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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Africa: Region Praised On Genital Mutilation Ban

July 27, 2010
By Cyprian Musoke -

Kampala — Uganda has been praised for banning female genital mutilation (FGM), with a call to other African countries where the practice still exists to follow suit.

Addressing the First Ladies' forum on HIV/AIDS at Speke resort Munyonyo yesterday, the African Union (AU) commissioner for social affairs, Bience Gawanas, said the practice humiliated women.

"AU decided that there should be no more declarations, no more resolutions concerning women's lives and dignity because it is time for action. That's why we applaud our host Uganda, who passed a law against female genital mutilation," she said.

Gawanas added that the practice should have been abolished long time ago and urged other countries that have not banned it to do so quickly.

She lauded the First Lady, Janet Museveni, for championing the abstinence and HIV/AIDS prevention programmes in schools and among youth out of school. Gawanas also called for more efforts in reaching the women in rural areas with information on safe sex and safe motherhood.

Mrs. Museveni said Uganda had embarked on a roadmap to accelerate the reduction of maternal and infant mortality rate. More children however, she added, continue to die hence the need to step up action.

"Most women die due to bleeding and infection, which are largely preventable hence the need for more access to emergency care, equipment and access to information about the availability of these," Mrs. Museveni said.

She noted that more deaths occur in rural areas that lack clear messages on family planning, which she described as the basic tool for safe motherhood.

"We need to network and keep in touch to sharpen strategies in order to make a difference in the status of African families, and give hope to women and children," she said.

The executive director of the United Nations Food and population agency, Dr. Thoraya Obaid, hoped that the commitment showed by the heads of state on maternal and infant mortality rate is translated into better budgets to the cause when they go back home.

"There are many demanding issues on the budget, but we would like to see maternal mortality issues prioritised. No woman should die giving life," Obaid stressed.

She also noted that access to maternal reproductive health is restricted by lack of information to the rural women and backward cultural practices like FGM.

Monday, July 26, 2010

British girls undergo horror of genital mutilation despite tough laws

Female circumcision will be inflicted on up to 2,000 British schoolgirls during the summer holidays – leaving brutal physical and emotional scars. Yet there have been no prosecutions against the practice.

July, 25, 2010
Tracy McVeigh and Tara Sutton-The Observer

Like any 12-year-old, Jamelia was excited at the prospect of a plane journey and a long summer holiday in the sun. An avid reader, she had filled her suitcases with books and was reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when her mother came for her. "She said, 'You know it's going to be today?' I didn't know exactly what it would entail but I knew something was going to be cut. I was made to believe it was genuinely part of our religion."

She went on: "I came to the living room and there were loads of women. I later found out it was to hold me down, they bring lots of women to hold the girl down. I thought I was going to be brave so I didn't really need that. I just lay down and I remember looking at the ceiling and staring at the fan.
"I don't remember screaming, I remember the ridiculous amount of pain, I remember the blood everywhere, one of the maids, I actually saw her pick up the bit of flesh that they cut away 'cause she was mopping up the blood. There was blood everywhere."
Some 500 to 2,000 British schoolgirls will be genitally mutilated over the summer holidays. Some will be taken abroad, others will be "cut" or circumcised and sewn closed here in the UK by women already living here or who are flown in and brought to "cutting parties" for a few girls at a time in a cost-saving exercise.
Then the girls will return to their schools and try to get on with their lives, scarred mentally and physically by female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice that serves as a social and cultural bonding exercise and, among those who are stitched up, to ensure that chastity can be proved to a future husband.
Even girls who suffer less extreme forms of FGM are unlikely to be promiscuous. One study among Egyptian women found 50% of women who had undergone FGM "endured" rather than enjoyed sex.

Cleanliness, neatness of appearance and the increased sexual pleasure for the man are all motivations for the practice. But the desire to conform to tradition is the most powerful motive. The rite of passage, condemned by many Islamic scholars, predates both the Koran and the Bible and possibly even Judaism, appearing in the 2nd century BC.

Although unable to give consent, many girls are compliant when they have the prodecure carried out, believing they will be outcasts if they are not cut. The mothers believe they are doing the best for their daughters. Few have any idea of the lifetime of hurt it can involve or the medical implications.

Jamelia, now 20, who says her whole personality changed afterwards."I felt a lot older. It was odd because nobody says this is a secret, keep your mouth shut but that's the message you get loud and clear." She stopped the sports and swimming she used to love and became "strangely disconnected with her own body". Other girls have died, of shock or blood loss; some have picked up infections from dirty tools. Jamelia's mother paid extra for the woman to use a clean razor. It is thought that in the UK there are one or two doctors who can be bribed by the very rich to to carry out FGM using anaesthetic and sterilised instruments.

Comfort Momoh works at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London, in one of the 16 clinics up and down the country who deal with FGM and its health repercusssions. Women who have had much of their external genitalia sliced off and their vaginas stitched closed, but for a tiny hole, also come to be cut open in order to give birth.

