Janeth Ropi:“One day my parents said to me: ‘We are going to mutilate you so that you could get a husband”
Aisha Ismail: “One who saves a female child from genital cutting, saves a whole generation”
Waris Dirie:“The pain (between my legs) was so intense that I wished to die”
Inna Modja, Singer from Mali: “At 18, when a gynaecologist told me I has been a victim of genital mutilation, it was like a bucket of cold water being thrown in my face. I carried this wound in silence for years until I was 22, when I discovered it could be repaired.”
Testimonio de Asha Ismail sobre su Mutilación Genital Femenina
The army of women speaking up in order to warn over three million female children and enlighten them about the risk to suffer Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is increasing day after day, according to the UNO. But the fight against female genital mutilation is a complex one and would need to be adapted to the diversity of contexts and cultures.
These practices are widespread in the countries of origin of these women, where they are totally dependent. The poverty factor has a conclusively negative impact since female children are perceived as bargaining chips. “Since they are circumcised, they are prepared to enter adulthood and could be married to a man. Then appears the husband with the dowry: money, a cow, etc.
This leads us to conclude that permanently eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage would be dramatically reduced: one leads to the other”, according to Sebastian H.Okiring, MP for the Kenyan region of Kuria. The objectification of the woman mainly in societies without resources makes this practice her effective access to adult society since they are exchanged for a dowry.
Providing education and giving jobs to women is the solution to bring them financial independence. It has been proved that empowering women through schooling or, in small towns or villages, through having them attend courses conducted by midwives or caregivers, contributes to reducing the risk of genital cutting as well as destroying traditional false beliefs regarding FGM.
In this line, medicusmundi published a guidebook in French on sexual and reproductive health education“Genre et Santé Sexuelle et Reproductive” This guidebook developed by Ms. Africa Caño Aguilar and Ms. Casilda Velasco Juez, both sexual and reproductive health experts in Spain and Burkina, was intended for the teaching-staff of schools of Nursing and Midwifery in French-speaking African countries. It’s a tool for the training and capacity-building, through participatory methodologies and practices, intended for health educators so as to ensure comprehensive women health training with a focus on gender and human rights, and adapted to their own social and health context.
The great hope in African countries continues to be gradual progress in legislative developments. Liberia has been the latest country to join in. Unfortunately, though, executive laws are only valid for a period of one year; that’s why activists intend to put president George Weah under pressure throughout the current year so as to make the law permanent.
Together with Liberia, there are already 27 countries banning FGM since the African Union Parliament, holding a consultative but not a legislative status, ratified in 2016 its banning in the whole continent. But its practice continues at least in some twenty countries within the Sahel Belt, from Somalia to Senegal. Somalia itself holds the sad honour of having one of the highest rates of mutilations: 98%. Although Female Genital Mutilation is technically prohibited by Liberian constitution, laws forbidding its practice haven’t been passed so far.
But there are other positive instances like the case of Burkina Faso. In 1991, Burkina Faso modified its constitution to adapt it to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ensuring equality between individuals, without distinction of any kind. Since 1996 the country has specific legislation punishing FGM, with higher sentences for those health workers or paramedics performing the FGM procedure, or being accomplices to it.
Spain has just included the victims of Female Genital Mutilation within the category of Victims of Gender-based Violence, giving them equal status and protecting them within the same protection programme.
In Spain Female Genital Mutilation was first spotted in the eighties due to the family reunification of sub-Saharan migrants. Wives with children start to arrive, and all female children coming from Africa were mutilated. The need to legislate against this form of violence emerges, and since 2003 the Penal Code lists mutilation as a crime with sentences ranging from six to twelve years’ imprisonment. From then onwards, some families take advantage of their holidays so that female children undergo this procedure in their countries of origin. It was then that an action protocol working with local groups was introduced, whose responsibility was to identify those girls at risk. Whenever a situation where a child might be at risk is identified, after an interview with the family, this information is transferred to the judge. The judge will then take the necessary measures accordingly, even forbidding the girl to travel, and compel the parents to sign a document to be included in the girl’s medical records.
Fortunately, our societies are becoming increasingly aware of the need to legislate against this form of violence and to eradicate the erroneous belief that it is a necessary practice in order to make a good marriage, since the girls who undergo those procedures are perceived as ‘pure and clean’.
Teresa Rosario Velasco
Translated from Catalan into English by Silvia Aymerich