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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ban Ki-moon urges governments to combat female genital mutilation

November 29, 2011
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Alexandra George

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called on governments around the world to fight violence against women, including female genital mutilation.  The official stated brutality experienced by the gender is a major barrier to equality and is usually committed by men.

As well as female genital mutilation, women are the subject of rape, abuse at work and school, sexual attacks at times of war and domestic violence - issues that Mr Ban's UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign was set up to fight in 2008.

"Our challenge is to ensure that the message of 'zero tolerance' is heard far and wide," he said on Friday (November 25th), which was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

He called on governments to "harness the energy, ideas and leadership of young people", who he argued are key to preventing continued brutality by driving a change in attitudes in newer generations.

"Only then will we have a more just, peaceful and equitable world," Mr Ban claimed.

Female genital mutilation is a widespread problem, which mapping company Maplecroft's latest Women's and Girls' Rights Index showed affects up to 90 per cent of individuals of this gender in some countries.

To read the full article on the FIGO website, click here

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sister Fa awarded the 2011 Freedom to Create Prize

November 21, 2011

Sister Fa, an internationally renowned female rap artist from Senegal, who has devoted her work to raising awareness on the dangers of female genital cutting, was awarded the 2011 Freedom to Create Prize, yesterday 20 November 2011 at an awards ceremony and concert at the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, South Africa.

Announcing the winner at the awards ceremony, Freedom to Create spokesperson Priti Devi said, "We applaud the courage of Sister Fa and admire the creative use of her music to speak out against a practice that infringes on the basic human dignity and rights of women and girls. Sister Fa is an inspiring example of the transformative power of the arts to affect real change in the world."

"Sister Fa is a powerful example of how many artists around the world are using their talent to be the voice of courage in their community, standing up for social justice and in defense of human dignity." Devi added.

Sister Fa received the award from the guest of honour, 2011 Freedom to Create Prize judge, author and chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor.

Music - a powerful tool

On receiving the award, Sister Fa commented, "The Freedom to Create Prize has given me the opportunity to further raise awareness of the traumatic and harmful consequences of this widely practiced tradition. In Africa, if you play any music in an open space, people generally come to listen to your music. It is a powerful tool to reach out to people, to bring them together. I believe in using my music to help the young people - who are the future of Senegal - to understand that they are not alone and that we can rise together to create a movement for social change."

The prize is a US$100 000 award, which is divided across two categories - Main and Imprisoned Artists, and was established in 2008 to celebrate artists who use their talents to promote social justice and inspire the human spirit. This year, the prize attracted 2 051 entries from over 145 countries, including 56 from South Africa.

Other winners

First runner-up of the main prize was presented by the Mayor of Cape Town Patricia de Lille, to Ayat Al-Gormezi, a 20 year old poet and student at the Faculty of Teachers in Bahrain, who was put on trial and detained for merely expressing her opinion peacefully and openly. Her bravery and willingness to take a risk in the struggle for justice has raised awareness of the numerous women imprisoned in Bahrain.

Receiving the award on behalf of Ayat, who is faced with a travel ban, her brother Mohamed Hasan Yusuf said, "I am very grateful for this recognition of my sister's courage by Freedom to Create. Ayat's call for justice was no more radical than that heard on the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi at the same time, but her severe punishment has been one of the most sinister attacks on free speech in recent times. The Freedom to Create Prize has provided Ayat with a global platform to continue using her creativity to demand justice and equal rights for all in Bahrain."

Ramy Essam, the "singer of the Egyptian revolution", was the second runner up for the main prize. Essam spent 18 days in Tahrir Square in Cairo, writing music and performing songs to motivate the protesters, risking his life and suffering threats and attacks from the military police, but refusing to leave until Mubarak's regime collapsed.

Essam said, "Having witnessed the corrupt practices during Mubarak's regime, I felt incredibly strongly about the need to speak up against such corruption. I felt a sense of responsibility to the people who risked their lives to protest on the streets of Cairo. Through my songs, I captured the fear, optimism and defiant demand for change that was sweeping across the country, allowing the rest of the world to witness our revolution. The Freedom to Create Prize has inspired me to continue to use music as a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves."

Music also featured strongly in the Imprisoned Artist Prize category with Win Maw, one of Burma's most famous musicians, being awarded the US$25 000 prize. Win Maw contributed his musical talent to the award-winning documentary 'Burma VJ'. Win Maw expresses the political views of the Burmese people with his music, which provides a rallying point for the masses during the numerous political upheavals in Myanmar. He is a leading exponent of artists giving voice to democratic movements for social change.

The singer and human rights activist Win Maw has been imprisoned in Myanmar (formerly Burma) since 2008. In 2009 he was sentenced to further ten years imprisonment - an addition to the eight year sentence he received in 2008. The 2011 Imprisoned Artist Prize was presented by the Sudanese theatre activist, Ali Mahdi Nouri, winner of the 2010 Freedom to Create prize.

Receiving the award on behalf of Win Maw, his representative Aung Thwin said, "Despite the risks to his personal safety, Win Maw continues to inspire young artists with his music even from prison. He was beaten and tortured during the early stages of his detention, accused of being the mastermind behind the in-country news coverage of the September 2007 monk-led uprising. Win's arrest has brought pain and struggle to his family, wife and children. His wife now shoulders the responsibility for the children's education and the family's survival."

"The Freedom to Create Prize has given Win Maw and his family the platform to continue using his music to strive for democracy and freedom for all imprisoned artists around the world, and advocate for his release from prison", he added.

Congratulating Win Maw, Burma's pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi shared this message with the audience at the Freedom to Create concert in a specially recorded video. "It is a matter of pride for us that the Freedom to Create Imprisoned Artist award has been won by a Burmese this year. It is also a matter of sadness for us because it means that our artists are imprisoned for their beliefs, they are prisoners of conscience."

"Artists help to create more beauty in this world to open our eyes to aspects of our life that otherwise we may not have noticed. To imprison them for their beliefs, their ideas, is to make our world narrower. I know Win Maw personally and I've always appreciated his dedication to music. I hope that it will not be long before Win Maw himself will be able to come to thank Freedom to Create personally for the support that you've given him during his time of need", added Suu Kyi.

To read the full article on the BizCommunity website, click here

Classrooms in London schools tackle genital mutilation

November 23, 2011
Deutsche Well
Author: Laura Schweiger
Editor: Sarah Steffen

Each year, 6,500 girls in central London could undergo female genital mutilation. Now the city hopes to curb the practice by raising awareness through the integration of FGM education in secondary school curriculum.

Although female genital mutilation (FGM) is most commonly performed in Africa, where some 30 countries have subjected approximately 92 million girls to this practice, it is also an issue in Western countries. Parents from immigrant communities in countries including Germany, France and the United Kingdom are taking their young daughters abroad to subject them to FGM. Anecdotal evidence also points to it taking place in large European centers like London.

The United Nations has declared FGM, the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, a gross human rights violation on account of the horrific consequences it has on its victims. Consequences of FGM include chronic pelvic infections, prolonged bleeding, difficulty urinating and pain during sexual intercourse. Complications during childbirth and obstetric fistula as a result of prolonged labor due to FGM can also occur.

It is estimated that half a million girls and women in Europe are currently suffering with the lifelong consequences of FGM. Somalia-born Leyla Hussein, who now lives in London, is one of them. She endured FGM in her birth country at the age of seven.

"All I could hear them say was, 'It's Leyla's turn, it's Leyla's turn.' And I just ran," she recalled. "They were chasing me for awhile before they could catch me. I could just hear this girl saying to me, 'We're just going to cut something off from your genitals, but it's going to make you perfect.' They said to me at the time that I wasn't going to feel it and that they were going to use anesthetic, but I felt every little thing that day."

It is estimated that some 20,000 girls in the UK could be subjected to FGM. Each year, 6,500 girls in central London alone could face FGM, making it the city with the highest number of girls at risk in Europe.

Fighting FGM in the classroom

Now London hopes to curb the practice by raising awareness through the integration of FGM education in secondary school curriculum. The London Metropolitan Police have teamed up with the agency Kids Taskforce and the local Lilian Baylis School to create a video featuring young girls learning about FGM's consequences through interviewing various authorities. The video is part of an FGM resource pack for teachers and students, and can be downloaded by schools using a password.

"I think it's absolutely vital that boys and girls know about this subject," said Detective Sergeant Vicky Washington from the London Metropolitan Police. "It may not be that they are at risk, but they could be exposed to someone who is. It's also about educating young people that this is happening and that it's child abuse and violence against women and has horrific debilitating effects, both short and long-term."

Lilian Baylis School, a multi-cultural secondary school in South London where 47 languages are spoken, will begin teaching lessons on FGM by this December. FGM, nonetheless, already has a presence at the school.

