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.