Family and Relationship

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced that Liberia has no plans to abolish Female Genital Mutilation

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The issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) appears to be on the front burner for the last few months, first with the announcement by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female elected head of state in Africa on the 17th July 2012 that Liberia has no plans to abolish Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) despite mounting demands by local and international organisations. Although, President Sirleaf by Proclamation declared Wednesday, February 6, 2013, as a day of “Intensifying Global Efforts for The Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation” which was observed throughout Liberia as a holiday.

Although there has been occasional reports of the practice in the UK media, but the letter sent to a London charity Equality Now and carried by the UK Evening Standard on the 5th March 2013 by a 12 year old girl asking for help because the practise was carried out on her sister by aunts at her grandmother’s home in Gambia, and as the family would be travelling home to Gambia after Eid, she was arguably concerned that she would also suffer the same fate. Her case became a lightning rod for growing media attention and advocacy by various NGOs and Women groups.

FGM is practised widely in many parts of Africa, although the practise is not as prevalent as it was ten years ago due to various interventions and impeding legislation. WHO estimates that between 100 million and 140 million women and girls worldwide have been subjected to FGM. Three million girls and women a year are at risk of mutilation – approximately 8000 girls per day. It has been documented mainly in 28 countries in Africa.

Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs traditional and cultural but for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways.

The World Health Organisation (WHO)lists the following African countries as places where the practice of FGM are part of their cultural and traditional norm. Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger,Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Togo. The types of procedure vary enormously from country to country.

The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women including the right to take part in the political process, to social and political equality with men, to control of their reproductive health, and an end to female genital mutilation. As the name suggests, it was adopted by the African Union in the form of a protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is worth noting that some African governments have passed legislationsranging from abolition, prohibition and in some places criminalising the practice but they are not necessarily enforced.

I must make it clear that I am not in support of FGM and have a profound sympathy for my sisters around the world who have been put under the blade in this manner because, scientific research has proven that FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital. I believe that it is important for me to contribute to the ongoing debate from the perspective of an African woman living in the UK and having done significant work with the UK based African Diaspora since 2007 and also with women groups in Africa since 2005.

Studies have confirmed that female genital mutilation or cutting remains a deeply rooted cultural practice that is wide spread and enjoys support in many places. Some of the reasons used to sustain the practice are religious obligations, family honour, and virginity as a prerequisite for marriage. The practise is also seen as a means of enforcing the cultural value of sexual purity in females. An aesthetic preference for cut genitalia has also been mentioned. Notably, however, genital cutting apparently plays a role as a rite of passage for girls, in a lot of African cultures.Although most peoplewho study this problem would agree that FGM was intended to curb promiscuity and adultery by the female of the species.

In places such as Liberia where ten of their sixteen tribes practice FGM; it will take time to generate awareness of a deeply entrenched practice that is valued by the local culture but considered heinous at best by the rest of the world.

Consider this, in places where girls are cut and then automatically initiated into a cult, membership becomes advantageous and indeed a vehicle for social mobility. Members support each other financially and socially. Therefore being uncut confers disadvantages to one’s social and economic progress in the given society.That in itself is an incentive to submitting uncoerced to being cut.

In places where the practise is openly practised, girls are indoctrinated early that in order to marry, they must be cut, as no man will marry them if they are not. Majority of African women educated or not, do not want to be seen as non conformingto their cultural practises and therefore submit willingly.

Research also supports the increase of medical personnel willing to carry out the procedures. The answer, I dare say does not lie in concerted efforts and strategies to stop healthcare providers from performing FGM. Adherents would simply go underground and find others willing to perform it. A stalwart of African development who is also a powerful voice in matters concerning the African woman and also a medical doctor in the UK made a profound statement that is noteworthy, she put it like this, “Belief is a very powerful part of life across Africa, and plays out in day to day actions in many cases for good. Core beliefs that FGM is for good needs to be addressed by winning hearts not minds, by engaging and working with communities groups and individuals. Legislation has its place but must be underpinned by cultural change that is owned by the community and individuals.’’Dr Titi Banjoko, Africarecruit. 

The answer I believe, to stamping out the practise of FGM is urgent, ongoing research into the reasons for the prevalence and persistence as well as its eradication can be achieved. I advocate fortargeted education for all stakeholders especially men so they can say no to FGM in all its forms. It appears that it has been mostly women agitating for the abolition of FGM over the years. Perhaps, male advocates ought to be sought out andencouraged to lend a strong voice to the campaign. After all, the practice appears to be mostly for their benefit.

Anna Vanderpuye Owunne. CEO, Ingoglobal.

 

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