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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Taking Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting Out of the Cultural Mosaic of Kenya

April 22, 2010
By Janet Jensen

NAIROBI — When Lina Kilimo ran for the Kenya Parliament in 2002 on a platform of peace, development and ending female genital mutilation/cutting, her opponents claimed that as an uncircumcised woman, she was unfit to hold office.
She said they were amazed that she was bold enough to speak out frankly on such a sensitive issue. But she turned culture to her advantage, invoking a myth that if you want to end fighting between groups, you should send an uncircumcised girl to make peace.
The fact that she won, and is now one of the sponsors of legislation to expand legal sanctions against FGM/C, which was once almost universally practised in her Marakwet community, is one indication that attitudes toward the practice are shifting in Kenya.
"Now girls see that they can be uncut and even become a Member of Parliament," she said.

Persistance amidst change

FGM/C was traditionally practised in all but five of Kenya's 43 ethnic groups. Its prevalence is diminishing countrywide, especially among younger, more urban and more educated women. Latest data (preliminary reports of the 2008-2009 Demographic and Health Survey) show that FGM/C has declined from from 38 per cent in 1998 to 27.1 per cent. The statistics for younger girls are more encouraging: Data show that nearly half of women ages 45-49 had been cut compared to only 15 per cent of those age 15-19.
But the practice, condemned by international organizations as well as the Kenya government, is still nearly universal in some communities, including among the Kisii, Maasai, Somali, Samburu and Kuria ethnic groups. It is often considered a prerequisite for a good marriage. Newspapers occasionally carry stories about groups of young women being forced to undergo FGM/C, or leaving home to escape the practice.
FGM/C has been entrenched in some of these communities for centuries. But the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme is aiming for its abandonment in Kenya, and in 16 other countries, in a generation. Perhaps nowhere is the task more complex than in Kenya's patchwork of varied cultures, traditions, ethnic groups, religions, languages and social norms.
Within the country, the practice ranges from relatively mild excision or prick performed by traditional circumciser or under medical supervision, to a brutal cutting away of the external sexual organs, followed by binding of the legs to form a scar that serves as a physical barrier to sexual penetration.

Different approaches in different contexts

Interventions need to be strategically targeted, based on the specific meanings associated with it in different communities, according to Christine Ochieng, the National Coordinator of the programme for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. "One form of intervention will not work everywhere in this country," she said. "It depends on why they do it."
Among the Maasai, Meru, Marakwet and other ethnic groups, the practice is embedded within an elaborate ritual of initiation into womanhood. Among the outlawed Mungiki sect of the Kikuyu, the practice signifies a return to pre-Colonial traditions, and is sometimes forced on women as a form of intimidation or retaliation. For the Abugisii, the practice is usually performed under medical supervision and confers social standing and prestige. Among the ethnic Somalis in the North East Province who submit young girls to the most severe form, the practice is associated with religion, culture and chastity. Hygiene, beautification, tradition and honour are other reasons cited in a number of communities. It is practiced by Christians, Moslems and animists.
Almost everywhere, FGM/C is linked to fear and control of female sexuality. "So many reasons are given, sometimes they hide behind culture, sometimes behind religion," said Zeinab Ahmed, who runs the Joint Programme in the country's North East Province. "In the end, it's all about controlling women."

Tremendous pressure to conform

In groups where prevalence is 90 per cent or more, pressure to conform to social norms is fierce, and defying them can mean a kind of social death. The difficulty in getting parents to abandon it is they believe they are acting in their child's best interest. "They don't mean to harm their children," said Professor Margaret Kamar, another Member of Parliament who actively opposes FGM/C and is one of the sponsors of the new legislation against it. "Everyone wants the best for their children. Many mothers fear their girls will be excommunicated from society."
Social exclusion is a more immediate and tangible threat than punishment under the law. "Right now, female genital mutilation is not outlawed for women above 18 years. It is prohibited under the Children's Act of 2001, but that only protects girls under 18," said Christine, who is working with parliamentarians on the new law. The Children's Act, which is currently being reviewed, also has a number of loopholes and has rarely resulted in serious punishment. In any case, laws cannot generally be enforced unless they enjoy significant community support.
The proposed new bill could help the increasing number of girls and women who do not want to submit to the practice, said Christine. It can also send a signal that social norms are changing, bring the subject out into the open and give cover to parents or girls who don't want to go through it.
"The new law will help girls to say 'no', and make people think twice. But we really have to bring ownership to the community, otherwise it will just go underground," said Ms. Kilimo.
Community dialogue and ownership of the decision to abandon FGM/C is, in fact, the core strategy of the Joint Programme.

Working from within cultures

The strategy recognizes that real change needs to come from within communities themselves, through a process of dialogue and debate, in which individuals, empowered with information, have an opportunity to challenge social norms. The aim is to leverage social dynamics, which are constantly in flux.
Information about the medical and psychological harm the practice can cause can help inform such dialogues, as can discussions of human rights. These discussions often take place over weeks or months, and address FGM/C not as a standalone issue – which can create suspicion and resistance — but within a broader context of health, human rights and gender-based violence. The Joint Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development and other partners, has trained more than 400 community facilitators on how to carry out dialogues (see box below) that eventually encourage communities to recognize that FGM/C violates a girl's rights.
However, getting people to give priority to such issues can be a difficult sell, especially in Kenyan communities that are still reeling from the shock of the 2007/ 2008 post-election violence, an increasing number of weather-related crises, and food and water shortages.
After four years of drought, as many as a third of Kenya's nomadic pastoralists have lost all their livestock and been forced to settle down on the outskirts of town, without skills that translate well into a different economy. With their very survival at stake, abandoning FGM/C is not a priority for many. "FGM/C is the last thing on their minds, so they ask, 'Why bother about it?' " said Zeinab.

Public declarations give people permission to change

But there have been some notable successes. One hallmark of success is a community-wide declaration announcing to the world that social conventions have changed. Last August, at a large ceremony held in a public stadium, the powerful Meru elders from 12 regions signed a document affirming the total abandonment of FGM/C in their territories.
The declaration came a day after 364 girls graduated from an initiation ceremony – an alternative rite of passage without FGM/C – conducted by the Catholic Diocese of Meru. Similar alternative rites are being carried out in other communities as well, as a way to maintain important cultural rituals and values, while rejecting the harmful element.
Professor Kamar was enthusiastic about a Marakwet graduation ceremony she had attended in Narok. The ceremony followed a week-long period of seclusion during which girls were taught, in the traditional way, about sexuality, dealing with men, and expectations of them as women. "Everything but the cut," as she put it. Going through this coming-of-age process honoured the tradition as it conferred status on the girls, she said.
"We want to do away with the cut, but maintain other parts of the process that people value and support," said Professor Kamar. While the first 'no-cut' initiation attracted only a small group of girls, the second attracted 130 girls from several villages, she said. The ceremony was a powerful one she said, with the girls emerging from their no-cut initiation looking beautiful and parents weeping to see their girls suddenly transformed into women.
"It's not just about the cut, it's about maturing into womanhood," she said.

De-Linking Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting from Islam in North East Kenya

April 22, 2010
By Janet Jenses - UNFPA

MADOGO (near Garissa), North East Province, Kenya — In the scorching heat of the midday sun, shaded by the horizontal branches of a dende tree, village elders and women leaders from five communities listened intently as a religious scholar analyzed the religious implications and health problems associated with female genital mutilation/cutting.
"Many Imams have studied this issue thoroughly, and they agree: Islam calls for the circumcision of men, but not for women," Sheikh Abdullahii Gudow explained to the group, who eke out a subsistence from farming and trading with the nomadic pastoralists who make up most of the inhabitants of the expansive and arid North East Province.
Over centuries, the genital cutting of women has become deeply entwined in the cultural fabric of the people who live here. Clarifying that it is not a religious requirement is an important step in opening minds to change.
The Sheikh opened a booklet, and referring to the Koran and the life and sayings of the Prophet, as well as scholarly opinion, systematically refuted arguments that FGM/C is Islamic.
"God created you in the perfect shape, and those who say the clitoris is not supposed to be there – are you questioning the wisdom of God's creation? " he asked.

Breaking the silence

The very fact that a man, a religious scholar no less, is speaking openly about such things represents a major cultural shift in this part of Kenya. "Fifteen years ago you would not hear this debated," said Zeinab Ahmed, UNICEF Kenya Child Protection Specialist, who leads the Joint UNFPA/UNICEF Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the province. "In the mid-nineties, NGOs talking about it in refugee camps had to be guarded. But the hard facts are out now. Now religious leaders are talking about it. It is talked about on the radio. There is tremendous interest in the debate."
The debate is a crucial one, with the health, rights and well-being of young girls hanging in the balance. In this province, home to about a million ethnic Somalis, the most severe form of female genital mutilation – what is referred to as Type III, or infibulation – has been traditionally practiced on girls between five and eight years old, girls too young to understand what is at stake or to effectively resist.

Severe medical and psychosocial consequences

After her external sex organs are cut away, usually with a razor and without anaesthesia, a girl's legs are tied up tightly for two weeks or more so that scar tissue essentially 'seals her up', leaving only a small hole for the passage of urine and menses. The procedure often disrupts her sexual, reproductive and urinary functions for life. Many girls emerge from it psychologically scarred as well. Wedding nights are often a nightmare. Childbearing is often affected as well.

"You have seen animals giving birth," the sheikh continued. "God has made the process so simple: the skin stretches during delivery and then contracts. But we are interfering with God's creation." He talked about how FGM/C contributes to the extremely high rate of maternal mortality in North East Kenya – with 1000 to 1300 deaths per 100,000 births in the rural areas – as well as numerous cases of obstetric fistula.
The list of health disorders related to infibulation is so extensive and particular that the Kenyan Ministry of Health has created a reference manual to help health providers identify and address them. In addition to pain, shock and obstructed deliveries, they include haemmorrage, infection, septicaemia, urine retention, anaemia, cysts, keloid scar formation, vulval abscess, pelvic infections, infertility, fistula, menstrual disorders, vulval ulcers, and post-traumatic shock syndrome.
But because the procedure has been almost universally practiced in the province for centuries, the consequences have not seemed out of the ordinary. "Women with these side effects often don't realize it's due to FGM," said Monica Onyango, a local police officer. "They just think it's 'women's problems'."
The group pays close attention as the sheikh continues his talk. "Even we are not allowed to mutilate an animal, now you are mutilating a human being."
At one point, an electronic voice coming from the direction of the audience interrupts: "Excuse me boss, you have a text message." Although cell phones are ubiquitous in much of Kenya, the Islamic communications network of madrassas (religious schools) and mosques is considered the most effective channel for getting messages out across this sparsely inhabited frontier. "When Imams want to pass on a message, it gets around very fast through the mosque," said Zeinab.

Underpinnings of a social convention

Though it has become linked in many people's minds with Islam, the practice of infibulation pre-dates it, probably starting thousands of years ago as a means to ensure the chastity of women destined to become the wives of Pharaohs, then spreading as a way to enhance marriage prospects, reinforce group identity and control female sexuality.
While FGM/C may have begun as a way for men to control women, one of the paradoxes of its persistence is that now the process is essentially owned by women. "I'm proud of it," said one woman office worker in her twenties who was interviewed in town during her lunch break. "I'll do it to my girls as it was done to me. I don't want to be stopped. For Muslims, it's a must. We're ready to face any problems it causes because it's our culture."
For many, discovering that Islam does not require the cut comes as a revelation to some, and opens the door for change.
Maryam Sheikh Abdi, UNICEF Kenya Child Protection Specialist, is a devout Muslim who was cut at a tender age. "I knew it would be painful," she recalls of the experience, which she describes in excruciating detail in her poem, The Cut. "But I also thought I had to go through it to be clean, so that God would hear my prayers."

Cruel to be kind

The big hurdle in getting families to abandon the tortuous practice is that parents truly believe they are doing what is best for their child. "The mother doesn't think she's doing wrong," said Maryam. "She thinks she's protecting her child, she thinks she is making her beautiful."
Once locked in as a social convention, FGM/C was difficult for individuals to resist, without risking social exclusion or stigma for the daughters or bringing shame on the family. Many parents with doubts about the practice succumb to social pressure to conform.
Social conventions can, however, be overturned, once a kind of tipping point in public opinion is reached. In Garissa, the provincial capital, a number of activities sponsored by the Joint Programme are chipping away at the tradition: community dialogues, meetings with government officials, school programmes, news reports, talk shows, forums for religious leaders.
Many people interviewed cited the powerful impact of a video that has been shown widely at community meetings. 'Scarred for Life', produced by Ethiopian Committee on Harmful practices among pastoralist Afar community, shows a beautiful smiling child reduced to screams and sobs as she is held down by several women to undergo the torturous genital mutilation, actions that will alter her life forever. Both men and women are often reduced to tears upon viewing it, Zeinab said.

Religious leaders hold the key

But chiefs, development practitioners and government officials agree that a strong unified statement by influential religious leaders is the key to overturning the convention throughout the province. They point to another social convention – the Somali dress code for women – that changed rapidly in the mid-1990s soon after religious leaders declared that head coverings and garments that hid women's curves were required by Islam.
Toward this end, three regional and national meetings of Muslim religious leaders/scholars have been convened in the last five years. At each forum, after dissecting and debating the religious teachings related to the practice and learning more about the medical harm caused by infibulation, scholars have taken a stronger stand against FGM/C. But they have not yet reached a firm consensus that all forms of FGM/C are prohibited. Some leaders allow that less severe cutting of the clitoris, or pricking to draw blood, may continue.
To a certain extent, the issue has become politicized, said Sheik Barre Ali, who is one of many allies that the programme has enlisted to help lead the community dialogues that are making people question the age-old practice. Some religious leaders do not want to agree to what they consider a Western agenda, he said.
The Sheikh, however, feels duty bound to speak out against something that is clearly not in the best interest of young girls. "We're out to help the helpless, these children who have no power over something that will affect them for the rest of their lives," he added.

Signs of progress

As a result of all of the debate and new information about the impact of FGM/C, prospects for young girls are improving in Garissa, the provincial capital, everyone agrees. In town, according to Zeinab, most of the younger girls are now being spared the severe form of FGM/C that she and others of her generation went through. And some parents of the younger girls are avoiding the cut altogether. Although the most recent DHS data only registers a drop in prevalence of 1.5 per cent (97.5 in 2008/2009 compared to 99 per cent five years earlier), Zeinab pointed out that that includes all girls and women aged 15 – 49 years, and does not highlight changes occurring in the youngest generation.
But it is quite a challenge to penetrate the vast roadless areas of the province, where the pastoralists move their livestock to take advantage of the increasingly infrequent rains, illiteracy is over 90 per cent, and women's rights are not giving high priority. The Joint Programme is working with Womankind, a trusted grass-roots organization, to lead wide-ranging dialogues that frame FGM/C within a much broader context that covers human rights and religion as well as basic needs. Womankind's boarding school serves as haven to 120 girls whose nomadic parents want to educate and keep them safe from community or family pressures to be cut.
"We cannot reach everywhere with the funding from the joint UNFPA/UNICEF Programme on accelerating abandonment of FGM/C," said Zeinab. "But we are trying to refine our approach and have a catalytic effect in pilot communities."

