About this Story
This article originally appeared on PulseWire as part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, a World Pulse training program providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training to 31 emerging women leaders. Edits have been made to the original text for clarity.
To view other Voices of Our Future assignments in their original form, and to meet the correspondents, visit the VOF Assignments page.
A Future Without Female Genital Mutilation
History of Resistance
FGM was declared illegal in Sudan in 1941, but the practice has continued with little interruption.
Successive national surveys between 1979 and 1983 recorded that 96% of women have undergone FGM. In 1991, this percentage dropped to 89%. And now, in 2009, the UNICEF World Report on Children shows a drop of only 7.3%. This gradual shift in public attitudes toward FGM has been due in large part to efforts led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Babikir Badri Scientific Studies Association on Women Studies (BBSAWS) in coordination with many other autonomous organizations and individuals. It is worth noting that BBSAWS was the first local NGO to shoulder the struggle against FGM in Sudan.
Several factors contribute to the prevalence of circumcision, including the absence of a long-term strategy against the practice, no implementation of strict measures to defend children, the concentration of NGOs in urban centers, associating circumcision with Islam, dominance of silly notions that FGM is a kind of purification and beautification, and the existence of beneficiaries who are resistant to change.
But our government’s legalization of the practice is the major obstacle. Whenever FGM is legal, it destroys efforts undertaken by NGOs, turns ethnic groups into advocators, and codifies the presence of groups who are officially supported to derive their livelihood from the profession, not to mention an increase of propaganda used to promote the practice.
Stigma and Economics
In Sudan, it is the women who shoulder the biggest responsibility for excisions. They are the practitioners and the supporters, while the majority of Sudanese men consider it “women’s affairs.”
Mothers and grandmothers who were victims of circumcision almost always request infibulations or the “Pharaonic” type of excision. The midwives get around the laws by claiming that they only perform “Sunna,” when in reality they practice only type two and three.
Midwives, like Hajaa Zeinab, never fail to honor a client’s request. They work in accordance with the law of supply and demand, not the law of the land. By doing so, they pull women into a vicious cycle of circumcision, decircumcision (tasheem) and recircumcision (adlah). The latter is normally performed to tighten a woman after giving birth.
Moreover, midwives have their own means of propaganda and advertising to increase their business. Whenever such a midwife is among a large number of women, she tells stories about uncircumcised girls being always dirty even if they spend the whole day showering. Of course, circumcised girls are always described by the famous phrase, “waa halati,” meaning, “what a nice girl!”
The gloomy picture reflected by my story does not deny the light at the end of the tunnel.
Change is in process. It will not happen overnight, but with persistence, proper education, and consistency, it is within reach.
I believe that in order to stop FGM in Sudan (and worldwide), civil society organizations, NGOs, artists, writers, dramatists, cartoonist, musicians, activists, media practitioners, physicians, the whole family, etc, must continue to pressure governments to not support this practice.
Continuation of personal efforts is a must. I, for one, prevented my young nieces from having to endure excision and convinced two illiterate mothers to abandon the practice.
I believe that an effective cure for this disease will have to involve personal and collective trials discussions. Men and women who don't practice female circumcision need to come in the open, and not hide in shame.
I recently received an email from a man named Mohamed Ahmed. He wrote, “As a man I didn't find it difficult to say I am married to an uncircumcised woman, and my 22-year-old daughter is not circumcised. This helped me in convincing many relatives and friends throughout more than 27 years to not practice FGM." I received his message with hope and great appreciation.
For the sake of my daughter from whose eyes beam a promising tomorrow and who brings seeds of change, I will continue to work at home and through the media to put an end to FGM.