There are four types of female circumcision identified by the World Health Organisation, ranging from partial to total removal of the external female genitalia. Some 140 million women worldwide have been subjected to FGM and an estimated further two million are at risk every year. Most live in 28 African countries while others are in Yemen, Kurdistan, the US, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Canada.

The UK Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 makes it an offence to carry out FGM or to aid, abet or procure the service of another person. The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, makes it against the law for FGM to be performed anywhere in the world on UK permanent residents of any age and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. To date, no prosecutions have been made under UK legislation.
"Obviously in summer we get really anxious. All activists and professionals working around FGM get anxious because this is the time that families take their children back home. This is the time when all the professionals need to be really alert," said Momoh.

"There is no hard evidence in figures about what is happening in the UK because it's a hush-hush thing. It's only now that a few people are beginning to talk about it, which is good because change will only come from within and the numbers coming forward are rising. But there is a lot of family pressure. When I first started in 1997 we had two clinics in the country, now we have 16."
One woman told the Observer how a midwife examining her had raced retching and crying from the room. She had no idea she was "abnormal" before that happened. There is a clear need for women who have suffered FGM to be able to visit health professionals who understand what has happened to them. Momoh said that for those who wanted it, some surgical reversal work could sometimes be done on women with the most severe FGM procedure, Type III. For those with other types, counselling and support is all that can offered.

"Periods are agony – you get a lot of women who are determined to have reversals while they are having their period but then when the pain has stopped they lose their nerve again," said Leyla Hussein, 29, who has had to have years of counselling to cope with her own anger and distress at what was done to her as a child. It has helped her forgive her own mother's complicity in the mutilation she endured, though the older woman could not understand why Hussein would not have her own child, now aged seven, cut. But Hussein has vowed that she will be the last generation of women in her family to suffer.
"It was my husband who said on our honeymoon, 'We are not going to do this thing to any child of ours.' I was quite shocked, I hadn't questioned it. But I now realise a lot of men are not in favour of FGM, not when you tell them the woman is not going to enjoy herself."
Hussein is among a slowly but steadily growing band of women who have reacted against what happened to them with courage and a determination to stamp out FGM. Hussein has run support and discussion groups for affected women and for men, and formerly worked at the African Well Women's Centre in Leyton, east London.
"I can really relate to some of the women who are very angry, but how do you blame your mother, who loves you yet planned this for you? There is a lot of anger and resentment. Many women blame themselves and of course there are flashbacks to deal with. I had blackouts – anytime I had to have a smear test, I would pass out because lying in that position brought it back to me, but the nurse is used to me now and allows a little more time with the appointment."
"The new generation, born and raised here in Britain, they are used to expressing their views and it will be a lot harder to shut them up. Last month was the first ever march against FGM [in Bristol where 15 to 16 mothers protested] and that is a sign of something new."
Asha-Kin Duale is a community partnership adviser in Camden, London. She talks to schools and to families about safeguarding children. "Culture has positive and negative issues for every immigrant community. We value some traditions, and most are largely good.
"FGM is not confined to African countries. It has no basis in Christianity, it has no basis in Islam; none of Muhammad's daughters had it done. For some parents it is enough to let them know that and they will drop it completely. Everyone needs to understand that every child, no matter what the background or creed, is protected by this law in this land."
She said there needed to be an understanding of why FGM took place, although that was not the same as accepting that the practice had a cultural justification.

"FGM has a social function and until this is understood by social services and other bodies they will never stop it. It is a power negotiation mechanism, that women use to ensure respect from men. It prevents rape of daughters and is a social tool to allow women to regain some power in patriarchal societies. With girls living in the UK there is no need to gain the power – it has to be understood that girls can be good girls without FGM."
For Jason Morgan, a detective constable in the Met's FGM unit, Project Azure, the solution lies with those girls themselves: "Empowering youth, giving them the information, is the way forward. They are coming from predominantly caring and loving families, who genuinely believe this is the right thing to do. Many are under a great deal of pressure from the extended families.
"Sometimes it might be as simple as delivering the message of what the legal position is; sometimes we even give them an official letter, a document that they can show to the extended family that states quite firmly what will happen if the procedure goes ahead. The focus has to be on prevention."

Project Azure made 38 interventions in 2008, 59 in 2009 and 25 so far this year. For Morgan those statistics are just as important as getting a conviction. "We know it happens here although we have no official statistics, but we have seen very successful partnerships and we don't want to alienate communities through heavy-handed tactics.

"While a prosecution would send out a very clear message to practising communities, really it is very difficult and you would be relying on medical evidence, and in turn that would all hinge or whether the child consents to an examination."
But Naana Otoo-Oyortey is not so content with the softly-softly approach: "We have anecdotal evidence that it is being done here. So someone is not doing their job: it's an indication that the government has been failing to protect children. The commitment is hollow."
Head of the leading anti-FGM charity Forward UK, Otoo-Oyortey said people value the FGM tradition as something which holds a community together and gives it structure. "It's seen as a party, a cutting party because it's a celebration – people expect it as a way of welcoming a girl. A lot of women will mention to us that there have been no prosecutions here so why do we worry about the law? At the end of the day who will know?

"And we cannot just blame the women as the men are silently supporting it by paying for it. The new government's lack of a position on FGM is very worrying. We don't know what they will do, but we do know that the summer holidays are here again and we will be left to pick up the pieces in a few weeks' time."
And for those who will be "cut" this summer, the effects will be lifelong. Miriam was six when she had her cutting party at her home in Somalia, two years before war arrived to force her family out.
When she was 12, doctors were horrified to find that what they thought was a cyst in her body was actually several years of period blood that had been blocked from leaving her body. Unable to have children, she now lives and works in England and worries about other girls. "I'd seen so many people circumcised, all my neighbours, so I knew one day it was going to happen to me. We knew what was happening," Miriam said.
"The little girls who were born in Europe have no clue. They will be traumatised a lot more. The only thing they know is that they are going away – that's what they say, 'We're going on a holiday'.
"Then her life and her head are going to be messed up. It's amazing how many people are in mental health care because of their culture. Don't get me wrong, I have religion and culture and I love where I'm from and I love what I stand for. But culture should not be about torture.
"Why would anyone want to go and cut up a seven- or eight-year-old child? People need to wake up — you are hurting your child, you are hurting your daughter, you're not going to have a grandchild, so wake up."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Senegal reports 28 pct female genital mutilation

July 20, 2010
Global Times

The national prevalence rate of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Senegal stands at 28 percent, a report published over the weekend has revealed.
According to the report conducted under a plan to end FGM in the West African country, the practice is more prevalent in the southeastern and northern parts. In particular, the practice respectively stands at 94 percent and 93 percent in Kolda in the south and Tambacounda in the east.

The report also revealed that FGM is more common in rural areas than in urban areas, with 35 percent of rural women ages 15 to 49 undergoing the practice, compared with 22 percent of their urban counterparts.

Although the practice has been banned by law since 1999, it remains common among the Pulaar, Manding, Bambara, Serere and Diola ethnic groups.

Senegal and its partners are working towards the total elimination of the practice by 2015. Official figures show that more than 4,500 communities out of the 5,000 have already abandoned the practice.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Iraqi Kurdistan: FGM Fatwa Positive, but not Definitive

Edict Says Female Genital Mutilation not Prescribed by Islam but Doesn’t Ban It

July 17, 2010 Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) - A religious edict by the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union on female genital mutilation (FGM) sends a clear signal that the practice is not prescribed by Islam, Human Rights Watch said today. The edict, however, does not call for an outright ban on this harmful traditional practice.

The High Committee for Issuing Fatwas at the Kurdistan Islamic Scholars Union, the highest Muslim religious authority in Iraqi Kurdistan for religious pronouncements and rulings, issued its fatwa on July 6, 2010, on the continuing prevalence of the practice of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan. The fatwa notes that the practice is not prescribed in Islam, but predates it. The fatwa does not absolutely prohibit "female circumcision." It says parents may choose to "circumcise" their daughters but that it is better to avoid the practice because of the negative health consequences. FGM has been internationally recognized as a violation of children's and women's rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity.

"This fatwa on female genital mutilation is an important effort by the Kurdish religious community to dissociate this practice from Islam, but it is not enough," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "FGM is a degrading and damaging practice, and letting parents choose this procedure for their daughters is simply unacceptable."

On June 16, Human Rights Watch issued its report, "They Took Me and Told Me Nothing: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan," which describes the experiences of young girls and women who have undergone genital cutting and the terrible toll it has had on their physical and mental health. Human Rights Watch noted that the practice is widespread based on statistical studies from a government study conducted by the former Human Rights Ministry and another study conducted by a local nongovernmental organization. Both studies showed that more than 50 percent of girls and women between the ages of 14 and 19 were mutilated.

The report includes interviews with girls and women who referred to the practice as "sunnah," a non-obligatory act to strengthen one's religion. Human Rights Watch's findings revealed that women are confused about whether the practice is a religious necessity. Some said that their religious leaders encourage the practice, while others said that they discourage it. In press reports on July 12, the spokesperson for the Ministry for Endowments and Religious Affairs, Mariwan Naqshabandy, called on clerics to clarify during sermons and Friday prayers that FGM is not an Islamic practice.
Human Rights Watch called on the Kurdistan Regional Government to support Kurdish clerics in their rejection of female genital mutilation and to develop a long-term plan to eradicate the practice. The plan should include a law to ban the practice, accompanied with an awareness-raising campaign geared toward families, religious leaders, midwives, and health professionals.

"We are pleased that the ministry made this call because their support is critical to ending this practice," Khalife said. "Now it should make sure that the word gets out to every family in the region that FGM is not prescribed by religion."

W. Darfur launches campaign against Female Genital Mutilation

July 17, 2010

The Civil Society Organizations in Western Darfur state have started their campaign against Female Genital Mutilation with a special focus on villagers and IDPs. An official from Child Protection Unit from the Child-Friendly Society Initiative, Salha Yahia Abdallah, said that some residents in Western Darfur State widely practice female circumcision.

The campaign is supported and supervised by the United Nations Childrens' Fund (UNICEF).

Monday, July 12, 2010

On the frontlines of the fight against female genital mutilation

July 12, 2010
By Diane Walsh - The Vancouver Observer

Women in the West Pokot District of the Rift Valley Province in Kenya.

Although political mood is beginning to change, it is not that often we hear about the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) in any great depth. Most people in the West believe that female genital mutilation - alternatively called female genital cutting (FGC) and female circumcision - was something that went on, in history, at some random point, in ‘darkest Africa’. 

It is practised today.  Still— yes—and with force, in several parts of the world including countries in Africa but also in parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iraq (Kurdistan). With international migration, FGM has been exported to Western soil and governments of the US, the UK, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, and Australia are now playing a role in enforcing its criminalization.  
But first, let’s rewind 3,500 + years of history.  To understand female-cutting’s origins, Wikipedia’s article is a good starting point. The traditional cultural practices of FGM predate Christianity and Islam. It’s widely accepted, academically, to have originated in Egypt during the Pharaohs’ civilization.  
In present times, that is to say—today—a senior consultant for WHO based in Geneva, tells us it should be comforting to know the highest religious authority in Egypt, the Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research, stated that FGM has no basis in core Islamic law or any of its partial provisions and that it is harmful and should not be practiced.  Good to know.  Therefore we should expect for the global efforts to eradicate FGM. 
But the picture is obviously extremely complex. Globally accepted, as good and just, is the authority of the Inter-African Committee.  It’s both the source of information on international convention(s) and local legislation(s) and the template for the political commitment to end FGC, highlighted in the form of, and sanctioned by its Maputo Protocol.  This agreement is synchronized with the “African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights of Women in Africa” and, signed by, the African Union (2003).  In addition, theWorld Health Organization defines 4 forms of FGM and its stake in its actions against all practices.  
But anyone can look up internet links. 
What isn’t as ABC as surfing the web for fighting-cause dialogue, is having direct access to an individual who is knowledgeable, localized and working towards FGM prevention.   
VO is proud to have been able to catch up with one such remarkable woman for an exclusive interview, Lilian Plapan, based in Kenya.  A member of one of the Inter African Committee’s NGOs, in offices that are located in Kapenguria, Kenya (close to the Ugandan border) and, here in VO, she’s imparting her indigenous knowledge so that we can better understand the conundrum facing the efforts to eradicate FGM.  
Lilian Plapan’s information is both exemplary and candid.  She’s the current spokesperson for SETAT Women’s Organization, operated through the IAC’s website-section: “Traditional practices that affect health of women and children.”  SETAT doesn’t have a website of its own. We connected through some modern telecommunications with solid contact outside of the area.  
Kapenguria is the capital of the West Pokot District, in Kenya; it’s a town north of Kisumu situated NE of Kitale on the A1 road and has a population in excess of 55,000, including surrounding outskirts.
VO: Why is SETAT situated where it is?
LP: We decided on this because this is where FGM is still very high in this region.    
VO: Do you prefer that the term, Female Circumcism (FC), Female Genital Cutting (FGC) or Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in activist-parlance?
LP: We prefer [the use of the term], FGM. 
VO: What is your group's view on the practice on girls?
My group's view is that FGM is serious.  The type, practiced here [in the Kapenguria region in Kenya] is Type III: infibulation, which is mutilating the genitals of a woman or girl.
VO: Please give us a sense, if you would of, the scenario(s), in the region re: differing cutting practices?  Is there a tendancy toward lesser cutting?
LP: FGM practice is community specific. Kenya is a multi ethnic nation.  FGM is community specific to some religious sects.  All types, from Type I to Type IV, are practiced.
(a)  Type I, where you remove clitoris pubis, is practiced among the Kipsigis, Nandi ethnic groups Nubians and Kisiis.
(b)  Type II, also known as, excision, where you remove clitoris and labia minora, is practiced in Mt. Elgon, Nandi and Sebei of Uganda Masais, among the other MAA speaking communities.
(c)  Type III, also known as infibulations, and practiced by the Pokot, Marakwet, Somalis and other communities in the north.
(d)  Type IV is practiced by Nubians.  There is also clitoris pulling among the Bagisu tribes in the Kenya-Uganda Boarder.
Does your SETAT group have a set recorded policy towards FGM as well as specific funds allocated to combating it?
We do anti-FGM advocacy.  Our policy is towards abandonment [eradication] of FGM using all the strategies.  Most of the sensitized, [i.e.] educated, girls are abandoning FGM.  But yet, as we have found in last year, those [who are] educated [are] resorting to FGM due to in-laws pressure.  We depend on funding from anti-FGM-supporting partners and members volunteering.
If not, is this primarily due to Western aid agencies not willing to focus funding on it in a systematic and comprehensive way?
I may not look at it as Western agencies [who are] not willing to support.  The most disturbing issue is: whose reality is it; who, is having the problem.  African governments should now be spearheading allocation of funds to combat FGM and its harmful effects with humble requests for the Western agencies to step-up their funding to help stop this menace.
The western press has recently taken hold of information about a women's NGO called, Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organization, currently offering something (we’re being told) is: “circumcision through words”—touted as an alternative, rite of passage, but without the bloodshed.
Do you agree with and approve of this approach?
I participated in the rite of passage, conceptualized by Maendeleo Ya Wanawake, at the formulation stage.  They leaned upon FGM as a rite of passage and they maintained that if the girls were trained and a celebration was hosted with declaration that girls were now mature after seclusion. This was accepted by some communities.
But for some it has not been accepted. Some have been known to go to the seminars and thereafter come back and undergo FGM. In the areas where FGM is still high, they believe that blood must be shed so that the childhood dies and new life of womanhood begins to satisfy the ancestors.  And also, for the ancestors to acknowledge that their offspring has grown up.
Apart from Maendeleo Ya Wanawake group-concept, Dr. Susan Chebet of Tumto Ne Leel came up with concept that, in FGM, there is a very important session: where older women, known as, motiren, train the girls on indigenous knowledge.  So they came up with training that the motiren take part in training the girls and seclude them; then pass out (as in Maendeleo Ya wanawake group's concept). For the Keiyo community this could work. 
But for some communities (like, the Sabaot and the Pokot) one cannot reveal the community secrets to the uncircumcised.  This is a challenge. Negotiating with them to accept, to impart knowledge, without bloodshed.
There are those that practice FGM as religion; through sects, like, Mungiki and Dini Ya Msabwa or Mafuta Pole Africa sects.  This will need a lot of sensitization and education.
 Do you liaise on any projects? For instance, I understand (that is to say, I have been told) that the efforts of Setat Women's organization, in fighting FGM, have started to see some success, namely, in Pokot.  The report goes something like this: It's been described as a well organized scheme that is enticing “former circumcisers” by giving them livestock and assisting them to start businesses.  “Former initiators" (as they've been referred to) have responded and some have begun to encourage "current circumcisers" to join the program.  FGM is thus reduced in Pokot as a result, even though it's a region where FGM is still widely accepted.
Setat Women's organization NGO is also a National Committee for Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices that affect health of women and children and [it] uses all strategies, according to, communities’ values.
For example in Pokot, it will not be very easy to get all the elders to seminars in hotels. As this is the community I hail from, I [did] conceptualize Kirket Advocacy.  In Kirket advocacy, a cow is slaughtered, roasted and served to elders using peace leaves.  This brings out all the villagers.  The highest social structure is the elders who have undergone sapana and poro ritual; followed by men who are circumcised, but have not undergone, sapana ritual; then, young boys and women and girls.  In this type, you will meet all the members.
 In the highest structure, no uncircumcised women or girls may serve them. 
If you plan for a seminar where you just cook, food; the elders will say, it was meant for children.  If you prepare one in a hotel, they will say it is for Europeans.
 [And] so, this complicates the issue further.
For excisors, it is the Pokot economic-relationship arrangement, known as, Tilya system.  In this concept, the Pokot had [such an] arrangement where, if one of the relatives [is] not necessarily, a blood relative, you give a cow for the family to use for milk.  If he does well; later, you take as-and-when you require.  Then leave the economic relative with one cow and you will have empowered the relative.
If an excisor, who has been trained and observed to have abandoned FGM, is empowered and he signs an agreement, after five years he will give one calf to another excisor who has been trained.  The next will be taken again from the excisor after three years.  The rest [of the] animals will be for the excisor.  Follow up will always be done.  If she relapses to excisions we withdraw all the cattle and the relationship is severed.  This has succeeded.   We gave cattle in 2003, and last year we took [them] some calves and empowered other excisors.  We replicated, same, to women in Mt. Elgon, we gave them sheep.  And, in Marigat, we gave goats, according to climatic environment.  For goats, the giving of young is in two years.  This, in essence, delays the excisor for close to 10 years and hence they are not likely to relapse to excisions.
This interview is part of a series of VO articles discussing the issue of FGM/FGC. In coming weeks, we will feature a follow-up article that focuses on the efforts of institutions including the WHO and Oxfam in the eradication of FGM/FCG.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Pamela Izevbekhai loses appeal to stay in Ireland

July 9, 2010
By The Irish Examiner

Mother of three Pamela Izevbekhai has lost her Supreme Court fight to stay in Ireland.

Ms Izevbekhai claims her daughters - nine-year-old Naomi and seven-year-old Jemima - are at risk of female genital mutilation if returned to Nigeria.

The court has found by a four-to-one majority that the Minister for Justice has no discretion to further review her deportation following an EU directive.

Pamela Izevbekhai's solicitor Matthew Ezeani said Ms Izevbekhai would still have another day in court - at the European Court of Human Rights.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Breaking the silence of genital mutilation

July 6, 2010
By Catherine Reilly - Irish Times

A WINNING SMILE fails to conceal 19-year-old Amina’s* horrific burden, one that can render her bed-bound for days at the asylum seeker hostel in Co Galway where she lives.

Aged six, her family sanctioned a local “circumciser” in her native Somalia to mutilate her genitals, and the consequences reverberate across time and place and within mind, body and soul. When her period comes, it feels as though “the cutting” is happening all over again.

“Oh my God the pain, you are afraid of the pain,” says the teenager, her neat hijab framing a welcoming face. “I am like, ‘Oh my God, let it not come, let it not come’.”

She endures chronic stress, frequent infections, back pain and is anaemic, all likely traceable to that watershed day when she was mutilated alongside three other girls.

More than 2,500 migrant women in Ireland are estimated to have suffered some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) in their countries, according to AkiDwA, a national network of African and migrant women.

Social customs, control over female sexuality, marriageability and religion (although no faith obliges FGM) are commonly cited motivators behind a practice usually carried out by local women using basic items like blades and scissors.

FGM is most prevalent in Africa, with vast country-to-country variations: it’s very common in Egypt, Sierra Leone and Guinea, for example, yet quite rare in Cameroon and Uganda.

It involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, says the World Health Organisation (WHO), which defines four main types.

The most common are type one – partial or total removal of the clitoris (an erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris); and type two – partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are the lips that surround the vagina).

In Amina’s war-torn homeland of Somalia, it’s almost universal, and the majority suffer its most brutal form, infibulation or type three. This involves narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

When Amina feels intense pain, she takes painkillers prescribed for a back complaint, and suggests a reluctance to reveal her experience of FGM – which she terms “circumcision” – to medical professionals.

Her current GP in Galway is “nice”, she says, but Amina believes disclosure will result in being “told” to have her vaginal orifice “opened”. If she was later sent back to Somalia like that, her virginity would be questioned, she wouldn’t find a husband and would be a social outcast, she says.

“They wouldn’t buy my story if I said I just went to the hospital . No man would believe it, and I’d have to do it again.”

Many FGM-affected women in Ireland are reluctant to talk to healthcare workers, says Ifrah Ahmed (22), from Somalia, a Dublin-based woman who is a representative of the End FGM European Campaign led by Amnesty International Ireland.

In May, Ahmed organised a fashion show in Dublin to raise awareness of the procedure, opened by then Lord Mayor Emer Costello and attended by up to 300 people, many of them African-born teens.

“They want to get help but they’re scared of showing the doctor their private areas,” she says. “FGM is unusual in Ireland, so people will be shocked and you have to explain over and over. That’s what makes people say, ‘No, I don’t want to go’.”

According to Dr Andrea Scharfe Nugent of Dublin’s Coombe Hospital and course director of the MSc in women’s health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), more awareness among healthcare personnel is needed and particularly vital in the obstetrical field.

“There needs to be awareness concerning which countries have a high rate of FGM in order that medical professionals would know to ask questions, and ascertain the type of FGM to assess their specific risk for delivery,” she says.

Nugent adds that a resource launched in January 2009 by the RCSI and AkiDwA, entitled Female Genital Mutilation, Information for Health-Care Professionals Working in Ireland , has proven “very popular in the Irish setting and internationally”.

Funded by the Office of the Minister for Integration, it provides specialist information including expressions in English and native languages that women may use to describe FGM (a term unlikely to be used in itself).

According to the HSE, it will fund updated copies of this and is supporting the cost of a project worker at AkiDwA to “progress implementation of prioritised recommendations” outlined in a national FGM action plan.

So far, more than 500 health professionals such as midwives, GPs and social workers have been reached through training sessions financially backed by the HSE and previously by the Office of the Minister for Integration, while the HSE says it is developing patient information leaflets on FGM. Child protection is “strongly emphasised in all efforts” around informing women of the risks of the practice, says a spokesperson.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health says draft legislation specifically banning FGM is nearing completion. It will make illegal the sending or taking of children resident in Ireland to another country for the practice, a scenario not covered by the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which may also be flawed in terms of outlawing possible cases of FGM in Ireland.

No known cases of FGM have taken place here, but alarmingly, there appears to have been incidences of children being brought overseas for the procedure.

“We have heard of cases of girls being brought outside the country to have it performed,” says Sioban O’Brien Green, co-ordinator of the Migrant Women’s Health Project at AkiDwA. “What we have heard anecdotally is referring to Ethiopia and Nigeria,” according to O’Brien Green, who says these accounts involve “a very small number”.

