Stop FGM

The nasty world of female genital mutilation

10th March

Update: Torture in Sierra Leone...

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94% of girls mutilated

A female journalist was snatched by members of a secret society, forcibly stripped and made to parade naked through the streets. It might sound like an atrocity from the time when Sierra Leone was ripped apart by a bloody civil war, but in fact the public humiliation was exacted in the town of Kenema just this month. The woman's alleged crime was reporting on female genital mutilation.

While the attack was condemned by media watchdogs as disgraceful behaviour worthy of a bygone age, one woman who was not surprised was Rugiatu Turay. When she was 12 Ms Turay was stolen away by family members and underwent what some politely refer to as circumcision . She calls it torture . For the past six years, she has been waging a war against the practice, which many in Sierra Leone, including senior politicians, see as an initiation rite.

Her organisation, the Amazonian Initiative Movement, tries to protect young girls from the knife. I picked the name because I am trying to talk about strong, powerful women, she says Ms Turay, who works with her 20-strong staff in and around the northern town of Lunsar. So far, she has persuaded about 400 practitioners of female genital mutiliation (FGM), who are often called soweis, to lay down their blades and stop their role in the traditional bondo ceremony. Silence means consent. But if you say the truth people listen ... We go to the schools, mosques, everywhere.

As reward for her tenacious efforts, she has received death threats and been attacked by juju men, sometimes armed with magic, sometimes with machetes. She describes a time when more than a hundred people paraded a symbolic corpse outside her home to suggest her own death: They came right in front of me sharpening their cutlasses.

Ms Turay is among the estimated 94% of girls who undergo FGM in Sierra Leone. The practice – which forms part of a ceremony of initiation rites overseen by women-only secret societies such as bondo and sande – can cause severe bleeding, infection, cysts and sometimes death, but is largely ignored.

Reasons for the process vary, but many people cite tradition and culture, saying it is essential preparation for marriage and womanhood; binds communities to each other and to their ancestors; and restricts women's sexual behaviour.


20th March

Update: Torture in the UK...

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500 victims a year of female genital mutilation

The NHS is offering to reverse female circumcision amid concerns that there are 500 victims a year with no prosecutions

Despite having been outlawed in 1985, female circumcision is still practised in British African communities. Police have been unable to bring a single prosecution even though they suspect that community elders are being flown from the Horn of Africa to carry out the procedures.

The advertisement will appear from next month on a Somali satellite TV station much viewed in Britain. It features Juliet Albert, a midwife who does the reverse operations, and promises, in English and Somali, confidentiality for victims of female genital mutilation.

The advertisement was expected to help to undermine demand for girls to be circumcised, and to popularise the reversal procedure, Ms Albert said. Thousands of such operations have been carried out at specialist clinics and hospitals around Britain and demand is growing slowly.

A study by the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development (Forward), estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, most before leaving their country of origin. The government-funded research also found that more than 7,000 girls were at a high risk of being subjected to genital mutilation in Britain.

Sarah McCulloch, of the Agency for Culture Change Management UK, said that every year more than 500 British girls were having circumcisions. A lot of them are done in the UK, but some still travel overseas, she said.

She said that a code of silence in Britain's African communities had allowed circumcisions to continue and prevented arrests. The unqualified female elders, known as house doctors because they act in secret in a family home, are flown into the country: What the communities do is they gather together and collect money to pay for the ticket for a ‘doctor' to come from Somalia, Sudan, or whatever. And when she arrives here, she goes to a house and has the girls brought to her.


30th May

Update: Damages...

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Swedish court awards compensation for being subjected to FGM

A 19-year-old girl in Gothenburg has been awarded compensation after having been subjected to genital mutilation in Somalia as an 11-year-old.
The girl was awarded 390,000 kronor ($52,000) in damages for abuse and gross violation of integrity, the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority has announced.

Then 11-years-old, the girl was taken on holiday to Somalia in 2001. While there she was subjected to genital mutilation.

She was held down by her mother and two other women while her clitoris and inner labia were removed by a man in return for payment. The girl's vagina was then sewn up down to the opening of her urethra. The whole procedure was conducted without anaesthetic.

The girl's mother later explained in her court trial that the girl was taken to Somalia to be cleansed.

The mother was later convicted for the violation in the Court of Appeal and ordered to pay her daughter 450,000 kronor in compensation.

In its decision to award the damages to the 19-year-old the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority wrote that the genital mutilation resembled torture and was intended to limit her possibilities to have a normal sex life.

The authority will also later consider whether the girl is entitled to further damages for pain and suffering.


3rd June

Update: Four out of Ten...

Netherlands midwives record cases of FGM they find

Four out of ten Somali and Ethiopian women who give birth in the Netherlands have been genitally mutilated. This is relatively few, Health State Secretary Jet Bussemaker said.

The figures were recorded by research organisation TNO after questioning midwives. The number of cases of female circumcision is fairly low, since nine out of ten women in the countries of origin have been circumcised, Bussemaker reasoned.

To obtain a better picture of female circumcision, the state secretary previously announced that midwives would be registering this form of mutilation. They will also be trained in how to discuss circumcision with families.


12th August

Update: Not Yet Ready to Ban FGM...

Protests against FGM that continues unabated in Mali

Some 700 Mali activists, mostly women, have marched in favor of the introduction of laws to ban the practice of female genital mutilation (FMG) in Bamako.

The demonstrators presented the request directly to parliament. The long overdue initiative, organized by the Coordination of women's NGO's in Mali, was repeated in other areas of the country, where more women also staged small gatherings.

The rate of FMG in Mali is very high, reaching some 92% said Nicola Giovannini of the No Peace without Justice NGO to MISNA. Giovannini said that in Mali, there is a strong political consensus for a law to ban the practice, but authorities have so far suggested that Malian society itself is not yet ready to penalize this terrible and very established practice. The participation in anti FMG protests suggests that there is an ever stronger – if long overdue - desire for change.