"Some of our girls have been victims of FGM and often we have to deal with the negative health aspects of FGM in this school," said deputy head teacher Elga Stuck. "During menstruation the girls might feel very faint. If they have to go the toilet during the lesson, it can be a very painful procedure and urinating might take them half an hour."

In addition to Lilian Baylis, so far roughly a dozen other schools have indicated an interest in tackling FGM in their lessons. It is up to the schools themselves to decide in which class they will teach the FGM curriculum, for instance as part of health education or a citizenship class. Although schools are under no obligation to include the topic in their curriculum, Stuck said she encourages them to do it because she already sees progress in raising FGM awareness at her own school.

The UK's "hidden crime"

"I've used the film for staff training sessions," said Stuck. "Teachers were incredibly taken aback. A lot of them didn't realize that FGM was happening here in Britain. They all felt, yes, it was something that was done to people in another country, but the fact that we have children in this school who have had FGM, I think shocked a lot of the teachers. The awareness is there now, and I think that's very important."

By tackling FGM in schools like Lilian Baylis, authorities said they hope to secure the UK's first conviction for this crime - something which has eluded them since the creation of the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 1985. But why has nabbing a conviction been so challenging? According to Washington from the London Metropolitan Police, the problem lies in the secretive nature of FGM.

"This is a hidden crime," she said. "It's performed by families who are loving, caring families. They're not your stereotypical child abusers. They think they're doing the right thing to their daughter. We're asking those families to come forward, and that is incredibly difficult."

The daughters' loyalty to their parents has also kept authorities from prosecuting FGM cases.

"These girls are very young," Washington said. "They don't know why they're going abroad. They think they're going for a celebration, a party. We're asking them to go against their parents, which is an extremely difficult thing to do."

Taboo topic

How successful the integration of FGM topics into school curriculum will prove to be in identifying FGM perpetrators remains to be seen, but there is another, more immediate, hurdle. Tackling the topic in a classroom setting may not sit well with some parents and could cause further hardships for certain children.

"Some parents agreed with the message of the film and some didn't because they might have come from the country where FGM is practiced," Stuck said.

"I'm not worried about tackling a controversial topic, but I also have to think about the children who come from the communities where FGM is practiced," she added. "What I don't want is children going up to other children and asking, 'Have you been cut?'"

Despite the sensitive nature of the topic, FGM survivor and activist Leyla Hussein urged schools to make use of the resource pack, which is now available to schools across the UK. She said she wants girls at risk of undergoing FGM to know that they have options.

"I know these girls will say, 'I'm going to let my family down,'" Hussein said. "But they're not going to let their family down by not having this done to them. They should go to the police, a school teacher, someone they can trust. In the long run they'll realize they've done the right thing."

To read the full article on the Deutsche Well website, click here

Cult blamed for growth in female circumcision

November 22, 2011
Daily Nation
Joyce Kimani

A religious cult has been blamed for rising cases of female circumcision in Naivasha and its environs.

Women say although the tradition is almost extinct in the area, the cult is forcing its members to circumcise girls.

Most take place in Naivasha, Maai Mahiu, Kinangop and Narok.

It is expected that there will be an increase in female circumcision cases in Narok and the rest of Maasai Land because they hold on strongly to their culture.

Councillor Esther Njeri has mobilised people in these areas to fight what is considered in the region to be an important and ancient rite of passage from girl to womanhood.

They will be seeking to arrest traditional circumcisers who force young girls to be circumcised.

Ms Njeri said that they had started persuading members of the religious organisation to end the circumcisions.

She said many school-age children had come out and confessed that they were forced.

“The children call us and tell us when they learn that their parents are planning to circumcise them. So far, we have rescued more than 10 girls from members of the religious sect,” she said.

The councillor said that most of the girls are circumcised during the December school holidays.

She said that in some Maasai primary schools, girls are told to write a composition on the dangers of female circumcision, Ms Njeri said.

Naivasha district commissioner Hellen Kiilu cautioned women who still practise the female cut that they were breaking the law.

She said a crackdown had been launched to curb the practice.

To read the full article on the Daily Nation website, click here

Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) turns worrisome issue in Sierra Leone

November 22, 2011

An agreement stating that girls under 18 will not undergo Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone was recently signed by village chiefs and other community leaders, including women who perform FGM witnessed by Police, Civil Society and NGO’s.
The agreement affects the Kambia, Port Loko, Western Rural and Western Urban and Pujehun Districts; but Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and FGM is still a worrisome issue to many Sierra Leoneans.
Rugiatu Turay still remembers the pain she felt the day she and four of her sisters and three other girls were dragged to an enclosed hut which looked like a fenced forest at the end of the village locally known as ‘Bondo Bush.’
After few hours, she said “some of the young and aged women intensified their visits to the traditionally hut roofed with elephant grass, singing traditional songs and drumming.”
She said, several women were singing and dancing jubilantly while others were cooking and moving around, suddenly the atmosphere changed.
“We were forcefully bundled together and lined up, moments later we were stripped naked and told to sing and clap as elderly women dressed in rags instruct us.”
Turay also said that some of the women were very tipsy and violent. “I felt humiliated standing in the middle of fifteen women, stack naked on a scruffy environment barefooted,” she broke into tears and wept for around 5, minutes.
Among the eight of us the eldest was about 15 with piercing breast, she said.
Additionally she told AWOKO some of the rural girls were enthusiastic for the mutilation of their genitalia for varied reason, as one of the girls said after Bondo she is going to get married to an uncle’s son who is a leading farmer in the village with two wives. She said other girls believe FGM earns them respect among their peers.
“They used a crude penknife, it was so painful. I bled excessively for two days and fainted when I wanted to walk,” Turay said, describing how at the age of 11 she was subjected to female genital mutilation.
Afterwards the scar itched and got infected. As a result she developed severe menstrual pains, blood clots and a cyst, she said.
When Turay heard her younger sisters were due to undergo genital mutilation too she tried, in vain, to intervene. The death of a cousin, who bled to death after being subjected to the practice, triggered her activism.
Today Turay leads the Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM), one of several nongovernmental organizations that campaign in West Africa against the harmful traditional practice of female genital mutilation. She formed the group in 2002 with other women she met in refugee camps in Guinea during Sierra Leone’s 1991 to 2001 civil war. Turay is one of an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide who have undergone female genital mutilation the removal of all or part of the female external genitalia as part of traditional initiation rituals or marriage preparation customs.
Though the government has forbidden the practice for under age children, some female activists and Non Governmental Organizations are making tremendous efforts in raising awareness, among victims and perpetrators of FGM. According to statistics from the Family Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police sexual and gender based violence on teenage girls has increased by 18 percent. However the statistics also reveal that for every 1,000 SGBV related cases only 20 is likely to be prosecuted.
Police records show that children from rural areas are more likely to be abused.
It is only through their minds that you can change the attitude of people by talking about the link between FGM and SGBV. Evidence shows that, girls below 18 suffer the most in all forms of SGBV, said a paralegal monitoring SGBV cases.
The United Nations Development Program has funded the Justice Sector Development Project to provide humanitarian and legal aid to SGBV victims with several success stories, but sadly out of court settlements of violations of fundamental human rights has worried many campaigners. At puberty, the majority of girls in Sierra Leone are initiated into the Bondo Society, a secret society of women that uses circumcision to initiate new members to become women.
FGM is a volatile issue in Sierra Leone. In February, four female journalists were brutally attacked by the Bondo Society in Kenema, one of Sierra Leone’s largest cities. The journalists were abducted, stripped, and marched through the city after being accused of reporting on an anti-FGM campaign. Police and human rights organizations intervened to free the women. FGM, partial or total removal of external genitalia, continues to be practiced illegally throughout Africa.
FGM is practiced as a rite of passage in 28 African countries. Approximately three million young women annually are forced to undergo FGM as an initiation into womanhood.
According to WHO, every year two million girls are at risk of being subjected to the practice which is sometimes referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision.
Sierra Leone is one of 28 African countries where female genital mutilation is practiced. It is also a custom in parts of the Middle East and Asia.
The procedure is usually performed by an elderly woman of the village who has been specially designated this task, or by a traditional birth attendant.
But in some countries more affluent families seek the services of medical personnel to avoid the dangers of unskilled operations in unsanitary conditions.
WHO has consistently condemned the harmful traditional practice as “wilful damage to healthy organs for non-therapeutic reasons.”
In the past, studies have suggested that the practice of female genital mutilation can result in infertility, pregnancy and childbirth complications, and psychological problems through inability to experience sexual pleasure.
In a study published in August this year in the Lancet, researchers made the strongest link yet between extreme forms of female genital mutilation and female infertility.
Their findings provide the most compelling evidence to date that girls who have undergone genital mutilation in childhood could be at risk of infertility later in life.
The new findings have given activists like Turay a much-needed credibility boost.
“We want people to drop their knives; we want parents and girls to become more open about the practice; we want the victims to talk about the practice and to be ready to say ‘no’, so that the government knows women are ready for a change!” Turay said.
In Sierra Leone, female genital mutilation usually takes the form of a crudely performed operation to remove the clitoris sometimes with razor blades, penknives and even with broken glass as a key part of the initiation ceremonies that prepare girls for marriage and motherhood. UNICEF estimates that some 90% of Sierra Leonean women are subjected to genital mutilation. Turay and her fellow campaigners in Sierra Leone believe the best way to raise public awareness about the risks of female genital mutilation is to teach the women designated to perform the procedure to read and write in Sierra Leone these are often illiterate older women and provide them with an alternative source of income.
But convincing people that this ingrained tradition is wrong is an uphill struggle in a country emerging from a decade of civil war, where people long to return to traditional values and where 66% of the population is illiterate, she said.
Turay said there were other positive developments in Sierra Leone and that religious leaders there had started to oppose the harmful practice. “Two Imams have made a public declaration to say that their daughters will never be initiated and other Imams and pastors have started preaching about the practice in their prayer meetings,” she said.
Since AIM was founded in 2002, four activists have left after receiving death threats. Turay said that despite a powerful pro-genital mutilation lobby in Sierra Leone, the campaign is making progress.
“Educating people is empowering them. It is only through their minds that you can change the attitude of people,” Turay said.
Turay and other AIM activists visit villages and talk to the women who earn a living from genital cutting to try to persuade them to give it up. “We have been able to get about 700 practitioners from 111 villages to drop the practice,” she said.
AIM has received funding from donors in the United States to provide 40 of 700 women who perform genital mutilation with alternative employment, but Turay said she did not know how her group would help the remaining 660.
AIM would like to set up a skills training centre to teach the former genital mutilators and girls intent on escaping the practice to read and write, operate computers and make money from agriculture or tie-dying cloth.

To read the full article on the Awoko wordpress, click here

No more suffering in silence: A west London scheme has made treatment for women who have suffered genital mutilation less traumatic, find

November 23, 2011
The Guardian
Linda Jackson

Projects highlighted by the Guardian Public Services Awards are often tackling challenges that society as a whole might prefer not to think about. This year's winner of the diversity and equality award is a prime example of work on such vital but unsettling issues.

The Acton African Well Woman Centre, a community project based in west London, has developed unique expertise in helping women who have arrived in the UK, having been through the trauma of female genital mutilation (FGM). It is the only scheme to offer reversal treatment to women who have undergone the severest form of the practice when they were younger, leaving them often in constant pain.

For women like 22-year-old Hamdi, from Somalia, who has suffered in silence for almost 15 years, the centre has offered her a confidential, invaluable life-line.

Warned by her mother against the barbaric ritual, she ran off with her friends aged just eight to undergo what she thought was a rite of passage. Nothing could have prepared her for the pain and suffering that followed, and six years later she came to the UK following a family split. Last year, the former care worker married and, supported by her husband, she approached the centre for help.

To her relief the team of midwives and counsellors offered her a de-infibulation – a reversal of the most extreme form of FGM. Today, she is living free from pain and is determined that any daughter she has will not go through the same ordeal.

Sadly, staff at the centre encounter cases such as that of Hamdi every week. Figures suggest a staggering 65,000 women in the UK have been subjected to FGM, particularly women from Somalia, Eritrea or Sudan. In its severest form, FGM involves "stitching up" a woman to guarantee her chastity to a future husband, who can then cut her open on their wedding night.

Now, thanks to the project, these women are able to book an appointment without the embarrassment of seeing a male general practitioner and waiting months for a hospital consultation. Instead of the trauma of going to a hospital operating theatre, women can undergo the reversal in a 30-minute procedure under local anaesthetic.

Juliet Albert, a specialist FGM midwife who is based in Acton, where there is a large Somali community, says the centre has de-infibulated 160 women since it started three years ago. A further 16 women have been referred for hospital-based treatment and 29 for specialist trauma consultations.

She says: "The need for a community-based ante-natal service became clear after growing numbers of Somali women were arriving at hospital in labour having suffered from FGM. This was placing them at risk of trauma. We wanted to try and reach out to women who weren't already pregnant, so we put an advert on Somali television giving details of the free drop-in service. We were immediately inundated with the response. Since then women have come to us after hearing about the centre by word of mouth."

It is not just women from African communities in London who are receiving the service. Women from Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and Cardiff have all had their lives changed by the centre, which offers a confidential, holistic approach. Working alongside Albert is another midwife, a counsellor and an Arabic and Somali-speaking health advocate.

The team also runs a service for pregnant women at the nearby Queen Charlotte's Hospital, which previously had no policy on women with FGM. Thanks to the project, midwives based at the hospital now receive training so that they have the knowledge and skills to de-infibulate if required, and they refer women identified ante-natally to the team.

As well as operating the clinic, the team also engages with the local community through coffee mornings and presentations, and promotes sexual health, family planning and cervical screening.

To read the full article on The Guardian website, click here

Thursday, November 3, 2011

World Vision supports MOU banning FGM in Pujehun

November 3, 2011
Sierra Express Media
SEM Contributor

World Vision Sierra Leone a child focused nongovernmental organization in partnership with the Advocacy Movement Network (AMNET) has succeeded in advocating and lobbying  traditional chiefs and SOWEIS in Pujehun District to sign an MOU banning the female genital mutilation of girls under the age of eighteen.

World Vision Team Leader Bindi Boima in Pujehun has said that MOU is a community led initiative with enthusiasm to implement the provisions of the MOU in a bid to protect vulnerable children in rural communities within Pujehun District.

He said “World Vision is committed and determined to protect the welfare of children in Sierra Leone.”

According to the Programs Coordinator of Advocacy Movement Network Aminata Koroma, in a bid to protect the girl child from all forms of human right violations, World Vision Sierra Leone has been keen in advancing the campaign against FGM for minors.

She said World Vision Sierra Leone provided funding to AMNET for consultations with paramount chiefs, Councils Line Ministries, Civil Society, and Human Right Committees on the issue of child bondo which they say has left many children with severe health complications during and after the FGM practice.

She said in the past, it was a taboo to discuss the issue of Female Genital Mutilation due to its traditional social and economic beliefs in society, but ‘we have managed to break the barriers in making local chiefs and the ‘soweis’ understand the dangers FGM poses to the wellbeing of the girl child.

The Programs Coordinator of Advocacy Movement Network Aminata Koroma said after several meetings at various communities within Pujehun District, the idea of an MOU was lengthily discussed.

 After which, she said it was agreed that that the paramount chiefs take copies of the MOU for discussion with their subjects before the signing ceremony covered by this reporter at Pujehun Council Hall over the weekend.

AMNET is complementing the effort of government in the implementation of international instruments signed to protect children and women, she explained.

AMNET has been advocating on the ban on child labour, with focus on the human right perspective through a process that involves successful consultations, dialogue, lobbying and dialogue with key stakeholders in Kambia, Port Loko, Western Rural and Western Urban and Pujehun District is the latest District to sign such MOU.

The President of Council of Paramount Chiefs Samuel AS Gbonda of Panga Krim Chiefdom Gobaru Pujehun District as Chairman of the signing ceremony emphasized the full implementation of the bye- laws prohibiting the practice assuring their fullest corporation in ensuring FGM is banned and defaulters prosecuted.

The only Female Paramount Chief present at the ceremony Matilda Yayo Minah of Kpukuma Krim Chiefdom sang bondo songs and implored the ‘soweis’ whose livelihood depends on the FGM practice.

She said in the past “we all have initiated or facilitated the FGM practice for many under age children but now the government has passed laws banning the practice. She implored locals to abide by the rules and discourage the practice.

Dauda David Fawundu Deputy Chairman of the Pujehun District Council said they are signing the MOU to put into effect some bye laws about initiation of children in to Bondo at tender age

He called for the empowerment of women and protection of the girl child from harmful traditional practices that have negative effects on the health of children and appealed for continued support towards traditional rulers and locals.

The paramount Chief of Gallineris Perri Chiefdom Pujehun District Alhaji Kamara Koroma assured World Vision and AMNET that they will work towards the successful implementation of the MOU to ban FGM in their respective communities.

Tommy Sandy Assistant Regional Human Right Officer South gave brief background of the Human Right Commission and expressed appreciation to World Vision and AMNET for supporting the protection of the girl child in a bid to complement government efforts.

He said the Human Right Commission is monitoring several violations of human right.

An officer of the Sierra Leone Police Family Support Unit in Pujehun Therisa Kandeh said violations of any of the foundermental human rights of the child is a punishable crime and the police is prepared and determined to enforce the law.

A representative of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Children’s Forum Network President in Pujehun said the MOU is a mile stone in mitigating the practice in deprived rural communities.

Local authorities in Pujehun District willingly signed the MOU with zeal, it beckons a new era in the campaign against FGM a widely believed practice in villages, Towns and Cities.

To read the full article on the Sierra Express Media website, click here

SOMALIA: Women lobby for law against FGM/C

November 3, 2011
IRIN Africa

GALKAYO, 3 November 2011 (IRIN) - Women's groups in the Somali town of Galkayo are lobbying the authorities in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland to enact a law banning female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), saying the practice was becoming widespread. Activists say FGM/C causes serious health problems to the women and is against their religion.

"Unfortunately, we have noticed that instead of decreasing, the practice seems to be re-emerging, particularly in camps for the displaced,” said Lul Madar, head of the Mudug Women’s Development Network, one of the organizations pushing for the enactment of an anti-FGM/C law.

Madar said the increase in FGM/C seemed to correspond to an increase in the incidence of rape, particularly in internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps.

"We have many parents who believe that if the girl is cut, it will make it hard for the rapist; unfortunately, it won’t stop the rapist but will only add to the suffering of the woman,” she said.

Madar said women’s groups like hers were lobbying the Puntland authorities to pass a law criminalizing the practice, adding that although such a law may not stamp it out, “it will have a fear effect and can be used by activists to fight FGM/C”.

Hawa Aden, executive director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD), a group that advocates for women's issues, told IRIN the women were not only seeking a law but “also a religious fatwa [decree] proclaiming that FGM is Haram [illegal] under Islam.

“This will have an impact on the practice,” she said. “We must attack it on all fronts.”

Farhiya Jama, an anti-FGM/C activist, said she was determined to ensure that young girls did not undergo FGM/C. "I am 40 years old now and I still vividly remember when I was cut. It gives me nightmares.”

We want to tell these men that circumcision does not enhance or add to a girl's value as a wife and a mother but actually diminishes itJama said she suffered during childbirth and whenever she menstruates. "I dread the days when my period is close because of the pain I go through; it gets to the point where the pain makes it impossible to do anything. I don't want any girl to be subjected to this kind of suffering."

“Gudnin", or infibulation, as practised in Somalia, involves cutting off the external genitalia and sewing up the vagina, leaving a small hole for urine and menstruation.

Apart from the risks of severe blood loss, shock and infection, longer-term problems associated with FGM/C include infections of the urinary and reproductive tracts, infertility and a range of obstetric complications, such as postpartum haemorrhage and death of the baby, said Abdulkadir Jama Dhaga’ade, a gynaecologist-obstetrician and the director of Galkayo Medical Centre.

Dhaga’ade said FGM/C was one of the main contributing factors to the fistula cases he had been seeing. “It leads to prolonged labour and causes what is medically known as Uterine inertia.”

Convincing men

Madar of the Women’s Network said it was engaged in awareness campaigns targeting "not only the mothers and the girls but the men, particularly the young men of marriageable age, professionals and religious leaders. We want to tell these men that circumcision does not enhance or add to a girl's value as a wife and a mother but actually diminishes it."

The group is also taking its campaign to rural areas where the practice “is widespread”, she said.

Madar said convincing and winning the support of traditional elders and religious leaders was crucial to the group’s efforts.

"It is therefore very important to involve men, particularly religious leaders, in the campaign to eradicate FGM/C to debunk some of the myths that somehow the practice has a religious significance, or adds to the woman’s value," she said.


Theme (s): Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

To read the full article on the IRIN News website, click here

Female genital mutilation 'may be occurring in the Maldives'

November 1, 2011
International Federation of Gynecology and Obstretics
Paul Robertson

Worries have emerged that female genital mutilation could be being practised in the Maldives, the local Minivan News has revealed.

A Health Ministry insider from the Department of Gender and Family Protection told the publication there have been reports girls are being circumcised, although the news provider was not able to find conclusive evidence of this on a trip to Addu Atoll, where the act was thought to be being perpetrated.

The country's vice-president Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was quoted by the information source as saying: "Mostly this is a failure of education ... many students receive free offers to go to madrassas in places like Pakistan, where they learn very traditional values."

Female genital mutilation was thought to have stopped in the Maldives in the 80s and 90s and the deputy health minister Fathimath Afiya told the Minivan News there were no official reports of the practice occurring but non-governmental organisations have raised their concerns.

GPs in the UK were recently urged by chairman of the British Medical Association's Ethical Committee Dr Tony Callard to look out for signs a girl may have been circumcised, particularly those who are from countries where the act is more prevalent, such as Iraq, Nigeria and Ethiopia, healthcare magazine Pulse reported.

To read the full article on the FIGO website, click here

For Young Women, a Horrifying Consequence of Mubarak’s Overthrow

October 29,2011
The New Republic
Betwa Sharma

Cairo—Ali, a 34-year-old Cairo businessman who asked that his real name not be used, is weighing whether or not to circumcise his 12-year-old daughter. Female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), as it is also known, involves removing part or the entire clitoris. In more severe forms of the procedure, the labia minora is removed and the vaginal opening is stitched up. Ali’s wife has told him about her own experience; describing her story to me, he said, “It is her most terrible memory.” He has heard discussions on television of potential harm the procedure can cause, but he feels a responsibility to protect the chastity of his daughter until she is married. Three thousand years of tradition instruct him that circumcision is the best means to this end. And, in the post-Mubarak Egypt, there are fewer and fewer voices offering an alternative view. The decades-long movement to stop FGM has become a casualty of the power struggle in Egypt.

The campaign to end FGM in Egypt was fighting an uphill battle before the revolution. Although FGM was outlawed in 2007 after a 12-year-old girl died from the procedure, the practice is still widespread. Despite efforts to reduce it, the number of girls aged 15 to 17 who underwent FGM only dropped from 77 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2008, according to the 2008 Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS). EDHS also showed that 91 percent of all women in Egypt between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. The practice is common not only among Muslims, but also in the Christian community, which constitutes 10 percent of the Egyptian population. A sanitized version of FGM has gained increased prevalence in recent years, presenting additional challenges. In 1995, only 45 percent of all FGM operations were conducted by doctors; by 2008, the percentage had risen to 72 percent. A young woman working as a maid and living in Cairo, who asked to be referred to only as Ayesha, did not even know that FGM is illegal. Her mother had put her through the procedure, and she told me that she would do the same. (Experts have found that the practice is mostly perpetuated by mothers making decisions for their daughters.) “Unless someone can show me what is wrong with it I don’t think there is any reason to change,” she said.

Since the revolution, international support for this fight has significantly waned. Political instability has led to a 75 percent cut in Egypt’s FGM-related donor funds to the United Nations since January, according to Marta Agosti, the head of the anti-FGM program for the U.N.Changeover among government ministers has also slowed official work. The National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the government body charged with addressing the problem, was shuttered after the revolution, and there is concern among activists that the capacity of the Council will shrink in its new home under the Ministry of Health. Instability and a lack of funds have curtailed the day-to-day work of NGOs; less field work and fewer workshops are taking place, according to Agosti.

In addition to the general shrinking of U.N. and NGO funds and efforts, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the strongest political forces attempting to fill the void left by Mubarak’s departure presents potential obstacles to the campaign to end FGM. While the Muslim Brotherhood does not have an official position on FGM, the group has, in the past, opposed a complete ban on the practice. “Nothing in Islam forbids circumcision,” said Saad El Katani, the leader of the Brotherhood in parliament in 2008. Some members of the Brotherhood have argued that opposition to a complete ban does not indicate support of the practice, but they generally don’t speak out against it.

For instance, Manal Abul-Hassan, a female leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who plans to run for parliamentary elections in November, told me that FGMis “not halal (permissible) and it’s not haram (forbidden).” She does not favor its complete ban and disagrees with the U.N. characterization of FGM as a human rights violation. (Many parents share Hassan’s view and reject the word “mutilation”—especially for procedures like removing the excess skin around the clitoris. Young women argue that certain kinds of circumcisions are no different from plastic surgery in the West.) Like others in the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan sees the campaign against FGM as stealth promotion by NGOs of a Western agenda. Activists fear that the more traditionalist elements in the group pose a threat to their work—that attitudes like the one expressed by Hassan might harden to condone the procedure.

In addition, activists are also fighting the shadow of Suzanne Mubarak, who, for all her husband’s transgressions, was a force behind the campaign to end FGM. As the former dictator’s wife,Mubarak gave speeches and organized conferences opposing the practice, making her one of the most recognizable faces in the international fight against FGM. She played a key role in getting Christian and Muslim religious leaders to forbid the procedure, which had a far greater impact than the legal ban. After declaring their position, the fatwa office in Cairo—the office of the Grand Mufti of Egypt—set up a hotline; several anecdotes emerged about women changing their decision to go ahead with the practice based on advice they received from this hotline. Activists assert that their efforts to eliminate FGM were well underway before Suzanne Mubarak demonstrated interest in the issue. “We didn’t wait for Madame Mubarak to talk about FGM,” Sidhom Magdi, head of the Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development, told me. But they do not deny that her involvement gave the movement political momentum that it had previously lacked.

Now, however, anything attached to the Mubaraks’ legacy is, if not explicitly tainted, an easy target. Civil society groups characterize Mubarak’s efforts as self-promoting. “She was devoid of a feminist vision or a socialist vision,” said Nihad Abu Kumsan, a lawyer and head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. Hassan insists that FGM-related figures were exaggerated by the Egyptian government so that the former first lady could pocket international funds. “Suzanne Mubarak used these numbers to make money and steal money,” she told me. While most activists were not Mubarak supporters, the backlash troubles them. Agosti worries that Suzanne Mubarak’s previous involvement will “become an excuse to undo all the past work.”

For years, activists combating FGM in Egypt have described their fight as “painfully slow.” In the post-revolution Egypt, the process has become glacial. “We have no leader and we have no strategy,” said Kumsan. The U.N., aware of that the issue is a minefield, is also keeping a low profile for the time being. “We have to be very careful right now as we don’t want the issue to be captured by the ultra-orthodox,” said Agosti, expressing a fear that the U.N. will be characterized as an agency promoting the Western agenda or worse, Mubarak’s legacy.

Ali, the Cairo businessman, and his wife ultimately decided against FGM for their daughter. “We don’t want to change what God has created,” he told me. In making this decision, Ali is already among the minority of parents who reject FGM. This minority is in danger of shrinking further in the new Egypt.

Betwa Sharma is a New York-based journalist who covers human rights. Her work can be found at

To read the full article on the New Republic Website

Monday, October 24, 2011

South Darfur Joins the Movement towards a New Vision of Child Rights in Sudan

October 23, 2011
Sudan Vision Daily
Nils Kastberg

The children of South Darfur had something to celebrate earlier this month. Not so much the welcome sight of rain filling the dried up riverbeds around Nyala, nor even the victory of the local al Merriekh football team in their match against Al Merriekh El Fasher.

Rather it was the sight of the Governor, Mr Abdul Hamid Musa Kasha, signing a new State Child Act before an audience of invited guests that included the champion promoter of child rights in Sudan, Federal Minister of Social Security, Amira Elfadil, the Secretary General of the National Council of Child Welfare, Gamar Habani, and 13 of the 15 State Ministers of Social Development..

By taking this very important step, South Darfur became the seventh Sudanese state to commit itself legally to respect the rights of its children. Once ratified by the State assembly, this important legal instrument will bring South Darfur into line with a set of global standards and norms in terms of how Sudanese children can be better protected and the challenges they face be better addressed.

By signing and ratifying the Child Rights Act, the State government will take actions needed to prevent children being exploited, or subjected to violence, or forced to undergo harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The authorities will also engage to end child marriage as well as child recruitment, with penalties introduced against the perpetrators.

In some important respects the South Darfur Child Act is more protective than the Federal act passed in 2010. This is a tribute to the extensive efforts of Sudanese child rights activists and authorities who advocated for its passage into law.

Judging by her comments, Federal Minister Amira el Fadil, was in no doubt about the importance of the occasion in Nyala. State legislators, she said, should not merely endorse the Child Act but "place it in their hearts and minds."

So what does this mean for the coming generation of Sudanese children, those who are now being born into this new post-separation Sudan?

Above all, it demonstrates that a commitment to the full implementation of child rights is spreading steadily through the country. It will surely be only be a matter of time before every state has set in place the legislative framework to ensure not only that the children entering adulthood eighteen years from now will be immeasurably better off than previous generations, but that the prospects for Sudan’s development as a prosperous, peaceful nation will be enormously strengthened.

There are, of course, many planks to this “floor” of child rights that must be hammered into place, starting with universal birth registration. It’s from this simple step, recording the details of every baby born in the country, that all other child rights flow.

Then we need to ensure that these newly-registered babies survive through infancy and into childhood, that they receive the nutrition, clean water and protection against disease that are their fundamental right. Currently, some 10 percent of Sudanese children die before they reach their first birthday. That’s a terrible statistic which we can and must change.

Next we must make sure that these children start primary school on time. At present, some 28 per cent do not. Then we have the children who get enrolled in primary school but leave it before they complete the required eight years of class. At the moment less than 10 percent of children manage to last through to secondary school. For a country aspiring to raise its level of economic development to that of its more prosperous neighbours, that’s far too few.

And then, to ensure the other basic minimum requirements for our children are firmly in place, we need to create the protective environment to deter those who would employ them in hazardous settings, or otherwise put them in harm’s way.

Thanks to the measures taken by South Darfur and other States, we know there is an increasing political will to establish a basic foundation of child rights, even in the most challenging environment.

For our part as UNICEF, we hope that by early next year, we will have a programme of cooperation in place with each and every state, providing their leaders with an X-ray of the conditions faced by children, of what needs to be done to put things right, and together measuring the progress.

The generation of Sudanese children born today will be 18 years old in 2030. As all States go in the direction shown by South Darfur, we will be strengthening the hopes of those who have a vision of a totally different Sudan in 2030, one in which peace prevails, and respect for children’s rights and their protection is the central and superior goal of all Sudanese.

By Nils Kastberg, UNICEF, 21 hours 53 minutes ago

To read the full article on the Sudan Vision Daily website, click here

Health Official Claims Circumcision Guidelines Prevent Female Mutilation

October 22, 2011
The Jakarta Globe
Dessy Sagita

The Health Ministry has spoken out against criticism by women’s rights activists and health experts of a ministerial guideline on female circumcision, saying the instruction was issued specifically to combat genital mutilation.

Ministry spokeswoman Murti Utami said that many families, especially in rural areas, still believed in the importance of circumcising female babies for religious reasons.

“I would like to stress that female circumcision is not genital mutilation, which is indeed dangerous. They are two things that are very different,” she said on Friday.

In June, community organizations spoke out in a letter to the government, opposing the ministerial instruction, which directs health professionals not to cut a girl’s genitals but to “scrape the skin covering the clitoris, without injuring the clitoris.”

Medical experts also spoke out against the ministry’s move. “This will give doctors a new motivation to circumcise [girls] because now they can say the Ministry of Health approves of this, and the Indonesian Council of Ulema [MUI] approves of it,” said Jurnalis Uddin, a doctor and lecturer at Yarsi University in Jakarta.

On Friday, Murti said the ministerial instruction, which was issued in June, governed procedures for female circumcision in cases where it is deemed necessary by families. It did not constitute government support for the practice, she claimed.

“The minister wants to protect girls from genital mutilation,” she said.

Murti added that the guidelines provided directions on performing the procedure properly and safely and required that circumcision must only be carried out with parental consent. Furthermore, parents must be given information beforehand on pros and cons of the procedure.

Circumcision is typically done at birth, or before a girl reaches the age of 5. Traditionally, the procedure was mostly symbolic, with a small cut made on the clitoris, or by rubbing it with tumeric root..

However, Uddin said he had found that when medical practitioners performed the procedure, there was a trend toward more extensive cutting of the clitoris.

To read the full article on The Jakarta Globe website, click here

Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation Requires Individual State Solutions

October 21, 2012
Erin Crosset

Senegal’s recent success in abandoning Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in over 5,000 villages across the country is inspiring to many and marks a huge triumph in spreading public health awareness across Africa. Western governments and major international agencies, particularly UNICEF, UNFPA, and WHO, should take particular note, as they have poured over $44 million into eliminating FGM/C with marginal success at best. As one of the most contentious issues surrounding human development and public health in Africa, FGM/C can be eradicated through localized advocacy campaigns, a change in discourse from the West, and a paradigm shift in marriage preconditions.

With roughly 28% of the population affected by FGM/C practices, Senegal represents a success story wherein community leaders, imams, and aid practitioners worked together in villages to achieve collective pledges against performing FGM/C on their daughters. These pledges are similar to those made by the Chinese during the early 20th century to end foot binding. Political Scientist Gerry Mackie describes in American Sociological Review the importance of families agreeing to neither bind their daughter’s feet nor allow their sons to marry women with bound feet, and notes the brevity of ending such a deeply entrenched practice: one generation. Collective pledges eliminate the coordination dilemma that arises when some women are cut and others are not, allowing women to avoid the plethora of medical complications associated with infibulation while retaining sexual autonomy.

In order to alleviate FGM/C practices in countries where it is most prevalent, particularly Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Mali, the discourse surrounding infibulation must change. The term “female genital mutilation” carries the connotation that Westerners view this African practice as barbaric and that African parents are unloving, which is exactly why Western efforts are not as effective as they could be.

Women primarily enforced Chinese foot binding on their own daughters since small feet represented a higher status, increased marriagability, and allowed for more options and prosperity. The same is true in the case of FGM/C: Mothers love their daughters and fear they will be ostracized unless they are cut. Many are unaware of the immediate and long-term health risks and simply want to allow their child maximum options for marriage. By recognizing this fact, that these women love their daughters and are acting out of convention, Western aid and development practitioners can abandon their patronizing post-colonial attitude and instead foster a dialogue with education as a focal point.

Those seeking to implement anti-FGM/C initiatives must realize there is no blanket solution, as customs, cultures, and motivations behind cutting are markedly different within African countries. Infibulation is prerequisite in some 30 countries in Africa for honor and marriage proposals, yet countries differ in their attitudes towards gender equality and religious pretexts. In countries such as Senegal, where the government has formally outlawed FGM/C, it is becoming more and more acceptable to speak out against it. This is certainly not universal, as many Africans fear reprisal from village elders if they do not cut their child, which prompted Sudanese women’s health NGOs to train midwives and henna artists alike to recognize and replicate a secret signal: a henna heart below the thumb to signify “do not cut.” Henna artists, usually commissioned to paint mothers during bridal showers and weddings, recommend anti-FGM/C midwives that perform fake circumcisions. If the women are shy or too scared to seek out referrals themselves, the henna tattoo says it all. Some midwives that perform FGM/C are morally opposed to the practice but due to lack of economic alternatives, are forced to carry out the practice anyway. These staged circumcisions address this issue directly, while highlighting the importance of localized solutions to international problems.

When tackling the issue of FGM/C eradication, individuals, local organizations and international agencies alike must remember the top priority: keeping girls and young women healthy and empowered. Localized advocacy campaigns prove to be most effective since they address the issue in accordance with local customs and traditions, while receiving constant feedback. The collective pledges idea appeals to African mothers’ sense of compassion and love for their daughters and, most importantly, proves that genital cutting and further medical complications do not have to be required to achieve a desired marital status and livelihood.

To read the full article on the PolicyMic website, click here

Maasai men in Kenya want an end to female genital mutilation

October 6, 2011
Federation of International Gynecology and Obstretics
David Smith

Some Kenyan Maasai men are trying to drive a gradual shift away from female genital mutilation in their community.

They have set up a church-based project in the town of Narok to help girls flee from the threat of circumcision, which could leave them with severe medical complications and can even result in death, the AFP has reported.

However, one of the managers of the centre Martin Ololoigero confessed that the practice is "not something that will end soon", as it still has strong supporters.

Indeed, some of the girls that escape to the Hope for the Maasai Girls shelter are disowned by their families, who have lost out on a dowry of cattle, which they could receive in return for offering circumcised daughters for marriage at a young age.

Female genital mutilation can be forced upon girls as young as nine while they are off on their school holidays, the news agency revealed.

UK GPs were recently urged by the chairman of the British Medical Association's Ethical Committee Dr Tony Callard to be aware of the signs that a female child has been circumcised and consider breaking patient-doctor confidentiality if a youngster appears to be at risk.

To read the full article on the FIGO website, click here

Proposed Centre Would Address Many Aspects of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

October 21, 2011

NAIROBI --- Participants at an international conference on research, healthcare and preventive measures related to female genital mutilation/ cutting called for the creation an African Coordinating Centre for partnership, capacity building, research, and policymaking on FGM/C.

The vision, according to the proposal drafted by the University of Nairobi, is to establish a centre of excellence for African researchers to develop innovative approaches to increase and deepen the understanding on issues related to FGM/C and its elimination. It would also train leaders and for promote health care for survivors.

“Ideally, the Centre will also provide improve the skills of health providers in healthcare support services to the 140 million girls and women affected by FGM/C,” said Nafissatou Diop, coordinator of the Joint Programme on FGM/C, noting that surgical procedures are now able to repair some of the damages.

“FGM/C is an irreversible act,” noted Ms. Diop. “However there is hope today that women could be surgically repairs from the damage related to this harmful practice.” She cited research presented at the conference showing high success rates (83 per cent satisfaction) among women who had undergone this surgery.

The Centre would also provide evidence for continuous monitoring, data for evaluation of progress, capacity building and monitor policy influence of research through the collaborative efforts of many partners including UNFPA, UNICEF, WHO, University of Nairobi, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Ghent University (Belgium), Universities of Washington and Sydney, the Africa-Australia Universities Network and Worldwide Universities Network.

Shortchanging women

During the conference, Kenya’s assistant Minister for Cooperative Development, the Honourable Lina Kilimo, who hails from a community with a high prevalence of FGM/C, spoke movingly about her own experience. She was ostracized by her community for running away to escape the cut. However, her strong conviction against the practice prompted her to join politics, and from her position she continues her fight against the female cut. “This is a cruel practice that destroys a woman’s ego and self esteem,” she said.

FGM/C is a discriminatory cultural practice that effectively denies women the opportunity to participate and contribute to national development, the University of Nairobi’s vice-chancellor of Professor Joseph Magoha affirmed. This shortchanges both women and their countries, he said, adding, “There can be no sustainable development of a country without active participation of women.”

New dimensions of the problem: medicalization and globalization

While acknowledging the many initiatives at the global, regional, national and community levels towards the reduction and elimination of the practice, the conference participants agreed that there were a myriad challenges confronting these efforts, including the trend toward medicalization of the practice. While using trained medical workers and sterile instruments may eliminate some of the obvious harmful effects, it does not address the underlying violation of the rights of women and girls, participants noted.

In this regard, the recently enacted law criminalizing FGM/C in Kenya was seen as an important step towards dealing with this new threat. While acknowledging the significance of legislation, several participants noted the inadequacy of legislation alone to addressing certain cultural beliefs that perpetuate the practice. It was agreed that a multi-sectoral approach was the best way to address the issue.

A presentation prepared by the World Health Organization also clarified the fact the widespread emigration makes FGM/C a global issue. This brings up a relatively new phenomenon: the psychological effects of the procedure on immigrant populations who may find themselves stigmatized in their new environments.

To read the full article on the UNFPA website, click here

Friday, October 21, 2011

Featured Resource: World Health Organization (WHO): Female Genital Mutilation

October 2011
World Health Organization
WHO response to FGM:

In 2008, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution (WHA61.16) on the elimination of FGM, emphasizing the need for concerted action in all sectors - health, education, finance, justice and women's affairs.

WHO efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation focus on:

advocacy: developing publications and advocacy tools for international, regional and local efforts to end FGM within a generation;
research: generating knowledge about the causes and consequences of the practice, how to eliminate it, and how to care for those who have experienced FGM;
guidance for health systems: developing training materials and guidelines for health professionals to help them treat and counsel women who have undergone procedures.
WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM. WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.

Cultural, religious and social causes:

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3 above), the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
In some societies, FGM is being practised by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practice FGM.

To learn more about the World Health Organization and female genital mutilation, click here.

180 Students Saved From Dropping Out in Narok

October 20, 2011
Nairobi Star
Kiplang'at Kiriu

More than 180 pupils have sought refuge at a primary school in Narok South after escaping early marriage and female genital mutilation.

The 122 girls and 58 boys are sheltered at Naikarra Boarding Primary school on the outskirts of Maasai Mara Game Reserve, after they defied their parents plans for them to drop out of school to be married and look after the cattle.

Head teacher Loontubu Koileken told the press yesterday that the children from different areas sought to come to his school which offers boarding facilities. "The children decided to seek refuge in our school after they knew their parents had already engaged in marriage negotiations," said Loontubu. He said some parents raided the school and demanded to take their children back home.

Loontubu, who is also chairman of Maasai Mara Head Teachers Support Group, said the region has been hit by such incidents with casualties being the school girls who are married off. "The girl child education is greatly affected in the region as most of them are being forced to undergo FGM practice and early marriage," said Loontubu.

He said that his school is now like a rescue centre which receives children who have run away from their homes for the fear of FGM, early marriage and herding cattle. "When the children seek refuge in my school, I admit them and they start their learning and they are now comfortable with their education," he said.

To read the full article on the Nairobi Star website, click here

Monday, October 17, 2011

Senegal Curbs a Bloody Rite for Girls and Women

October 15, 2011
The New York Times
Celia W. Dugger

SARE HAROUNA, Senegal — When Aissatou Kande was a little girl, her family followed a tradition considered essential to her suitability to marry. Her clitoris was sliced off with nothing to dull the pain.

But on her wedding day, Ms. Kande, her head modestly covered in a plain white shawl, vowed to protect her own daughters from the same ancient custom. Days later, her village declared it would abandon female genital cutting for good.

Across the continent, an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone it. But like more than 5,000 other Senegalese villages, Sare Harouna has joined a growing movement to end the practice.

The change has not yet reached Ms. Kande’s new home in her husband’s village, but if elders there pressured her to cut the baby girl she is taking into the marriage, she said, “I would resist them.” Her parents back her up.

“They would never dare do that to my granddaughter, and we would never allow it,” said Ms. Kande’s mother, Marietou Diamank.

The movement to end genital cutting is spreading in Senegal at a quickening pace through the very ties of family and ethnicity that used to entrench it. And a practice once seen as an immutable part of a girl’s life in many ethnic groups and African nations is ebbing, though rarely at the pace or with the organized drive found in Senegal.

The change is happening without the billions of dollars that have poured into other global health priorities throughout the developing world in recent years. Even after campaigning against genital cutting for years, the United Nations has raised less than half the $44 million it set as the goal.

But here in Senegal, Tostan, a group whose name means “breakthrough” in Wolof, Senegal’s dominant language, has had a major impact with an education program that seeks to build consensus, African-style, on the dangers of the practice, while being careful not to denounce it as barbaric as Western activists have been prone to do. Senegal’s Parliament officially banned the practice over a decade ago, and the government has been very supportive of Tostan’s efforts.

“Before you would never even dare to discuss this,” said Mamadou Dia, governor of the Kolda region where this village is located. “It was taboo. Now you have thousands of people coming to abandon it.”

The night before Sare Harouna joined 118 other villages for a ceremony to abandon the practice, people poured in by horse cart, bus and truck. As darkness fell, women illuminated by wood fires stirred vats of couscous and beef stew for the hordes of visitors.

The next day’s event had the feel of a county fair. Dignitaries spoke over a tinny public-address system. Teenagers staged plays about the dangers of genital cutting. Traditional storytellers known as griots entertained the throng gathered around a dusty field.

Over the past 15 years, the drive to end the practice has gained such momentum that a majority of Senegalese villages where genital cutting was commonplace have committed to stop it, Tostan and United Nations officials say.

With too few resources to replicate Tostan’s health and human rights classes across Africa, Nafissatou Diop, who coordinates the United Nations-led campaign to end the practice, is looking for quicker, cheaper strategies to change social conventions on cutting. Tostan has pursued an ambitious effort here with support from Unicef and others, but its two- to three-year program costs about $21,000 per village — a substantial sum considering the countless villages that continue the practice.

“The program is transformative, and I love that as an African woman,” said Ms. Diop, who is Senegalese, “but we need to move faster.”

An improbable collection of characters shaped Tostan’s methods: Molly Melching, a friendly, irrepressible educator from Illinois; Demba Diawara, a revered imam from a Senegalese village; and Gerry Mackie, a political theorist and associate professor at the University of California, San Diego.

Ms. Melching, 61, came to Senegal as an exchange student when she was 24 and never left, working with street children for the Peace Corps, devising a rural education program in a village where she lived in the 1980s, and starting Tostan 20 years ago. The group aims broadly to improve health and spread awareness of human rights. Women in village classes themselves raised the issue of genital cutting. They told of daughters and sisters who had hemorrhaged and sometimes died from botched circumcisions.

In 1997, women in the village of Malicounda Bambara declared their determination to end the practice — a stand that made news.

But Mr. Diawara, an imam in the village of Keur Simbara and a Tostan student, warned Ms. Melching that a single village could not stop such a deeply rooted tradition. The only way, he said, was to persuade villages whose young people intermarried to abandon the practice simultaneously — the defining idea for Tostan. “Even though our villages seem small, behind each village are many other villages,” Mr. Diawara said in an interview.

So Mr. Diawara, 77, visited the 10 intermarrying villages of his extended family. He won over the village chiefs and convinced imams that there was no religious requirement for cutting, which predates Islam by centuries. He was tactful, never using the term “female genital mutilation,” but he explained its consequences. At his family’s annual council, the villages agreed to give up the tradition and in 1998 held what is believed to have been Africa’s first collective abandonment.

That June, Professor Mackie, then a research fellow at Oxford, was proctoring an exam when he read an article in The International Herald Tribune about what Tostan had done. “My heart was pounding,” he said.

He bolted from the room after the test, he said, and mailed Ms. Melching a copy of his 1996 article from a sociological journal, proposing a strategy that was similar to Mr. Diawara’s.

Professor Mackie contended that genital cutting, unlike rape or wife beating, was a convention parents followed out of love for their daughters. He likened it to foot binding, which had disfigured Chinese girls over centuries.

A Western woman — Alicia Little, a British novelist — had played a catalytic role in ending foot binding in China, much like Ms. Melching was doing with genital cutting.

Mrs. Little had written literary depictions of Victorian mothers who raised their daughters to win wealthy husbands, and after moving to China in 1887, she researched foot binding and discovered that a congregation’s public pledge to end the practice had worked. Parents pledging neither to bind their daughters’ feet nor to allow their sons to marry women with bound feet ultimately ended the practice within a generation, Professor Mackie wrote.

“I went nuts!” Ms. Melching said of her reaction after reading Professor Mackie’s article. “Here’s our answer: it has to be a collective pledge.”

Professor Mackie, Ms. Melching and Mr. Diawara have collaborated ever since, influencing places like Sare Harouna, a village where the voices of children chanting Koranic verses waft through dirt alleyways at dusk.

Bassi Boiro, the elderly woman who was Sare Harouna’s so-called cutter, said she always performed the rite before dawn under the spreading arms of a sacred tree, away from the settlement.

“Men couldn’t hear the girl’s screams,” she explained. “They are not part of this.”

Four women would hold down the arms and legs of each girl, usually ages 5 to 7. For years, Mrs. Boiro said, she used a knife handed down through generations of cutters in her family until it became “too dull to even cut okra.” She then switched to razor blades.

But Mrs. Boiro says she has now accepted Sare Harouna’s decision to end the practice and speaks about the harm caused by her life’s work. “I didn’t realize it was my doing,” she said.

Muusaa Jallo, the village imam, was convinced of the need to stop the practice and has spread the word in many other villages. As his toddler impishly poked her finger through a hole in his sock, he placed his hand gently on her head and said, “I have already decided this one will not be cut.”

His 8-year-old, Alimata, sat solemnly to the side, her eyes downcast.

“I will abandon it like my parents,” she said, almost inaudibly. “I won’t do it to my daughters. It’s not good to do that, and they did it to me.”

To read the full article online on the New York Times website, click here

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Extra: Soraya Miré memoir recounts hidden struggle

October 11, 2011
Atlanta INtown
Collin Kelley

Filmmaker and activist Soraya Miré will be in Atlanta on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. at Charis Book to discuss her stunning memoir, The Girl With Three Legs. Miré’s is a survivor of childhood female genital mutilation (FGM), an ancient rite of passage sometimes known as female circumcision, in her native Somalia

In her memoir, Miré talks about her experiences and about working closely on the FGM issue with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the UN Population Fund with Face to Face, as well as Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations. For the past 29 years, she has worked to combat violence against women and children. I interviewed Miré last month about the memoir.

You’ve long been speaking out against female genital mutilation (FGM) and created the documentary Fire Eyes about the barbaric practice – what motivated you to finally write down your story in the new memoir?
My work is to persistently talk about the hidden struggle of women who have been mutilated. As children, no one asked for our consent before dragging our healthy bodies into the mutilating ritual and throttling our existence. We couldn’t shout abuse because we were told it is our destiny and we knew nothing about our basic human rights. Because of that private pain, we can now tell our stories. We can shout loudly that FGM is a violation of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. As survivors of FGM, we cannot just sit and take it. We must stand up and use that terrible experience for good. Telling our stories will indict any parent or society that views the violence against children as a cultural norm. Writing this memoir is meant to inspire and help other survivors march onward to end the horrendous act of FGM. Now, I’m releasing it to the world as I continue to hold the light and protect every child’s human dignity.

FGM continues to be practiced in many countries under the auspices of it being a “cultural” tradition. In your years as an activist, have you seen rejection of the custom? How is education being spread in your native Somalia and elsewhere?
In Africa, we have 26  countries that continue to practice FGM. Those communities believe their faith asks them to do it and that the ritual will help their daughters’ marriage-ability. Many feel the mutilation enhances a woman’s hygiene by removing the external genitalia. Last June in Hargeisa, the Unicef Somalia reported that 70 religious leaders and some high officials declared their commitment to end all forms of FGM. Things are changing as the UN and other NGO’s continue with their educational campaign against FGM. Education is the key to stopping the torture of this practice. Now we’re seeing a strong commitment from the local communities working together to end the ritual. It has been an uphill battle to change the rigid mindset of traditionalists who believe FGM is the only path for their daughters to be honorable and have good standing in the Society. But now there are those well-respected FGM practioners putting down the knives and urging the parents to stop the ritual. In Senegal, with the help of Tostan’s Human Rights Education, 5,000 villagers have abandoned the practice.

FGM is a deeply personal assault, but you were able to find your voice to speak out about it. How do you encourage other women to come forward and share their stories?
FGM is a human tragedy and is one of the most disgraceful abuses of girls. I encourage my fellow survivors to simply forgive those cruel hands that left the deep scars in mind and body. Once they do that, they can heal and transform their own lives.

For more about the reading, visit the Charis website at this link.

To read the full article on the Atlanta INtown website, click here

Because I am a Girl

October 11, 2011
The Egyptian Gazette
Nayrouz Talaat

   “I am the secretary of the school parliament. I want to be a paediatrician. I want to other girls around the world to benefit from my experience and knowledge,” says Asalaa, 12, from Alexandria.
   Asala is a model girl in a report released by the Plan International, a children’s rights organisation, on the status of girls in Egypt, among other African and poor countries worldwide, where girls share the same problems and circumstances.
   She has benefited from training programmes that girls in rural areas rarely benefit from.
   Adolescent girls the world over live in many different circumstances and face many different challenges. No two girls are the same, but, wherever they are and however they live, they have the same rights.
   The attitude of boys towards girls in Egypt still leaves a lot to be desired.
   “To be honest, before I started attending these meetings I thought girls were useless and couldn’t do anything. Now I realise this is not true and they can do as much as boys. In fact, I talked to them about this. At first they were surprised, but then they agreed with me,” says Farouq, a boy aged 12, following the same programme.
   Some families still insist that a girl must stay at home with her husband and at the beginning there was much resistance to girls joining the programme.
   The resistance is now evaporating, because parents are seeing the difference in their daughters, according to ‘Because I am a Girl’, an annual report published by Plan International, assessing the state of the world’s girls.
   This is the fourth report in the ‘Because I am a Girl’ series, which has come across discrimination and neglect, as well as resilience and determination.
   Whether we look at girls in war zones, girls in the global economy or girls in cities and in technology, we find the same combination of girls getting a raw deal and girls coping with all that life can throw at them.
   There are some who are overcome by the hardships they endure, who do not survive or thrive; yet many succeed against all the odds.
   The report has made specific recommendations to improve the opportunities for girls in the two areas that it has focused on; but, more generally, we can all contribute.
   We need to listen to adolescent girls’ views and ensure that their voices are heard by decision-makers. We need to learn from what they have to say.
   We need to include them in research, in planning and in policies. We need to invest in girls’ skills and ensure that they have access to information, the skills to use it and the power to protect themselves.

Changes our world is experiencing 

   In one of its chapters, the report looks at the needs of adolescent girls, as cities keep growing in size.
It looks at the reasons why young women move to the city and what urban life has to offer them �" the many opportunities that are not available or possible in a village.
   Rawda, who migrated to Alexandria, says: "In Upper Egypt, there are not the same opportunities for girls and women. There are cultural activities we can join in, such as literacy classes and discussions about harmful practices such as female genital mutilation [FGM]."
   The report also reveals that violence is a growing threat for adolescent girls in cities because of their age and sex. It argues that they must be helped to develop the skills to protect themselves, and taught how to distinguish opportunity from danger.
   It showcases models of good practice; for example, urban planning that takes young women’s views into account and initiatives aimed at building safer cities for girls and women. The report also looks at the differences for girls living in rich and poor areas.
   Finally, it calls for investment, not just in young people in cities as a generic group, but in adolescent girls specifically.
   “We must listen to what they have to say. They have a crucial part to play in building the safe and sustainable cities that we will need for the 21st century.
   “While women and children are recognised as specific categories in policy and planning, girls’ particular needs and rights are often ignored.
   “These reports provide concrete evidence, including the voices of the girls themselves, as to why they need to be treated differently from boys and older women,” Rawda adds.
   UNESCO and UN-Habitat state that one’s ‘right to the city’ can serve as a vehicle for social inclusion.
   The ‘right to the city’ includes the following: liberty, freedom and the benefit of city life for all, such as transparency, equity and efficiency in city administrations, in addition to participation and respect in local democratic decision-making and recognition of diversity in economic, social and cultural life.
   These principles are particularly important for women and girls, whose ability to access the city is more limited.
   Urban environments, governance structures, services and spaces must be rethought and designed or adapted with the particular needs and experiences of girls in mind.
   Adolescent girls must be actively involved in all stages of this rethinking process to ensure that their voices are included and reflected in how cities are organised.
   “This year, as the UN General Assembly reviews progress on these goals, we will be measuring the progress of our cohort group and their families against several of the MDG targets which are under review.
   “Does the state of these young girls’ lives indicate that the international community will achieve its aims or not?
   “In 2008, we looked at the situation of girls affected by conflict; those growing up in the shadow of war. The 2009 report focused on economic empowerment: ‘Girls in the Global Economy: Adding it all Up’.
   “This year, we are looking at adolescent girls in two of the most dynamic areas in the world today �" cities and new technologies �" and examining the opportunities,” stresses Rawda.

Resisting harmful challenges

   The incidence of FGM or cutting in Egypt is lower in the city than in rural areas, and is slowly falling. But mothers find it hard to resist pressure from older relatives who bring village traditions with them when they move to the town.
   “I have come here on condition that it is a secret. I don’t want anyone to know my name. If you can promise me no-one will find out, then I will tell you my story. We live in a slum area in southern Cairo,” says Samar (not her real name), who talks nervously about this sensitive issue.
   Even though the Egyptian Government has banned FGM, 85 per cent of girls and women in cities and 96 per cent in rural areas are still being cut in this way.
   “I was nine years old and I had no idea what was going to happen until I saw the razor. My mother and two other women held me down while the barber did his work. He was very rough. The pain was terrible, and the bleeding.
   “I got an infection from the dust they put on the wound, which is supposed to stop such infections but in fact makes them worse. Afterwards I had urine problems, but I never connected them to the cutting until much later,” adds Samar.

Keeping in touch

   Many young women feel isolated because their parents do not allow them to socialise, according to the report.
   But now a number of mobile phone projects enable young women to keep in touch with the outside world after they get married, when normally they are often confined to the marital home.
   A young woman like Roza Al-Yazji, who lives in Syria and has a speech disorder and learning disabilities, has learned with the help of the Salamieh Telecentre to design brochures, make presentations and access the Internet to chat with her friends.
   “I am no longer imprisoned behind the bars of my isolation. Salamieh Telecentre is my second home, it has become a part of my life. I am disabled, but I am not disqualified,” she says.

The impact of IT on girls’ lives 

   Research by the Cherie Blair Foundation shows that there are similar disparities among women and men, when it comes to mobile phone ownership �" women are 37 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone if they live in South Asia, 24 per cent in the Middle East and 23 per cent in Africa.
   The Foundation, which has done research in low and middle-income countries, outlines five factors that influence women’s mobile phone ownership �" household income, age, occupation, level of education and whether they live in a rural or an urban area.
   An additional $100 in monthly income increases the likelihood of mobile phone ownership by 13 per cent, while 80 per cent of women in rich households own a phone, compared to 40 per cent in poor households.
   When age, income, occupation and education are taken into account, urban women are 23 per cent more likely to own a mobile phone than their rural counterparts.
   So what about adolescent girls? We know that they are more likely to be using these technologies than their mothers and grandmothers.
   In the Cherie Blair Foundation survey, girls and young women between 14 and 27 had the highest rates of mobile phone ownership among women and, if they didn’t own a phone, were prepared to borrow one from someone.
   Plan’s adviser in Egypt Azza Shalaby quoted Rana, a teenage schoolgirl, as saying that her brother is better at computers than she is, but that she is learning fast, even in the poor area of Alexandria where she lives.
   According to Azza, Internet penetration in Egypt rose from 7 to 14 per cent between 2006 and 2008, by which time 40 per cent of the population had a mobile phone.
   Rana, 16, says that she uses the Internet to share experiences and has even used it to create a magazine with other young people, not just in Alexandria, but also worldwide.

To read the full article on the Eygptian Gazette website, click here

Muslim clerics condemn practice of FGM

October 11, 2011
The Star
Wambua Kavila

The Kenya Council of Imams and Ulamaa has castigated Female Genital Mutilation saying it is against the Quran teachings and will fully support implementation of all FGM related laws. Islamic scholars Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome and Mohamed Swalihu under KCIU called upon mosques and Muslim institutions to fight the practice. "There is no authentic or relevant Islamic evidence allowing FGM in all its forms and the practice is harmful and violates freedom, privacy, health and dignity of the Muslim woman," KCIU said in the statement.

They added that Quran teachings and practices of the prophet are against any practice that causes any form of harm to human beings and FGM interferes with the Muslim woman’s full realisation of her ‘ibadah’ (total worship of Allah). The consensus building meeting held at Garden Hotel in Machakos brought together Muslim scholars and leaders from Tana River, Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Wajir, Garissa, Maragua, Isiolo and Moyale.

They resolved to collectively support and strengthen the national advocacy campaign in order to enable delivery on key interventions to stop the practice. "To this end, KCIU undertakes to mobilise resources over the next five years to support advocacy and other interventions and call upon development partners to continue supporting us," they said.

They added that they will embark on a continuous awareness program to educate the community on FGM and its adverse negative effects on girls, women and other members of society. Though illegal, FGM is still practiced in many areas of Upper Eastern and North Eastern provinces predominantly Muslim areas.

To read the full article on The Star website, click here