is being practised here.

More and more migrant women are also seeking help after having the procedure in their home countries.

Across Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, female genital mutilation is practised on about three million girls and women each year. The centuries-old custom has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s.

But that has not stopped it happening here, according to Dr Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

"There is some evidence to suggest that it does happen in certain parts of Australia," he said.

"It's hard to gauge the actual numbers because it's prohibited by legislation and it's something that is performed in an underground way.

"But certainly there have been reports of children being taken to hospital after having the procedure done with complications from that procedure."

Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital says it is seeing between 600 and 700 women each year who have experienced it in some form.

Somali-born Zeinab Mohamud, from the hospital's Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program, says much of her work involves untangling some outdated cultural traditions and religious misconceptions.

"Some questions that we ask the women is 'why were you doing it?' and they will tell you, 'because of my religion'," she said.

"We bring imams or priests to convince them that there is nothing from both books that says you have to do circumcision to girls. So why are you doing it?"

Ms Mohamud is optimistic the practice will end, but she fears migrant communities or individual women will be demonised.

"Some people when they hear they say, 'how can that happen?' It's when something is cultural and the people have been doing it for so long, it's not easy to either eliminate it or to say, 'you have got a bad culture'," she said.

"You have to work with them, listen to them. You have to know where they are coming from in order to help them."

Dr Ted Weaver agrees and he says ordering people against the practice would be inappropriate.

"If we try and dictate and pontificate about this and not provide culturally appropriate care, we'll further disenfranchise those women," he said.

"Any progress will be incremental. I don't think that it's something that will stop overnight.

"But I think all we can do is advocate against it, speak out, try to educate women, try to empower women, certainly in this country, and we should do our best for international organisations that are also espousing the same message."

Cyprus joins battle against female genital mutilation

February 5, 2010
By Sebastian Heller - Cyprus Mail

CYPRUS is starting to look at the issue of female genital mutilation both in terms of granting asylum and with a view to establishing whether migrant women here are being subjected to the barbaric practice.
The Health Ministry has promised the House Committee for Equal Opportunities to look into the issue and to enlist the help of gynaecologists on the island after Committee chairwoman Dina Akkelidou recommended the registration of cases of women who might have been victims.
“Female genital mutilation has been legislated against internationally, and in terms of national legal statutes also. Yet there are mutilated women in Cyprus,” said Akkelidou. “In the context of international efforts to stop this practice it is certainly useful to find statistics and figures on this practice in western countries, including Cyprus.”
According to surveys carried out by the World Health Organisation the practice of female genital mutilation is almost endemic in some African countries, with the majority of women having undergone the procedure, usually as young girls aged 4-8. Specifically, Sudan, Eritrea, Egypt, Somalia, Mali, Guinea and Djibouti all display an incidence of the practice exceeding 85 per cent.
Being almost universal amongst these cultures it is probable that immigrants from these communities will include a number of women who have been mutilated. What concerns the legislature is to prevent genital mutilation from continuing amongst the immigrant communities who deem it a cultural tradition.
Nicolleta Charalambidou, a lawyer with immigrant rights group KISA, clarified that having undergone genital mutilation did not necessarily constitute grounds for the granting of asylum, or protected person status, in Cyprus. What did necessarily constitute such grounds was if a woman was unmutilated yet would face genital mutilation upon return to her home country.
Akkelidou suggested the practice is either going on illegally in Cyprus, or is performed when the girls go home on holidays.
“These women, for various reasons, hide the fact that they went through this traumatic experience,” said Doros Polycarpou of KISA.
In Europe as a whole, according to Akkelidou, there are 500 000 women who have gone through the procedure. According to a survey recently conducted in Switzerland, 51 per cent of gynaecologists have encountered at least one instance of female genital mutilation.
Haemorrhaging, problems in giving birth, sterility and death whilst giving birth are normally the problems which gynaecologists are called on to attend to in instances where genital mutilation has previously occurred.
Akkelidou recommended campaigns to inform and sensitise the public to the issue so as to begin the difficult process of changing long-embedded customs. She also recommended the education of doctors in specific techniques for dealing with the complications which arise where genital mutilation has been practiced, regarding which doctors in Cyprus were currently often ill-prepared to handle.