5th February

Update: Gruesome Tradition...

80% of women suffer FGM in some regions of Kurdistan

On the occasion of the International Action Day against Female Genital Mutilation, a representative empirical study on Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi-Kurdistan is going to be presented on February 6.

The report summarizes the results of a one-and-a-half year empirical study conducted by the German relief organization WADI. The numbers presented in the report are alarming: A vast majority of women in Iraqi-Kurdistan have undergone FGM with some regions reaching a top ratio of more than 80%.

The study provides comprehensive evidence on the underlying dynamics of FGM and helps understand, why mothers who themselves experienced the horror of mutilation allow FGM to be practiced on their daughters.

A vast majority of women who adhere to the practice believe it to be a religious obligation in Islam. Others refer to tradition and state that it has always been like that.

The study also shows a clear correlation between the level of education and the attitude towards FGM. Still, the FGM rate amongst university graduates is around 30%. But it becomes clear that with an increasing social status, women are more likely to question harmful traditions and alleged religious obligations.


9th February

Update: Damaged Austrians...

MP highlights FGM in Austria

Between 6,000 and 8,000 women in Austria have been forced to undergo genital mutilation, according to Social Democratic MP Petra Bayr.

Bayr, a member of the Austrian Platform against Female Genital Mutilation, said today: Many parents believe they are doing their daughters a favour by forcing them to undergo it.

She said the only way to change such thinking was to engage in awareness-raising and make it clear to parents that genital mutilation was neither called for by religion nor a pre-condition for finding a husband.

Rather, she added, genital mutilation was a violation of human rights that left its victims mentally and physically damaged for the rest of their lives.

Bayr added that her group was working with health personnel, migrant organisations and religious leaders to try to change the situation.


20th June

They Took Me and Told Me Nothing...

A new report from Human Rights watch on FGM in Kurdistan

A significant number of girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) and its destructive after-effects, Human Rights Watch said in a new report. The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate action to end FGM and develop a long term plan for its eradication, including passing a law to ban the practice, Human Rights Watch said.

The 73-page report, 'They Took Me and Told Me Nothing': Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan, documents the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM against a backdrop of conflicting messages from some religious leaders and healthcare professionals about the practice's legitimacy and safety. The report describes the pain and fear that girls and young women experience when they are cut, and the terrible toll that it takes on their physical and emotional health. It says the regional government has been unwilling to prohibit FGM, despite its readiness to address other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and so-called honor killings.

The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that for many girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM is an unavoidable procedure that they undergo sometimes between the ages of 3 and 12. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, societal pressures also led adult women to undergo the procedure, sometimes as a precondition of marriage.

The previous regional government took some steps to address FGM, including a 2007 Justice Ministry decree, supposedly binding on all police precincts, that perpetrators of FGM should be arrested and punished. However, the existence of the decree is not widely known, and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that it has ever been enforced.

In 2008, the majority of members of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) supported the introduction of a law banning FGM, but the bill was never enacted into law and its status is unknown. In early 2009, the Health Ministry developed a comprehensive anti-FGM strategy in collaboration with a nongovernmental organization. But the ministry later withdrew its support and halted efforts to combat FGM. A public awareness campaign about FGM and its consequences has also been inexplicably delayed.

The new government, elected in July 2009, has taken no steps to eradicate the practice.


25th August

Update: Cut Off from Humanity...

Egyptian doctor arrested after botched FGM kills 13 year old girl

Egypt's Public Prosecutor has referred a physician to the criminal court in Menufiya governorate for the death of a 13-year-old girl during a circumcision procedure.

Investigations indicated the child bled to death after undergoing the procedure. According to the investigations, the girl was buried without a burial license to avoid any suspicion about the cause of death.

The doctor was taken into custody pending trial.

Minister of State for Family and Population Moushira Khattab had filed a complaint demanding that legal measures against whoever was involved in the incident be taken immediately.

In June 2008, the Egyptian parliament made amendments to the Child Law banning FGM and imposing a sentence of a maximum of two years and a fine of a maximum of $1,000 as a penalty for performing it. The law also punishes practitioners, including parents, with between three months and two years in jail.

Egypt's top Islamic and Christian authorities were quick to voice support for the ban, saying the practice had no basis either in the Quran or in the Bible. But conservative Muslim and Christian Egyptian families still have their daughters circumcised as a means to preserve their chastity.

A 2005 government report found that about 90% of Egyptian women had undergone the extremely painful procedure intended to severely mutilate the genitals.


16th March

Update: Dangerous Exposure...

Journalist threatened with torture for reporting on FGM in Liberia

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Liberian authorities to ensure the safety of journalists who have been repeatedly threatened for exposing the practice of female genital mutilation in the country.

Mae Azango, a reporter for the daily FrontPage Africa and New Narratives, a project supporting independent media in Africa, told CPJ she had gone into hiding after receiving several threats for an article she published about Liberian tribes practicing female genital mutilation on as many as two out of every three girls in the country. They left messages and told people to tell me that they will catch me and cut me so that will make me shut up, Azango said: I have not been sleeping in my house.

Wade Williams, the editor of FrontPage Africa, said that several people around town had confronted her over the article, which was widely discussed on radio programs. Williams also said that the newspaper and its personnel were receiving threatening phone calls: They said that for us putting our mouth into their business, we are to blame for whatever happens to us.

Liberian police must immediately investigate these threats and ensure the safety of Mae Azango and other FrontPage Africa staff, said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita: The people behind these threats seem to be secure that they can act with impunity. Authorities must send a clear message that threats of violence are crimes, and that they will uphold the law.


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