Men Speaking Out Against FGM/C

Wedding nights, by all accounts, are difficult for brides who have undergone infibulation. And as FGM/C is becoming more openly discussed, many men wonder whether they, too, are getting shortchanged. Increasingly they are questioning the practice, which many said they did not fully understand until it began to be discussed openly in the last few years. Before that, several said, they considered it 'women's business.'
Infibulation, which is intended, in part, to protect virginity, also makes consummation an arduous process that is considered a test of manhood, but that often leaves both bride and groom frustrated and torn or bruised. Penetration can take a week or more, and might require surgical de-infibulation. Newlyweds are often kept far from the main compound, so that the bride's screams will not disturb others' slumber.
While some women who have been infibulated report they do experience satisfying sexual relationships, for many others, the pain and trauma associated with sexuality never goes away. One woman, who asked that her name not be used, said her first husband divorced because of her inability to enjoy sexual relations. For her second marriage, she said she opted to become a second wife, "so that my husband would not make too many demands."
The fact that several prominent politicians and religious leaders have taken as second wives women from the Coastal region of Kenya, where FGM/C is not practiced, seems to have made quite an impression.
The issue is also discussed in classrooms and in peer groups. In the Garissa district, Red Eagles, the boys' soccer team under Womankind Kenya Programme, and clubs have come out against the practice, and wear 'Say no to FGM' T-shirts.
Social change is rarely a smooth, simple process – it is often contentious and proceeds in fits and starts. But as more light is being shed on the harm it causes, more people, many of them men, are not afraid to make their preferences known, like a 36-year-old man who was approached for a television interview in the marketplace:
"I don't support it. In Saudi Arabia, they don't do it. The Koran does not say it is a must. I'll not take my girls to be cut. And if I have to choose between a girl who is cut and one who is not, I'll take the one who is not."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Female Genital Mutilation - FGM

From the Scottish Government website.


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been unlawful in Scotland since 1985 by virtue of the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. The 2005 Act re-enacts the existing offences in the 1985 Act, and extends protection by giving those offences extra-territorial effect in order to protect those being sent abroad to have FGM carried out. The Act also increases the penalty on conviction from indictment to 5-14 years imprisonment.

There is no evidence that this practice is widespread within communities in Scotland, although evidence can be difficult to establish. The policy is to ensure that those communities within the UK who do practice FGM do not believe that they might evade the law by sending girls abroad via Scotland. The law makes it an offence under Scots law to send a girl abroad to have the procedure carried out.

Guidance on the legislation (introduced in 2005), how to enforce it and the signs which may indicate that FGM has taken place, has been issued to all police, social and community, and education workers. Fact sheets on this legislation was created and translated in to Somali, Swahili, Eritrean, French and Arabic in order that communities for whom FGM is a common practice can be made aware of these changes.

Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005

Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) act 2005, explanatory notes

The Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation was introduced to coincide with the 2005 prohibition of FGM act (see link above) and translated into several different languages.

Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation in English

Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation in French

Scottish Government's fact sheet on female genital mutilation in Somali

Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation in Swahili

Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation in Arabic

Scottish Government's fact sheet on Female Genital Mutilation in Tigrina

Court awards damages after genital mutilation test

April 22, 2010
By Eurones

Uppsala Municipality has been ordered to pay 60,000 kronor ($8,400) to the family of a girl of Somali origin who was forced to undergo an examination to check whether she had been circumcised.
Uppsala social workers forced the then 10-year-old girl to submit to the examination to see whether she had been subjected to genital mutilation (circumcision) while on a family holiday in Kenya in 2004. The girl was collected by police from school shortly after returning from a visit to relatives.
The girl's family took their case to the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) which ruled in 2007 that the social workers' suspicions constituted discrimination.

Discrimination Ombudsman Katri Linna concluded in her 2007 ruling that the suspicions "were based entirely on the fact that the parents have Somalian heritage."
The decision to examine the girl was taken despite the fact that the parents had told their district nurse and social workers that they were opposed to female circumcision and that they were going to Kenya with the sole purpose of seeing their relatives.

The examination showed that the girl had not been circumcised (...)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

STOP FGM NOW (English Version)

 The END FGM NOW campaign video produced by the Waris Dirie Foundation.

Female Circumcision Is Still A Problem In The Badibus

April 20, 2010
By Staff Reporter Maimuna Danso, Banjul

As APGWA/UNFPA Launched Anti FGM Campaign In Njawara

The Association for the Promotion of Girl’s and Women’s Advancement (APGWA) in Collaboration with UNFPA on Saturday 17th April 2010 launched the anti FMG Campaign at the Njawara Agricultural Training Centre in the North Bank Region—with the aim of discouraging the cultural practices which poses a major health risk to the girl child, the Freedom Newspaper can report. 

In her keynote speech at the launching ceremony, Mrs. Binta Jammeh Sidebeh Executive Director APGWA described the North Bank Region especially the Badibous and Niumis as no go areas as far as FGM is concerned. Madam Jammeh noted that FGM is deeply rooted in the Gambia which has a prevalence rate of 80 percent. She says female circumcision is still a problem in this part of the country. 

“Despite numerous efforts by the local and international NGOs the Practice although reduced at some regions, continues in certain regions such as the North Bank Region,” she told the gathering. 

 Mrs Jammeh observed that since the inception of APGWA in 1992 they have conducted workshops and youth camps to create alternative employment opportunities in all the regions in the Gambia. Their goal she said is to eradicate FGM in The Gambia, a country where  circumcisers cite cultural values to justify their actions. She adds that those efforts were frustrated by certain groups that have made it difficult to eradicate the practice at the desired level and percentage.

“With the launching of the project APGWA plans to work with different target groups and stakeholders within the communities using the social mobilization tools and right based approaches,” she said.

She said APGWA from this day hence forth pledges to work with all partners and collaborators in the region and elsewhere to finally eradicate FGM in the region.

“The enactment of a law by the National Assembly to abolish FGM and to criminalize is now imminent,” she noted.

The launching ceremony which was presided over by Hon. Lamin Kebba Jammeh, National Assembly Member for Upper Badibu came on the heels of a five day training of “Ngansinbas” (Circumcisers) and women leaders on the harmful effects of FGM.

In attendance, were National Assembly Members of the region, chiefs and the Alkalo of Njawara Aji Haddy Panneh. They  all vowed to the join the fight to FGM in the area.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2010?

April 21, 2010
By Human Rights in Ireland - Irish perspective on human rights

Today, Senator Ivana Bacik of Labour will be introducing a Bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation in the Seanad during the Labour Party’s private members’ time.  The Bill and its Explanatory Memorandum are available here. The Minister for Health and Children has welcomed the Bill, indicating that it will be read a second time in a year or so. Labour’s press release notes that FGM Bills were introduced by Labour TDs Liz McManus (see Bill here) and Jan O’Sullivan (see Bill here) in the Dail in 2009 and 2001. Senator Bacik has said:
We urgently need a law specifically criminalising this barbaric practice which has destroyed the lives of so many girls and women world-wide. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to address this issue, but there has already been a great deal of work done on developing a legal framework, and delaying the introduction of this legislation by another year is unacceptable.
Senator Bacik’s Bill would:
  • Introduce an offence of performing female genital mutilation on a woman or girl (note the gender-specific nature of the offence), the penalty for which shall be a fine or a term of imprisonment up to 14 years or both.
  • Have extra-territorial effect so that an Irish citizen or resident who performs FGM outside of Ireland still falls within the terms of the Act.
  • Rule out any defence of parental consent in the case of a minor.
  • Allow a medical defence where the procedure was performed by a registered medical practitioner who ‘honestly believed, on reasonable grounds, that the operation was necessary to safeguard the life or health of the woman or girl concerned or to correct a genital abnormality or malformation’.
The Bill appears, to some extent, to take its cue from the UK Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. In that jurisdiction, the legislation has fallen at the prosecution hurdle, and thus appears to have largely symbolic and perhaps deterrant value. For open-access articles which critique the UK legislation see this study by Sadiya Mohammad on the legislation’s efficacy and this article by Moira Dustin and Anne Phillips which considers the legislation in the broader context of UK law-making in the general area of women + gender + culture.

The Government takes a firm position agains FGM in African countries which receive Irish state aid, but has been much slower to acknowledge FGM as a domestic issue. There is a growing awareness – largely due to the work of  the organisation AkiDwA – that FGM is an issue for Ireland. They estimate that at least 2,500 women living here have been circumcised. A number of medical practitioners have drawn attention to the problems which occur when women who have been subjected to FGM give birth. The threat of return to African countries for the purposes of FGM has also been a recurring motif in asylum cases, such as that of Pamela Izevbekhai, which we blogged about here. For further detail on FGM and Ireland you can read the literature review which the Women’s Health Council has published here, the Childrens’ Rights Alliance briefing on FGM and children’s rights here, AkiDwA’s FGM legislation campaign page here and their article in Translocations here.

In 2001, the Government’s approach was to encourage prosecution of those who performed genital cutting on girls in Ireland. So far no such prosecutions have been reported. In any event, those campaigning for a ban on FGM in Ireland argue that while existing criminal legislation may be adequate to ground the prosecution of a person who cuts a child’s genitals, specific legislation is needed to take account of the cultural and social significance of these types of practice (see more on the arguments for specific legislation from AkiDwA here). In 2008, the Irish Family Planning Association began the process of  developing  a national plan of action – encompassing criminal legislation, the asylum process, development aid, community work and health work – to address FGM. You can read the Plan and its Executive summary here at the website of Amnesty International (Ireland).

We will be following the progress of this Bill and hope to have further commentary on it in due course.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Citizens of the World Burkina Faso

April 15, 2010
By Amnesty International

During the summer of 2008, five groups of Belgian teenagers were chosen by an Amnesty International competition to spend time with human rights defenders across the world.

Each group spent two weeks working with local NGOs to understand the human rights realities on the ground. They went to Guatemala, Burkina Faso, Argentina, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Working with producer Yvon Lammens, the teenagers created a video report about their activities. The youngsters tackled themes central Amnesty Internationals work: womens rights, child soldiers, the right to education, the importance of memory and the fight against impunity, land rights, respect for minorities and indigenous people, and freedom of expression.

This chapter from Burkina Faso focues on human rights defenders working to stop female genital mutilation. This film was produced by and about students and Human Rights defenders actively involved in the project 'World Citizens for Human Rights Defenders', developed and supervised by the Youth Programme of the Amnesty Belgian section (French speaking).

The project aims at protecting HRDs through the creation of communication networks between Belgian students and their respective NGOs. It encourages the students to develop their own projects to promote the work of their partner HRD.
The project was launched in September 2006 and distributed to institutional partners in the educational field calling for project applications to work with NGOs / HRDs across Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

35 student groups (around 400 individuals) sent in applications and for over a year they regularly communicated with their partner NGO /HRD , enquiring about objectives, activities, members, motivations, successes and difficulties. They developed creative projects to support and promote their partners in their local environment. Some wrote plays, created websites, directed short films, composed music, etc.

The five groups that ran the most successful projects over the year were selected to visit their partner HRD in the home country and make a documentary film on their activities.

The resulting documentaries were broadcast on Belgian TV during the anniversary celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration for Human Rights Defenders.

The five films are now available on DVD and for download to support and publicise the work of Human Rights Defenders and as a resource for Human Rights Education.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting Declines in Senegalese Villages Following Educational Program

March 2010
By H. Ball

Knowledge of female genital cutting and its adverse consequences increased, and adherence to the practice declined, after implementation of an educational program aimed at empowering women and promoting health in southern Senegal.1 In intervention villages, the proportion of women who approved of female genital cutting declined from 72% at baseline to 16% among program participants, whereas a much smaller decline occurred in comparison areas (from 89% to 60%). Moreover, the proportion of daughters aged 5–10 who had not been cut increased from 21% to 49% among program participants, but did not change in comparison areas.

The program, developed by the Senegalese nongovernmental organization Tostan, consisted of three two-hour classes per week for six months; it discussed the negative aspects of female genital cutting as part of a broader curriculum that covered human rights, women's health and basic hygiene. In each village, roughly 30 women and up to 10 men took part; to facilitate dissemination of the material, participants were encouraged to regularly share the information they learned with a close friend or relative.

The researchers evaluated the intervention using a quasi-experimental, longitudinal approach, conducting surveys at baseline (December 2000), in the postintervention period (January 2002) and at endline (January 2003). Twenty villages were randomly selected to represent the 90 villages participating in the program and were surveyed at all three timepoints. Twenty villages that did not participate in the intervention and that were distant enough from the participating villages to have not been "contaminated" by the intervention were selected to serve as a comparison group; these villages, which were similar to the intervention villages in population size and ethnic makeup, were surveyed at baseline and endline.

At baseline, the researchers surveyed 576 women and 373 men from the intervention area. Because of attrition, and because some of the individuals surveyed at baseline did not actually attend any classes, the researchers were able to interview only 333–350 female program participants and 82–85 male participants (approximately 17 women and 4 men per village) at the two follow-up surveys, as well as roughly 200 nonparticipating women and 200 nonparticipating men from the same villages. Finally, they surveyed approximately 200 women and 200 men from the comparison villages at baseline and endline.

Most study participants in both the intervention and comparison groups were Muslim, married and from the Pulaar ethnic group. Some 97–100% of women reported having experienced genital cutting. At baseline, women in the intervention group were less likely than those in the comparison group to report that their daughters aged five and older had been cut. (In Senegal, genital cutting is typically performed around age 4.)

The proportion of women reporting that they had received information from any source about female genital cutting rose among all groups between baseline and endline, though the increase was greater among residents of intervention villages than among those of the comparison area; 87% of program participants and one-quarter of nonparticipants in the same villages identified Tostan as their main source for this information. No increases were apparent in the proportion of men who had received information about female genital cutting. However, the proportion of program participants who knew at least two consequences of genital cutting increased among program participants of both genders (from 7% to 83% among women and from 11% to 80% among men). Roughly half of nonparticipants in the intervention villages were able to cite at least two consequences, perhaps because of information sharing: At endline, 92% of female program participants had shared information about cutting with nonparticipants, and more than 90% had participated in a public discussion of the issue after the program's end.

The proportion of respondents who supported female genital cutting declined among all groups, but the decreases were greater among residents of intervention villages, and especially among program participants, than among residents of comparison villages. Among women, approval of the practice dropped from 72% in intervention villages at baseline to 16% among program participants and 28% among nonparticipants; among women in the comparison area, the proportion declined from 89% to 60%. The vast majority (85%) of female program participants who disapproved of female genital cutting at endline attributed their attitude to their participation in the Tostan program. In intervention villages, 70% of women initially believed female genital cutting to be a social necessity; by endline, this proportion had declined to 15% among program participants and to 29% among nonparticipants.

In the comparison group, the decrease was again much smaller: Eight-eight percent of women espoused this belief at baseline and 61% did so at endline. Similarly, the proportion of women who reported that they intended to have their daughters cut declined from 71% in intervention villages to 12% among participants and 23% among nonparticipants, and from 89% to 54% among women in the comparison group. Among men, intentions to have their daughters cut in the future declined more among program participants than among their peers in comparison villages; at endline, men's preference for women who had been cut was lower and their willingness to help end the practice was greater among program participants than among men in comparison villages.

Finally, the prevalence of female genital cutting declined significantly in intervention villages. For example, the proportion of girls aged 0–4 who had not been cut increased from 68% at baseline in the intervention area to 78% among program participants and 83% among nonparticipants in the same villages. The proportion aged 5–10 who had not been cut increased from 21% to 49% and 44%, respectively. No such changes occurred in comparison villages.

The researchers conclude that the Tostan program changed attitudes about female genital cutting and helped reduce the practice in participating villages. Further, the findings suggest that the effectiveness of the program was magnified through successful dissemination of information through social networks in intervention villages. In fact, according to the researchers, the attitudinal and behavioral changes achieved as a result of the program contributed to a mass public declaration against female genital cutting in 2002. They posit that "education, when appropriately organized and presented within a wider process of social mobilization, can be a powerful and effective means for facilitating rapid change in long-standing harmful traditional behaviors."—H. Ball


1. Diop NJ and Askew I, The effectiveness of a community-based education program on abandoning female genital mutilation/cutting in Senegal, Studies in Family Planning, 2009, 40(4):307–318.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation

April 14, 2010
By SoFeminine.Co.Uk

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 150 million women live with the consequences of genital mutilation. And every day, at least 8,000 more girls are mutilated. Now, a new book is being distributed declaring genital mutilation a crime.