Mobile cinema helps change attitudes about female genital mutilation/cutting in Mali

February 2010
By Heidi Good - UNICEF

The International Day against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, observed on 6 February, focuses world attention on ending this harmful practice within a generation. Here is a related story from Mali.
BOUGOUNISSABA, Mali, 5 February 2010 – When the Cinéma Numérique Ambulant came to Djènèba Doumbia’s village, the young women had no idea how it would change her life.
VIDEO: Watch now
The UNICEF-supported mobile cinema travels from village to village in remote areas of Mali, setting up an outdoor screen and showing entertaining and educational films that encourage communities to talk about children’s and women’s health.
Once trust has been established, female genital mutilation/cutting, or FGM/C, is openly discussed after the screenings. An estimated 85 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in Mali have undergone some form of FGM/C, a practice that has many harmful physical and psychological effects.
Message to mothers and daughters
Since attending the mobile cinema, Ms. Doumbia no longer supports FGM/C and does not want to pass the tradition on to the daughters of the community.
This is a huge step, since about 70 per cent of women of child-bearing age in Mali have at least one daughter who, like them, has also undergone FGM/C.
“I tell all women not to circumcise their daughters, to leave them as they are, because we realize that the disadvantages of this practice are numerous and real,” said Ms. Doumbia. “So if they let the girls be, the whole family benefits.”
Health dangers of FGM/C
The mobile cinema’s chief facilitator in Mali, a woman named Kadidja, explained the dangers of FGM/C. According to a recent study by the World Health Organization, she said, women who have been cut are significantly more likely than uncut women to have complications during and after childbirth.
Complications stemming from the practice include maternal infection, hemorrhage and newborn asphyxia. Cutting also contributes to high neonatal, child and maternal mortality rates. (Mali’s maternal death rate is among the highest in the world; 1 in every 15 women in the country dies as a result of pregnancy.)
In addition, many women say that sex with their husbands is very painful after FGM/C. Furthermore, tearing is more likely during childbirth. And scarring, leakage, infections and fistula are all common and crippling lifelong complications.
Inclusive approach gets results
Despite these well-documented dangers, agents of community-led change such as Kadidja face resistance on a daily basis in Mali and other countries. The traditional practice, though clearly harmful, is kept alive by pressure from women and men who fight to continue it.
Experts on the issue do not believe that information alone will end FGM/C; they say it is necessary to actively engage communities in discussion about banning it. The discussion must involve people at all levels, including knowledgeable health workers, village elders and leaders, and both mothers and fathers, who are often the household decision-makers.
This very approach is beginning to get results in Mali.
According to UNICEF Mali, 12 out of 41 villages covered by the mobile cinema team from June through August 2009 declared that they would ban FGM/C. An additional 12 villages reached by UNICEF-sponsored radio programmes in the region have also publically announced the end of cutting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on female genital mutilation/cutting

February 2010 By Rebecca Fordham - UNICEF

International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

NEW YORK, 6 February 2010 - Progress has been made in recent years in reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), largely because communities and families are taking action and calling for change.

However an estimated 120 to 140 million women have been subject to this harmful and dangerous practice and 3 million girls continue to be at risk each year. The practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting. These perceptions can, and must, change.

FGM/C poses immediate and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls, and violates their human rights.

Success in reducing the incidence in several countries where it was once highly prevalent has occurred as a result of culturally sensitive engagement with local communities, encouraging change from within. Where communities have chosen to make public declarations against the practice, for example in Senegal, declines of up to 65 per cent have been recorded.

Support is being provided by UNFPA, UNICEF and other partners for community-led abandonment programmes. The programmes engage parliamentarians, media, traditional communicators, women lawyers, medical associations, religious leaders and scholars to speak out against the practice.

The International Day against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting provides an opportunity for people everywhere to redouble their efforts and end this harmful practice within a generation.

UNFPA, UNICEF and its partners will continue to work for the achievement of this important goal, and to advance gender equality and improve sexual and reproductive health.

About UNFPA UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. UNFPA because everyone counts.

About UNICEF 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: Neil Ford, United Nations Population Fund, Tel 1 212 297-5021, E-mail:

Rebecca Fordham, UNICEF Media, New York, Tel + 1 212 326-7162, E-mail: