Saturday, 25 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and the Middle East

In general, FGM in Asia and the Middle East is practiced for religious beliefs.  The majority of FGM support comes from Muslim communities.  Laws banning the practice have often not been successful in eliminating it and most countries have not outlawed FGM.

 FGM has been found in the following countries, though statistics are not always readily available:

  • Afghanistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Indonesia (No national prevalence figures available - Types I and IV)

  • Iran (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan (72.7% prevalence (excluding Dohuk), Types I and II)

  • Jordan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Malaysia (No national prevalence figures available - Type IV)

  • Oman (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Pakistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Palestinian territories (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Saudi-Arabia (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Syria (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Tajikistan (No national prevalence figures available)

  • Turkey (No national prevalence figures available)

  • United Arab Emirates (No national prevalence figures available - Type I)

  • Yemen (23% prevalence in women 15 to 49)

In our campaign to end female genital mutilation, lets not forget this is a global problem.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation - 'No African Problem Only'

For the longest time female circumcision was considered an ‘’African problem“, the practice was seen as rooted in African pre-Islamic, pre-Christian culture. For Yemen, the only non-African country where it was long known to exist, it was assumed to be imported from the African continent.

Newer evidence shows that these assumptions can’t be correct, neither geographically nor does the explanation suffice. The narrative already took a severe blow when it surfaced that FGM is prevalent in parts of the Kurdish region of North Iraq. Surveys in this region and lobby work in fact led to the inclusion of Iraq in those 29 countries UNICEF now considers to be those where the practice is concentrated.

By now it is evident that FGM is practiced in many more Asian countries. Small-scale surveys show its existence in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. In Oman and Pakistan media reports have tackled the issue. A broad discussion about bans and restrictions has been taken place in Indonesian media for years.

Religion or Culture

Female Genital Mutilation occurs in non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims and Animists alike. In Egypt, where perhaps 97 percent of girls suffer genital mutilation, both Christian Copts and Muslims are complicit. Thus, it has long been concluded to be a cultural practice, not connected to religion.

However, on the village level, those who commit the practice offer a mix of cultural and religious reasons for the practice. Christians and Muslims alike believe that circumcision of girls prevents them from vice and makes them more attractive for future husbands; mothers fear that their daughters can’t get married if they have not been cut.

Sometimes myths have formed to justify FGM. Hanny Lightfoot-Klein, an expert on FGM who spent years in Kenya, Egypt, and Sudan, explains that “it is believed in the Sudan that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose’s neck until it dangles between the legs, in rivalry with the male’s penis, if it is not cut.”

However, Muslim proponents of FGM also stress the religious necessity. Midwifes and mothers insist that it is “sunnah” – an opinion shared by most Islamic clerics. Yet, sunnah can either mean that a practice is religiously recommended or simply that it was done that way in the times of the prophet Mohammed.

While there is no mention of FGM in the Quran, a Hadith (saying about the life of the prophet) recounts a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”

Most clerics use this hadith to say circumcision is recommended, but not obligatory for women. But some say it is obligatory. While others who take a position against FGM call this hadith weak in relation to the “do no harm” principle of Islam or interpret the intention of the prophet differently.

Let’s think about this as we carry on campaigning to end FGM!


Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Female Genital Mutilation Story

Female genital mutilation is the collective name given to several different traditional practices that involve the cutting of female genitals. It is important to remember that this procedure is commonly performed on girls anywhere between the ages of four and twelve years of age and in some cultures as early as a few days after birth and as late as just after prior to marriage or after the pregnancy.

Girls may be circumcised alone or with a group of peers from their community.

Although traditionally performed by traditional practitioners, more recently in some countries it is also performed by trained personnel.

Indigenous populations use a variety of terms in local dialects to describe this practice. These are often synonymous with purification or cleansing, such as the terms tahara in Egypt, tahur in Sudan and bolokoli in Mali. Local terminology for types of FGM also varies widely among countries.

In literature from Sudan, for example, clitoridectomy is referred to as sunna, and infibulations is referred to as pharaonic.

In literature associated with French speaking Africa, FGM is commonly known as excision.

Lately the term female genital mutilation has been widely used. Although the term female genital mutilation has been effective, organisations and individuals like me working with FGM practising communities that this term can be offensive or even shocking to women who have never considered the practice as mutilation.

The term female circumcision may seem to imply an analogy with male circumcision. Although both practices are a violation of a child’s rights to physical integrity, these two practices are different. Male circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin from the tip of the penis without damaging the organ itself. The degree of cutting in female circumcision is anatomically much more extensive. The male equivalent of clitoridectomy, in which all or part of the clitoris is removed, would be the amputation of most of the penis.

The male equivalent of infibulations- which involves not only clitoridectomy, but the removal or closing off of the sensitive tissue around the vagina-would be removal of the entire penis, its roots of soft tissue and part of the scrotal skin.

Food for thought!


Saturday, 4 April 2015

Female Genital Mutilation and Empowering Women

Women can not abandon the practice of FGM until they have the information, material conditions and skills to access different options. In countries in which FGM is a pre requisite for marriage, women and girls whose economic security depends upon their ability to be married have little choice. Here is some advice from The Exquisite Lady,

  • Governments should reform policies that prevent women from raising their economic, social and political status, including ensuring that both men and women have the right to work and the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • Governments also have a responsibility and obligation to support women and encourage their participation in all aspects of community life. In addition women should be allowed to participate in public office and decision making.
  • For immigrants from FGM practising communities, social compulsion may be compounded by feelings of alienation, which makes immigrants reliant upon their families or communities. Although not true in all cases, these forces may make immigrants hesitant or unwilling to abandon practices from their home culture that distance them from the host culture. In the example of FGM, women can preserve traditions at the expense of their bodies while other elements of community life change,
  • As in their home countries, immigrant women must have equal access to the systems of power so they can exert equal control over community values and cultural changes. Receiving governments should support programmes that offer immigrant women instruction in the language of the majority, job training and information regarding avenues for legal protection.
  • Governments should also ensure adequate financial and social support network is available for immigrant women who sometimes must abandon their primary source of economic security – their families or their husbands – to exercise their right to make decisions about their bodies.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Female Genital Mutilation- Where are our men?

As we continue campaigning against the horrific practice of female genital mutilation, most known activists are women. Well, that does not sound right! Of course men are involved in this campaign. Some of the cited reasons why this practice continues include enhancing male sexual pleasure (???), controlling women, stopping women from enjoying sex etc. It s a familiar tale. It has to be remembered however that when female genital mutilation takes place whether its (clitoridectomy, excision or infibulations), men are usually not present. In the case of Type 1V (pulling or cauterization etc), men are always to be kept in the dark. This is seen as purely a women business. We know that both in Africa and Europe, men are as disgusted as women by this practice.

Here is my story:

I had just got home from work when my phone rang. It was a frantic father who wanted my help. The conversation between us went as follows,

‘Abbie, please help me! I do not want my daughter to be cut. This is a useless, unnecessary and painful practice that I don’t wish on any child’. The father was concerned that her wife was likely to have their daughter cut. At the time when I received the call, the wife had disappeared with the kids, a boy and a girl. The couple both came from a country where female genital mutilation is highly prevalent. While the husband embraced change, the wife who had been cut twenty years before believed the young girl should have to go through the same procedure which resulted in their constant arguing.

Action had to be taken.

I won’t go into detail except to say that there are fathers and brothers who are really against female genital mutilation.

Working together is key!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Working with Communities to end Female Genital Mutilation

Back to Basics

The history of FGM is not well known, but the practice dated back at least 2000 years. It is known when or where the tradition of FGM originated from. Some believe it was practised in ancient Egypt as a sign of distinction amongst the aristocracy. Some believe it started during the slave trade when black women entered ancient Arab societies. Some believe the practice developed independently among ethnic groups in Sub Saharan Africa as part of entry into womanhood.

The Romans performed a technique involving slipping of rings through the labia majora of female slaves to prevent them from becoming pregnant.  The Scoptsi sect in Russia performed FGM to ensure virginity. Historically FGM was practised by UK and US gynaecologist to cure women of so called ‘female weaknesses’.

In some parts of Africa it is valued as a rite of passage to womanhood (Kenya, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Ghana and some parts of Nigeria).

Other countries see this practice as a means of preserving a girl’s virginity (Sudan, Egypt, Somalia and Ethiopia).  In Sierra Leone and Senegal for example, female genital mutilation provides a social status and therefore a critical component of female identity.

Alternatives to FGM

How then can the above be done without cutting?

  • In the Gambia (Tolston – Wolof meaning breakthrough) involves an 18 months community education programme that addresses hygiene, women health, human rights and problem solving. Once again this involves whole communities.
  • It is important to tailor interventions very specifically to the communities in which FGM is practised. Because it is an ancient and valued custom, practices are often very specific to communities or ethnic groups.
  • Older women should always be included in discussing alternative rites of passage to womanhood as they uphold old customs.
  • Cutting girls is illegal in most African countries but this practice still takes place in the 21st Century. Any significant change to attitudes works well if developed in partnership with the members of FGM practising communities and not be perceived as a threat to a people’s culture.
  • Find out what works well with specific communities rather than give orders.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

Obstetric fistula and Female Genital Mutilation

What is obstetric fistula?

An obstetric fistula is a hole that develops either between the rectum and the vagina (rectovaginal fistula), or between the bladder and the vagina (vesicovaginal fistula) and is caused by prolonged, obstructed labour during which the mother does not receive adequate treatment or care.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that approximately 2 million African women suffer from this condition, with 50 000 to 100 000 new cases developing every year.

The physical problems associated with this condition is a constant leakage of urine or faeces, or both, condemning the women to a lifetime of incontinence. The constant urinary incontinence often leads to skin infections, kidney disorders and even death if left untreated.

The sufferers are often ostracised by their families and communities because they smell and are constantly soaked in urine and/or faeces.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, in various Sub-Saharan countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zambia, obstetric fistula is not considered a medical condition but rather a “punishment” for women being disloyal to their families, or as a divine punishment for carrying a venereal disease. 

These perceptions, along with the physical symptoms, mean many of the women live in isolation, poverty and shame.

The United Nations Population Fund says obstetric fistula is preventable and can be avoided by delaying the age of first pregnancy (by, for instance, ending the practice of child marriage); family planning to space births and providing emergency obstetric care to pregnant mothers.


Some victims of FGM also end up developing this condition when they get married early.