In Aisha's household there are no razor blades. The 43-year-old could not bear it. So instead, her husband uses an electric razor. These days, Aisha (whose real name has been changed to protect her identity) lives in Europe. But she is still haunted by the memory of what was done to her when she was a 5-year-old living in Djibouti, a small desert state in north eastern Africa.

"I was told at the time that it was going to be a marvellous day," she says.
Instead, she was mutilated, her entire external genitalia were cut off, and her vagina was sewn up. As a result, Aisha has had many medical complications, and will never be able to experience a normal sex life. She says that she will never forgive her relatives, the people she trusted most, for lying to her.

The custom of female genital mutilation (FGM) is predominant among Muslims, but is also sometimes practiced by Coptic Christians, Jews and followers of natural religions. It is most widely practiced in Africa, in some 28 countries. The tradition has been in existence for thousands of years – the most brutal form, which Aisha experienced, is referred to as "pharaonic". These days, many advocates of FGM invoke Islam.

Male proponents of female genital mutilation often refer to the practice as female circumcision, and like to point out that many men are circumcised, too. But from a medical point of view, this comparison is invalid. While it is true that some women only have the clitoral hood removed, in the majority of cases FGM – which is carried out using anything from razor blades to glass shards and even the lids of tin cans – goes much further, depending on regional tradition. In most cases the entire outer and/or inner labia are cut away along with the clitoris. The women who carry out the mutilations are held in high regard and earn good money.

The pharaonic variant of FGM involves yet another aspect: closing the vagina completely – total control of female sexuality. Aisha remembers the most horrific day of her life as if it was yesterday. Her aunts came to help her mother, as she recalls.

"They sat on my arms and legs, while the old woman cut everything away," says Aisha. There was no anaesthetic. "Then they tied my legs together and I had to lie like that for four or six weeks." During this period, the wound, which is stitched up or closed with the aid of acacia thorns, is meant to heal. An inserted twig or straw ensures that a tiny opening remains.

The list of the consequences, which usually remain for life, is long: peeing can take half an hour, a period can last two weeks, and women are often prone to chronic infections of the bladder or fallopian tubes. This, in turn, frequently causes infertility. In the case of pregnancy, a normal birth is often not possible, but there is rarely a doctor around who could perform a caesarean. In all cases, infant mortality is clearly elevated, by around 55 percent.

With the pharaonic mutilation, there is yet another cruel aspect: on a woman’s wedding night, she is often cut open if the opening is too small for intercourse. This is sometimes done by the mutilation practitioners, but more frequently by the husbands, who use knives and scissors, often damaging the bowel or bladder in the process.

Aisha will only say that her wedding night was terrible, without going into details. She has since had a son and a daughter, both of whom were born in Germany by caesarean. She says that she is lucky that her husband is considerate. "But I only know that being with a man is supposed to be beautiful for a woman from books and from talking to my German girlfriends. For me, it has remained torturous."

It is fates like Aisha’s that the German human rights activist Rüdiger Nehberg cites in his fight against female genital mutilation. He is keen to illustrate that such a practice cannot be justified by Islam, even if there is a persistent belief that corresponding instructions can be found in the Koran. The origin for this is probably to be found in the Hadiths, pronouncements and traditional sayings ascribed to the prophet Mohammed.

Nehberg and other opponents of FGM, on the other hand, point out that the respective Hadiths are weak and unreliable, and that Mohammed's daughters were not circumcised or mutilated. Nehberg argues that the Koran praises the creation of both man and woman by Allah: "Sura 95, Verse 4 states, 'We have created man in the most perfect image' – and man must not presume to destroy this creation."

"I wanted to call together leading Islamic clerics for them to condemn female genital mutilation," Nehberg says. His idea became reality in November 2006. At the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, one of the most respected educational institutions in the Islamic world, the most eminent Islamic scholars from around the world came together for a two-day conference. At the end of the conference, after occasionally heated discussions, female genital mutilation was condemned as irreconcilable with Islam by a ruling issued by the Islamic scholars, a fatwa.

But how to convey this to the many millions of people in some three dozen countries, who often live in the remotest areas? Nehberg developed the idea of the "Golden Book," a small, elaborately designed book with a firm fold-over cover, a magnetic clasp in green (the colour of Islam), with gold embossing and pages edged in gold. It contains the fatwa, speeches by the scholars, as well as the most common prejudices on the topic and their refutation – in Arabic, English, French and German. The core messages are also illustrated in pictures.

At the follow-up conference in Addis Ababa, 120 imams ordered 100,000 copies in the first half hour alone. In Mauritania, where some three million people live in an area three times the size of Germany, 1,200 books have been distributed already, to imams, Islamic schools and scholars.

Three thousand copies are currently being brought into circulation in Djibouti; 50,000 in Ethiopia. Distribution will soon follow in Mali, Sudan, Somaliland and Chad; getting the book out in some countries, like Etrirea and Somalia, will be difficult from a security point of view.

Some positive effects have already been reported. In a town at the edge of the Danakil desert, practitioners of female genital mutilation have up their work and instead undergone training to become midwives. In the town of Barahle, 60 mothers swore by Allah not to have their daughter mutilated.

To achieve sustained abolition of the practice it is also important to bring the imams, heads of clans and mayors on board, too. Because in the societies where the practice in widespread, uncut women are generally considered unclean and not fit to be married – which then makes them unable to support their parents in old age. This will only change when those in power really start laying down the law.

A woman and little girl with a copy of the fatwa, condemning female genital mutilation. Das

Anti-FGM group stops work due to lack of funds

April 14, 2010
By Daniel Edyegu- The New Vision

A LOCAL NGO that has been spearheading the campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sebei and Karamoja has suspended activities, citing lack of funding.

The Reproductive Education and Community Health, executive director, Beatrice Chelengat, said the organisation had not received funds from the Government and donors since the beginning of the year despite the numerous pledges.

Chelengat said they had budgeted for sh400m this year to educate the communities on the FGM Bill that was passed by Parliament in December 2009.

"Despite the passing of the Bill, communities are unaware of the contents therein and the penalties." She added that they had planned to sensitise elders and surgeons who would pass on the message to the community members.

Female genital mutilation is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. The practice is mainly carried out among the Sabiny in Kapchorwa and Bukwo districts, Pokot in Amudat, the Tepeth in Moroto and Kadam in Nakapiripirit district.

The Sabiny, Kadam and Tepeth carry out the practice during even years, while the Pokot hold the ritual throughout the years. Under the FGM Bill, offenders are liable to imprisonment between five to 10 years for aggravated cases or life imprisonment.

President Yoweri Museveni is yet to ascent to the Bill.

Female Genital Mutilation Abandoned in Southern Mali

April 13, 2010
By Afrique En Ligne

Bamako, Mali - Women who perform female genital mutilation in southern Mali have decided to abandon this activity following an awareness campaign by the Coordination of Women's Associations and Organizations (CAFO), the Malian Press Agency (AMAP) reported here Monday.
Based in Nianaso, a locality in the region of Sikasso, the women were schooled in the bad effects of their practice.

The awareness campaign featured film shows on the complications and consequences of female genital mutilation such as bleeding, sudden death, painful menstrual periods and difficult deliveries.Female circumcision is mostly practiced in the Sikasso region, both in cities and rural areas. It is usually practiced on girls aged between four and 12 years.

According to an official of CAFO, Ramatoulaye Traoré, the situation is improving and people are now aware of the problem posed by female genital mutilation."We succeeded in convincing several women to publicly stand against this practice. I am very sure the objectives will be met," she declared.

She, however, disclosed that the organization found it very difficulty to carry out the task, pointing out that cultural practices were deep-rooted in the minds of local people in the area.

