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article imageAfricans start to fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

By Eko Armunanto     Jun 17, 2013 in World
FGM is considered an essential part of raising a girl and preparing her for marriage in most places where it’s practiced. Connected to beliefs about premarital virginity and marital fidelity, the pressure to adhere to the practice is intense.
Even with many African countries signing up to international legal frameworks to protect children, traditional laws governing customary practices often override such treaties. Madina Bocoum Daff, aged 50, still cannot get over the agony and shame of her teenage years. She was too young to understand what was happening to her. Like all other young girls in her ethnic Fulani community in Mali, she was forced to go through the rite of passage before the onset of puberty. “All I know is that I had severe problems immediately after being excised. I remember going through a very agonising cycle of puberty. I remained covered in pain and humiliation,” says Madina.
Madina Bocoum Daff
Madina Bocoum Daff
Plan International
Madina is now fighting against this custom, starting from her country Mali. Considering herself as a victim, Madina is now working with Plan International to eliminate it from her country and she says progress is being made. “Through community awareness and education, 44 villages in areas where we work have declared themselves FGM-free,” Madina added.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is called circumcision by its supporters. When there was a ferocious focus of debate in Egypt back in 2007, the supporters yelled “We support circumcision!” over and over. “Even if the state doesn’t like it, we will circumcise the girls,” shouted one of the supporters Fahmy Ezzeddin Shaweesh after the government shut down a clinic where a girl died because of the practice. The Egyptian Ministry of Religious Affairs issues a guideline describing why the practice is not called for in Islam, Egypt’s grand mufti Ali Gomaa declared it haram (prohibited), Egypt’s highest religious official Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi called it harmful – but this country is guided largely by traditions, even when those traditions do not adhere to the tenets of their faith, be it Christianity or Islam.
UNICEF says more than 120 million girls and women have experienced FGM in 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where the practice is concentrated. Given present trends, as many as 30 million girls under the age of 15 may still be at risk. However, the data shows that FGM is becoming less prevalent overall and the younger generation is less vulnerable to the practice. On average, 36 per cent of girls aged 15-19 have been cut compared to an estimated 53 per cent of women aged 45-49.
FGM is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls and is a deeply entrenched social norm. It is a manifestation of gender discrimination. The practice is perpetrated by families without a primary intention of violence, but is de facto violent in nature. Communities practice FGM in the belief that it will ensure a girl's proper marriage, chastity, beauty or family honor. Some also associate it with religious beliefs although no religious scriptures require it. The practice is such a powerful social norm that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the harm it can cause. If families were to stop practicing on their own they would risk the marriage prospects of their daughter as well as the family's status – UNICEF
FGM may cause severe pain and can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. A WHO study (2006) found that it’s also harmful to newborns due to adverse obstetric outcomes, leading to an extra 1 to 2 perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries.
In the Plan International’s website promoting child rights to end child poverty, Madina says she cannot even explain the feeling of terror that runs through excised girls’ minds when they think of marriage. On the day of their wedding, brides undergo another painful surgery to reverse the infibulations. This involves cutting open the connecting tissue created by infibulations to restore the vaginal opening to allow consummation of marriage. In most cases the intervention is done by a traditional practitioner without any anesthesia and little care for hygiene. It is only after completing this procedure that an excised girl is considered “free”. She usually has her first sexual experience the very same night.
More about Child abuse, Women's rights, Female circumcision
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