It’s an issue that other western countries continue to grapple with, as underlined by a recent proposal by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) for legal changes to enable paediatricians in the US to “reach out to families by offering a ritual nick as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm”.

The AAP withdrew this statement after critics accused it of supporting the “medicalisation” of FGM.

Amina, who would like to be a midwife or Montessori teacher, believes the key to unlocking mindsets is held by women like herself. She says she’d engage in dialogue on FGM within her disparate community in Ireland if a forum developed, and despite her own fears, says she wouldn’t allow any form of FGM to be perpetrated on her future children.

She believes those who sanctioned her ordeal will be called to answer – though not in this world.

“It is cultural, it is not religion, it is not in the Koran,” she says. “On the Day of Judgment, they will be asked about what they did to us. I can say, ‘Oh Mum, I forgive you’, but in God’s eyes, they are not forgiven.”

*Amina is not her real name

Monday, July 5, 2010

GAMCOTRAP engages CRR communities in fight against FGM

July 2, 2010
by Today, The Gambia's Quality Newspaper

The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices affecting The Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) has reached out to Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta clusters in Niani District of the Central River Region on the campaign to stop FGM and to promote instead the rights of women and children.

Representatives of thirty-eight communities in Niani district have thus pledged to stop Female Genital Mutilation. These pronouncements were made at a series of community sensitization activities held in Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta clusters in the North of the Central River Region. GAMCOTRAP funded by Danida through the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices - IAC targeted women leaders and women of reproductive age, Alkalolu, Imams, Council of Elders and Youth leaders in the clusters. The community sensitization activities aimed at creating awareness on Female Genital Mutilation- FGM, amongst other sexual and reproductive health and rights issues affecting women and girls such as early and forced marriages, inheritance, and other forms of gender based violence.

In his statement at the Firdawsi cluster sensitization meeting, the Chief of Niani District, Pierre Bah said his support to GAMCOTRAP is based on the organization's efforts in promoting health which he perceived as beneficial to the people of Niani.

According to Chief Pierre Bah, the commitment in Niani is demonstrated by the participation of the community leaders and support from the Region's authorities.

He further noted that while they promote culture, they would discourage harmful traditional practices such as FGM because the records at their local health facilities give indications that many women of reproductive age are admitted because to child birth related problems, which are associated to harmful traditional practices i.e. FGM and early marriage.

The chief was optimistic that change would happen. He also gave feedback on an earlier training held in Wassu cluster, where he reported that over 60 percent of the people agreed to stop FGM.

In a consultation meeting with council of elders from the cluster, the grand marabout of Firdawsi, Sering Momodou Lamin Nyang gave his blessing to the training and pledged to follow up on the communities to stop FGM, which he pointed out is not an obligation in Islam nor a Sunna for women to practice.

A health worker in Firdawsi Health facility, Alhajie Yoro Bah informed the participants that 95 percent of the referral cases to Kuntaur Health Centre are linked to effects of FGM on women during child birth. Several participants testified to stop FGM and other harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and children.

At Kunno Ngunta cluster, Alhajie Buba Jallow, a member of the council of elders, commended GAMCOTRAP for raising awareness in the communities.
The member of Parliament for Niani, Honourable Ebrima Manneh informed participants about the advocacy for a law to protect girls from FGM and that such awareness creation activities would give people the opportunity to understand the effects FGM has on women and come to consensus before a law is in place. Honorable Manneh also called on the participants to share the information with others in their communities.

He also informed his constituency people that GAMCOTRAP have sensitized them as parliamentarians and they are aware of the harm FGM does to women and girl-children.

The executive director of GAMCOTRAP, Dr. Isatou Touray noted that FGM, early marriage and other forms of gender based violence undermine the dignity of women and impact on their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Dr. Touray dilated on the other issues GAMCOTPAP works on in the promotion of women's human rights and awareness raising. She argued that parents have to be well informed to protect the next generation of girls from FGM, as well as respect the rights of women and children.

She further called on the women to join together and fight their cause, asserting that a law against FGM is important to protect children and that all efforts are being made to engage parliamentarians to take responsibility to protect girls and women. She also acknowledged the willingness of the Niani parliamentarian, Hon. Ebrima Manneh for taking interest in the sensitization on FGM and other issues affecting the rights of women and children in his constituency.

Dr. Touray finally called on parents to instill discipline in their children, engage in family dialogue with children to avert unwanted teenage pregnancy and to give opportunity for girls to complete their education before marriage.

Oustass Muhammad Sanuwo and Abubacarr Kanteh both emphasized that FGM is not an obligation in Islam. It was pointed out that it is not a Sunna nor a means of cleanliness in Islam but the practice changes Allah's creation. They enlightened the participants on the misinterpretations associated to Islam regarding women's issues and the responsibilities of men towards their families. It was reiterated that men should allow girls to complete their education before venturing into marriage. In his intervention, the Imam of Kunno Ngunta village, Ismaila Dem who also led the opening prayers asserted that FGM cannot be an honour if it causes harm to women and children.