Behind the 'Adopt a Clitoris' campaign

April 14, 2010
By R.C. Camphausen - Digital Journal

Since 2006, a controversial organization has asked for donations, promising to surgically restore the clitoris of women, mainly in Africa, who have suffered FGM: female genital mutilation. Clitoraid does this by asking people to "adopt a clitoris."
An important article published today in SF Gate, part of the San Francisco Chronicle, has a title that begs to be read: Wrong approach to ending genital mutilation, by Caille Millner. For anyone who has not yet been aware that this campaign existed at all, Digital Journal's KJ Mullins had reported on it as far back as 2008. Like many others, those who donated more than $120,000 within months in the U.S. alone, KJ believed the original PR and thought Clitoraid was a humanitarian organization. KJ included a well made, smart video by the Clitoraid organization, and when one listens and watches it is quite difficult to see what should be wrong with this campaign. That is, until one finds out who's behind it. To make this short, here's a description of it from the website of Dr Petra Boynton:
Clitoraid is funded by an organisation called the Raelians. Depending on who is defining, this organisation can either be described as a religion or a cult. It is notorious for a number of reasons (including its view of sexuality and believing in intelligent design), but most famously for claiming it has cloned a baby human through a venture called Clonaid.
The so-called Raelians have been founded by their self-appointed leader, one Claude Maurice Marcel Vorilhon (1946). After being a sports-car journalist and test driver, he transmuted into Rael once he had made personal contact with the Biblical god Yahweh, which he says occurred in 1973. The aforementioned Dr Petra Boynton has made many attempts to get critical and scientific questions answered from the group, yet they either do not reply or offer anecdotal evidence only of how happy African women are who have undergone their surgical restoration practice for which donors/adopters have paid. Many others - individuals and organizations, specialists and women who have themselves undergone FGM - have meanwhile voiced serious doubts about both the Clitoraid organization and the very business-like scheme they have devised. Even the slogan "adopt a clitoris" shows that this organ is treated without much respect, regarded more or less as a commodity. Asked about what she thought of Clitoraid, its website and the campaign in general, a woman who has every right to have her thoughts respected is on record with the following statement:
"The background info is pretty accurate, but restoring the clitoral nerve is nonsense. I assume it's a money making scheme. Sleazy way to make a buck."
The sentence is by Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, possibly the world's leading researcher in the field of female genital mutilation, also known by the abbreviation FGM. Sometimes, erroneously, it is thought that Clitoraid has been founded by a French surgeon, Dr. Pierre Foldes. That is not the case. Dr Foldes is the developer of a surgical method that does not actually reconstruct a clitoris after circumcision or excision, rather, he reshapes the vulva in a way that allows underlying clitoral tissue to come forward. He has trained other surgeons in this method, but when asked to get involved with Clitoraid, he declined. It is also quite telling that while Clitoraid claims it will cost billions and trillions to help African women, Dr Foldes offered his work in Africa free of charge. While none of the people or organizations who object to the "Adopt a Clitoris" campaign want FGM to continue, most think that any funds should rather be spent for educating women and men in the afflicted countries, in other words to work on the prevention of more clitoris excisions rather than letting this terrible practice go on and focus on the illusion that what has been taken, amidst much pain and suffering, can be given back in a so-called 'Pleasure Hospital' - which is how Clitoraid names its facilities. Because FGM and all that surrounds it, including Clitoraid and its campaign, is a multifaceted and sensitive subject, the above article cannot be more than merely a short overview.

Wrong approach to ending genital mutilation

April 14, 2010
By Caille Millner - The San Francisco Chronicle

Even from a distance of several continents, it should not be that hard to do the right thing about female genital mutilation. It's a terrible practice that has no place in a modern world. It has also proved to be one of those practices that stubbornly resists eradication - in part because it's tied up with history and tradition and all kinds of fraught concerns about that modern world, and women's place in it.

Anyone who has taken just a cursory glance at the literature about female genital mutilation should come away with some understanding about the sensitivity of the issue in the countries where it is practiced. So how did Good Vibrations, the San Francisco company that's become famous for its sensitivity toward women, manage to get it so wrong?

For its first foray into the fight against female genital mutilation, Good Vibrations has partnered with a charity called Clitoraid. Clitoraid is a charity that is sponsoring genital reconstruction surgeries at a clinic in Colorado, and has a goal of building a clinic in Burkina Faso to do the same. It's a project of the Raelian movement, whose members believe that all life on Earth was created in scientific labs by extraterrestrials. The fundraising campaign urges Western women to "adopt" an African woman's clitoris.

Where do I begin?

I suppose I'll begin by saying that I support genital reconstruction for women who have suffered FGM and that increased awareness of the issue is unquestionably a good thing. I'm sure that everyone's heart is in the right place when it comes to all of this.

I spoke to Clitoraid's public relations director, Donna Newman, and though she did not know when Clitoraid was launched nor whether it was working with any African women's organizations on the ground in Burkina Faso, I don't hold any antipathy toward anyone at Clitoraid for this fundraising campaign. People who believe that all life on Earth was created in scientific labs by extraterrestrials do not always make the right decisions.
Good Vibrations, on the other hand, should know better.

As a retailer that's prided itself on being respectful toward women, it should've hit the panic button as soon as it heard about the clitoris adoption campaign.

"I asked them what due diligence they had done and I was shocked to realize how little research they had done on this," said Professor Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, an assistant professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. "Nobody's genitalia should be talked about in the way that these people are talking about African women's genitalia."

This kind of talk has a long and painful history. It goes back to Saartjie Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, who was brought to Europe in the early 19th century and exhibited as a freak show attraction for her enlarged genitalia. The French still own this poor woman's genitalia. And this is no obscure story - it's the kind to which all related Google searches lead.

Then there's common sense. If you're seeking to help someone, why would you express eagerness to adopt their body parts? How does that engender trust, especially among people who have been victimized already?
Kamau-Rutenberg has launched a small campaign to get Good Vibrations to rethink its association with Clitoraid, and instead work with African women's organizations that have a history of success in dealing with these issues. She suggests the Global Fund for Women and the African Women's Development Fund. They don't sound as sexy as Clitoraid, but as she said, "It's much better to support African women who are trying to stop this than it is to support a UFO cult."

That sounded pretty reasonable to me, so I called Good Vibrations. They seem to have realized that this was a terrible idea, because chief cultural officer Carol Queen told me that they're "distressed by the controversy" and that there's a lot of "discussion" about what their next steps should be. My suggestion to them: Bring actual African women into that discussion. Who knows? They might have a few ideas about how they can be helped.

Caille Millner is a Chronicle editorial writer. You can e-mail her at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kenyan program strives to replace cultural ritual of female genital mutilation

April 12, 2010
By Becky Oberg -

When a ritual with negative health consequences is firmly entrenched in a culture, how can one bring beneficial change while still honoring the cultural expectations?  Dr. Susan K. Chebet, a Kenyan scholar currently visiting Indianapolis, needs help to do just that.

Chebet is the executive director of Tumndo Ne Leel Support Group, a non-profit organization in Kenya seeking to end female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation, or FGM) by replacing it with a culturally appropriate alternative rite of passage.  Chebet recently spoke to a Sunday school class at First Mennonite Church. 
Because Chebet is visiting Indiana as part of the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis-Moi University Strategic Alliance, her paper on Tumndo Ne Leel  is posted on IUPUI's web site.

According to Chebet's paper, FGM among the Kalenjin ethnic group starts with the circumcisor "pulling the clitoris and stinging it with leaves of a nettle plant ... that caused a swelling of the clitoris.  The application took several hours with such a strong pain that some initiates fainted during the process.  This was followed by the actual cutting of the entire clitoris and surrounding tissue of labia minora and labia majora after smearing it with flour to create a firm grip."

Chebet said all the Kalenjin females in a certain age-group undergo FGM together in December.  The remains of their removed external genitalia are placed on an altar, which symbolizes the eternal bond these women have with their age-mates.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is recognized as a human rights violation.  Kenya is a signatory to many UN treaties banning FGM.  However, legislation has failed to stop it.

Operating on the belief that the only way to change a culture is to superimpose a new one from within, Chebet sought input from the community.  The resulting Tumndo Ne Leel (translated as "the new initiation rites for girls") curriculum closely resembles the rituals surrounding FGM.

Girls beginning the initiation go to the center, where they stay secluded from the public for seven to twenty-one days, depending on what resources are available.  While there, they learn their cultural taboos, morals and ethics.  They also learn about women's and children's rights, housekeeping, diet, nutrition, sexuality, positive self-esteem, substance abuse and domestic violence.  They are also encouraged to get an education, which ceases to be an option if they are circumcised.

At graduation, the women undergo a public initiation ceremony with specially trained Motirenik (initiators).  The ceremony includes prayers for the initiates, speeches from community leaders, singing, dancing, feasting and exchanging gifts.

Tumndo Ne Leel Support Group reaches out to other members of the community.  Young men are encouraged to marry uncircumcised women.  Ex-circumcisors are taught a new livelihood.  Local churches and Moi University are partners with Tumndo Ne Leel Support Group, which is recognized by the Kenyan government's Ministry of Gender, Culture, and Sports.

Demand for the program is extremely high, overwhelming the limited resources of Tumndo Ne Leel Support Group.  Those interested in helping can contact Chebet at
Immediate needs include a pit latrine and a water tank (the center relies on harvesting rain water in a drought-plagued region).  Long term needs include money for beds and mattresses, construction of a dorm and money to purchase a four-wheel drive truck, as roads to the center are poor.

Do they hear you when you cry – Fauziya Kassindja and Layli Miller Bashir

By the UNHCR representation in Cyprus blog

“On Thursday they said I'd be married. On Friday they told me they'd cut me. At midnight I escaped.” Read the true, moving story of Fauziya Kassindja, the seventeen year old girl from Togo who fled her country to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and life in a forced polygamous marriage.

After having lost her progressive father, who sheltered her from the brutal tribal practices, Fauziya fled her village in Togo and made her way to the U.S. in 1994, where she sought asylum; only to have her hopes for freedom failed. On arrival to the US, she was put in detention where she remained for 18 months before being finally granted asylum on the basis of gender-based persecution. It took a lot of strength derived from her profound faith to endure the new, unexpected form of suffering: Kassindja waited for her initial hearing in prison for over eight months to be falsely denied asylum on grounds of lack credibility. She remained in prison for a total of 18 months, during which she broke down and asked to be sent back to Togo to escape the nightmare she was going through in prison. In prison she was strip-searched, put in chains, put in solitary confinement for over two weeks after being misdiagnosed with tuberculosis, and housed in a maximum-security prison with violent criminals with her health deteriorating dangerously.

With the help of a cousin living in the US and a dedicated law student named Layli Miller Bashir, Kassindja obtained legal representation and prevented her eventual deportation. Bashir along with high profile FGM activists initiated a huge legal battle to free Kassindja and grant her asylum.

On June 13, 1996, Kassindja and her legal team won a landmark case that created the precedence for all seeking asylum in the US on the grounds of gender-based persecution.

An estimated 70 million girls and women living today have been subjected to FGM mostly in Africa. FGM, which is practiced in 28 African countries, ranges from cutting off part or all of a girl’s external genitalia. FGM is commonly performed by a village woman who specializes in the practice using knives, razor blades, and pieces of broken glass under unsanitary conditions and with no anesthesia. It can result in death through severe bleeding leading to hemorrhagic shock, neurogenic shock as a result of pain and trauma, and severe, overwhelming infection and septicaemia. Many girls enter a state of shock induced by the severe pain, psychological trauma and exhaustion from screaming.

It is today an established principle that FGM is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls. It is discriminatory and violates the rights to equal opportunities, health, freedom from violence, injury, abuse, torture and cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment, protection from harmful traditional practices, and to make decisions concerning reproduction. It is also an established principle of refugee law that a girl or woman seeking asylum because she has been compelled to undergo, or is likely to be subjected to FGM, can qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

While FGM is illegal in many of the practicing countries, still more than one third of the women are circumcised and in some ethnic groups almost each and every young woman is subjected to the cut.

Apart from illustrating the injustice faced by millions of women in the world and the need to grant those women protection once they arrive in our doorstep, the book is an eye opener in many other respects. It’s also the story of dedicated, wonderful and talented individuals who made their own sacrifices in order to provide to Fauziya the most efficient legal support she could have ever received; had they not been so wholeheartedly involved she would have been sent back to her home country, probably facing an even worse nightmare than the one she escaped. The legal battles undertaken by the human rights activists were determinative in saving not only Fauziya’s life but setting the precedence for other women with similar horrible fates. This is a book that any asylum practitioner should read to see how careful one should be in adjudicating the credibility of an asylum claimant – how lack of multicultural awareness can easily lead to a conclusion that a claim seems “implausible” and hence to the rejection of an asylum claimant, such as Fauziya.

Above all, this is a book about the suffering of any refugee: the pain of separation from family and home, the loneliness of exile and often the unfair treatment refugees receive in reaching a third country seeking refuge. It’s also an eye opener for those who question the need for a fair and efficient asylum system and for those who perceive all asylum seekers as abusers of the system.

It’s a book that will not leave any reader untouched!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sub-Regional Conference on Female Genital Mutilation, "Towards a political and religious consensus against FGM"

February 2005
By No Peace Without Justice

Djibouti, 2-3 February 2005
Rapports des Sessions Thématiques:
  1. Sessions Thématique 1. La position de l’Islam vis à vis des Mutilations Génitales Féminines: Report (Eng)/ Report (Fr)
  2. Sessions Thématique 2. Le Protocole de Maputo et la mise en œuvre des instruments législatifs et politiques pour le changement des conventions sociales:
 Other Reports presented at the Conference:
 Other Documents: 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Abandoning Female Genital Cutting/Mutilation in the Afar Region of Ethiopia

April 8, 2010
By Abraham Gelaw - UNFPA

AWASH, Afar Region, Ethiopia — A smile formed on Dohra Ali’s face when she recalled what her eldest daughter asked her a couple of years ago. “Mother, is there a place in this world where FGM is not practised where I could go to?” At the time, the question came as an affront to Dohra, who was herself one of the women in the community who did the cutting.

Thinking back, Dohra says the words of her daughter were prophetic. A campaign to abandon female genital mutilation/cutting was begun in the region right about that time – in the year 2000. The campaign was mainly spearheaded by religious leaders, who worked tirelessly to inculcate an understanding among their more conservative counterparts, clan leaders and the community at large that the practice is not supported by Islam. This came as news to many, who had grown up with the idea that it was a religious requirement.

Dohra was fiercely opposed to the campaign at the beginning. However, she was persuaded later on when the religious leaders held discussions with her community and condemned the practice. Once she learned that it did not have the backing of Islam, Dohra resolved to spare her five daughters from the ordeal and to stop her own practice. Despite ridicule by some members of her community, Dohra went ahead and joined the anti-FGM/C campaign.

Reaching consensus
The campaign continued for six years, culminating in a conference in 2006 where consensus was reached to totally abandon FGM/C in the region. The conference involved senior officials of the regional government, zonal administrators, woreda (district) and kebele (sub-district) officials and religious and clan leaders. A government regulation reaffirming the Penal Code of Ethiopia (ratified in 2005), which criminalizes the practice, was also passed.

It was on this platform that the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme on the Abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region was built.

The Afar region, one of the hottest and driest places on earth, ranks second in the prevalence of FGM/C in Ethiopia after the Somali Region, with prevalence rates of 74 and 92 per cent, respectively, according to the Demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2005. In the Afar region, women have traditionally been subjected to the most severe form of the practice, infibulation, usually between the ages of seven to nine. In some districts it is carried out within the first few days after birth.

Infibulation involves the entire removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and labia majora, followed by sealing of the wound, which leaves only a small hole for the passage of urine and menses. Figures show that 63.2 per cent of women in the Afar region have undergone infibulation (some people are now practicing a less extreme form). The practice leaves the girls with severe pain and trauma, shock, haemorrhage, sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and urinary infection, among other complications. Obstruction and tearing during sexual intercourse or childbirth is common.