In both Firdawsi and Kunno Ngunta, women expressed delight in having the sensitization in their area and declared that they would stop FGM. Some gave testimonies of women and children who suffered from the practices out of ignorance.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Time for concrete EU action against female genital mutilation

July 1, 2010
By EurActiv

Female genital mutilation (FGM) continues throughout the world, including across Europe. The EU needs to act and the incoming Belgian Presidency must support the European Commission in developing a strong, comprehensive and rights-based strategy to combat FGM and protect women and girls affected by this practice, writes Dr. Christine Loudes, director of Amnesty International's 'END FGM European Campaign', in an exclusive commentary for EurActiv.

This commentary was sent exclusively to EurActiv by Dr. Christine Loudes of Amnesty International.

''Aissatou Diallo was 14 years old when she was held down forcibly by six people while the seventh person cut her in her home in Guinea. She was made to believe that this was how she could become a woman and get married. Today, Aissatou lives in Belgium with her two daughters and is determined to protect them from being subjected to the same practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). The Belgian state is assisting Aissatou by giving her and her daughters asylum in Belgium. There are many other girls at risk in the EU and beyond. What can the EU and the Belgian Presidency do to end FGM and protect those at risk?

Female genital mutilation is a practice in which the genitals of girls, often as young as three years, are pricked, cut or removed and sometimes stitched up. Often done without anaesthesia, the young girl bleeds for days and after the initial pain, she can continue to suffer chronic pain, infections, decreased sexual enjoyment and psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of her adult life.

A pregnant woman who has been cut will have added risk of complications during childbirth and her newborn baby is also subjected to additional dangers. It is no surprise that Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, said that FGM is like ongoing torture throughout a woman's life.

FGM is recognised internationally as a human rights violation; it is a discriminatory practice that subjects women to violence because they are women. Furthermore, the practice violates the rights of women and girls to physical and mental integrity, right to health and right to life. All EU member states have signed up to international treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which protect these rights and therefore make it obligatory for states to protect women and girls affected by or at risk of FGM.

Despite the international and regional standards, the practice continues, not just in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, but also among the diaspora communities in Europe, USA and Australia. In Europe, it is estimated that 500,000 women and girls are living with the harmful consequences of FGM. But this is only an estimate. The exact scale of the problem is unknown in Europe.

We have found that it is most likely that girls living in Europe are taken to their countries of origin during the holidays to be mutilated. Sometimes the girls stay behind in their countries of origin when parents fear prosecution upon their return to Europe.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases an excisor is brought to Europe and girls are taken from one European country to another where the protection measures are less stringent or non-existent.

The cross-border nature of the practice makes it essential for the EU to develop and adopt a comprehensive structure to prevent FGM, protect those at risk and provide adequate services for those women and girls who have survived it. There are a number of opportunities in the next few months for the EU to stand together and combat this practice.

The European Commission is developing a proposal for a strategy to combat violence against women. This includes female genital mutilation as well as domestic violence. While it is laudable that the proposal will address FGM, it would be counter-productive if it only deals with criminalisation of the practice, as has been suggested in a number of EU platforms.

FGM is a child-specific violence and the perpetrator is most often the parent or a close relative. In most cases, the parents are under pressure from their communities to continue the practice. Therefore, a collective, community-based approach would be more effective than simply prosecuting individuals.

A number of EU member states have developed specific legislation against FGM; although only a handful have initiated prosecutions. There is no evidence to suggest that legislation has led to a reduction in the practice of FGM. Protection measures against FGM must be comprehensive and criminalisation of the practice must be complemented with training and community involvement.

Community pressure to conform plays a large part in continuing this practice. Awareness campaigns amongst practising communities are crucial and must go hand in hand with any criminal measures.

The EU's strategy on FGM must address all aspects of prevention, protection and provision of adequate services. For instance, we need to train health and education professionals to identify girls at risk as well as deal with health complications of girls who have already been subjected to FGM.

The European Commission will be releasing the results of two studies in the next few months, the first being a study on harmful traditional practices and the second being a feasibility study on whether legislation on violence against women across the EU can be harmonised.

Both studies have the potential to make concrete recommendations that will be incorporated into the EU strategy. The studies should be widely disseminated and debated by EU officials and the civil society to make sure that women from the practising community and women directly affected by FGM have the opportunity to raise key issues that may help in creating effective and feasible recommendations.

The Belgian Presidency will hold the seat of the EU during these upcoming developments. It must support the European Commission in developing a strong, comprehensive and rights-based strategy to combat FGM and protect the women and girls affected by this practice.
Belgium's asylum system has protected Aissatou's daughters. Now it is time for the Belgian Presidency of the EU to ensure that other daughters living in the EU are equally protected.''