Gaining community support
The core strategy of the UNFPA/UNICEF Joint Programme is to gain the support of an initial core group, which decides to abandon the practice and then helps mobilize a sufficient number of people to facilitate a tipping point – enough of a consensus to create a rapid social shift on the norm. The Afar Pastoralist Development Association, Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Women’s Development and the Women’s Affairs Office are working as implementing partners. The Joint Programme is initially operating in all the sub-districts of the six districts forming Zone 3 of the Afar Region, namely Amibara, Argoba, Awash Fentale, Buremudayitu, Dulesa and Gewane.

Community dialogue was identified from the outset as a pivotal tool for mobilizing community support. A Consensus Building Conference was held in the zone early in 2009, where regional, district, and sub-district government and administration officials took part and reached a unanimous agreement to support and facilitate community dialogue in their respective communities. They also pledged to play an exemplary role in their community by not circumcising their own children. In addition the participants agreed to introduce and enforce the legislation after the communities reached a consensus on abandonment.

Training dialogue facilitators
Community dialogue facilitators were trained in the six target districts. The training was provided by members of the Afar Region Anti-Harmful Traditional Practices Committee, which is constituted by representatives of the Regional Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, Women’s Affairs Bureau, Justice Bureau and the Regional Council. Administrators, clan and religious leaders and former circumcisers participated in the trainings, which covered FGM/C’s relationship to Islam, its effect on health, and the legal rights of women and children. Once trained, the community dialogue facilitators were entrusted with the task of disseminating information and knowledge among community members during the community dialogue sessions. Hundreds of such sessions have taken place.

Despite the extensive system put in place to implement and monitor the programme, a few instances of parents continue to have their daughters cut have been uncovered. The village anti-FGM committees diligently report these cases and the offenders receive punishment for violations. But reports show that some circumcisers who were brought to justice were released with a pardon, though there is no such provision.

The Afar way of life poses programming challenges. Predominantly pastoralists, they are unable to regularly attend the community dialogue sessions to get enough information on FGM. This makes it difficult to monitor progress at community level. Moreover, in some community dialogue sessions some community members have argued for shifting from infibulationsto a less severe cut (sometimes referred to as sunna), which is not punishable according to some religious leaders.

Impressive results
Nevertheless, early indications show that the Joint Programme is bearing impressive results. According to Ato Asmelash Woldemariam, Executive Director of the Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Women Development, the number of uncircumcised girls in the six woredas of intervention has reached 4,000. This is unprecedented in the region, where tradition holds that “an uncircumcised woman is one who is waiting for her day of circumcision or one who has already passed away,” says Ato Asmelash.

It is expected that two of the intervention woredas of the Joint Programme, Awash Fentale and Amibara, will declare themselves free of FGM/C this year, according to Ato Asmelash.

If funding is secured, the programme will be scaled up to include three more woredas. In the meantime, the emphasis is on consolidating the success already achieved, by adding elements such as income-generating activities and literacy training, mainly targeting former circumcisers.

Though the overriding focus is on the accelerated abandonment of FGM/C, efforts are being made to include other harmful traditional practices in the community dialogue process. For instance, in Afar there is a strong belief the girls could engage in sex or could get raped if they are not married by age 15, which puts pressure on girls to get married early. But efforts are currently being undertaken to push the age of marriage of girls to 18 by helping girls to go to school. Girls’ education, has, accordingly, increased in recent years and the members of the anti-FGM committees like Dohra Ali are playing exemplary role by sending their own daughters to school.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of Dohra Ali and other members of the community, Doho has been chosen as a model kebele in the Awash Fentale woreda for the accelerated abandonment of FGM/C. Dohra has helped to create the community her daughter once dreamed of. Her girls are now part of the first Afar generation of girls to grow up free from the harm of FGM/C.

Monitoring progress

Structures have also been put in place on the ground to monitor the implementation of the Joint Programme. Anti-FGM committees have been set up at the kebele level comprising the clan leader, a community elder, two former circumcisers, and the Kadi (local judge). There are also anti-FGM village committees composed of two former circumcisers, a village elder, clan leader, and the religious leader in the community. The members of the committees teach the community on the consequences of FGM/C and report cases when they see evidence of it.

Quarterly review meetings are being held with the aim of giving refresher training to help committees address the challenges they encounter in the course of their work. The review meetings are also serving as forums to evaluate progress. The review meetings are facilitated by members of the Afar Region Anti-Harmful Traditional Practices Committee . There have been cases where officials as high as the Vice-President of the region and the Vice-President of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council have facilitated the review meetings thus showing serious commitment in the region to end the practice.

In the villages uncircumcised and newborn girls are now being registered, a record which serves as a follow up mechanism to protect them. The registers are reported on a quarterly basis.

Monitoring work is being undertaken on a regular basis together with the woreda administrations. The monitoring work has been integrated in the routine works of the woredas. When the woreda and kebele administrations hold their periodic meetings, FGM/C is discussed as one development issue. Moreover, a regional network of governmental and civil society organizations working on the abandonment of harmful practices has been established to create a common understanding and approach in the quest to achieve total abandonment.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Documentary: “Secret of the Dawn” Covers Efforts to Stop Female Genital Mutilation in Mali

April 6, 2010
By June Tsang - Our Bodies Ourselves

Every individual has a right to life… and to the integrity of their person.”
– Mali Constitution

On Thursday, April 8, Sini Sanuman and Healthy Tomorrow — sister organizations campaigning against female genital mutilation (FGM) in West Africa — will hold a screening in Cambridge, Mass., for the film “Secret of the Dawn.”

The documentary covers the story of the organizations’ efforts to stop excision in West Africa, in particular in Mali, in a culturally competent manner.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 100 to 140 million women are living with the consequences of FGM, also known as female genital cutting, female genital modification, and female circumcision. Internationally, FGM is recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. However, the practice is still prevalent in villages and cities of West Africa.

Within their society, women who have undergone FGM share a bond and are viewed as courageous. The practice also marks a woman as desirable and worthy of marriage. The act involves the removal of all or part of the clitoris and sometimes the narrowing of the vaginal opening — not only to increase pleasure for their future husbands, but for the societal opinion of aesthetically pleasing vaginas.

In an interview with Our Bodies, Our Blog, Susan McLucas, secretary general of Sini Sanuman and director of Healthy Tomorrow, said the film “follows a number of threads to show the complexity of the issue of FGM.”

Sini Sanuman utilizes a number of methods in villages in Mali to spread information about the negative health impacts of FGM, including song, dance and music videos.

The organization also recruits religious leaders, village chiefs, and former performers of excision. One video, “I Abandon,” features 17 former excisers who, during the chorus, throw their knives in a hole.
Above is a poster that Sini Sanuman distributes to its network of activists and partner groups. Here it is in French (as it appears in Mali). Click the poster to read the English version.

While this movement recognizes that a major barrier to preventing FGM is the lack of political rights, Sini Sanuman’s campaign focuses on educating people about the medical consequences of FGM, including life-threatening difficulties in childbirth, severe bleeding, incontinence, and high risks of HIV and tetanus.

Sini Sanuman and Healthy Tomorrow have succeeded in stopping excision in nine villages in Mali so far and are compiling a list of more than 300 villages around Mali that have stopped FGM with other NGOs. This list has inspired the government to organize a Forum of Villages in February, which was televised, The forum adopted a resolution encouraging the legislature to pass a law to ban FGM.
McLucas recounts a story about girls who did not undergo FGM singing at the ceremony in the village of Missalabougou, the fourth village to stop the practice.

“They were a chorus of unexcised girls singing about how happy they were to have been spared,” she said. “They couldn’t carry a tune, but it still made very good TV footage and was very moving.”
“Secret of the Dawn” covers the journey of Sini Sanuman in its struggle to stop excision in women across Mali by relating to them through music, their own political and religious leaders, community meetings, and through the experiences of women who live with the consequences of FGM. The movement to stop excision is gaining strength and the hope is that Mali will soon follow the path of its neighbors and outlaw FGM.

The screening will take place at 7 p.m. in the Cambridge Library in Central Square (take the red line to Central Square). Following the screening, McLucas will discuss the film and the Sini Sanuman organization.

June Tsang, an intern at Our Bodies Ourselves, is studying social policy and public health at Brandeis University.