Anti-FGM initiatives in Ghana, Senegal and Somalia

Calls for stiffer penalties to be imposed on those who allow and practice female genital mutilation.
Ghana: Women Call for Stiffer FGM Laws

The Ghanaian Association for Women's Welfare (GAWW) has demanded that parents who allow their daughters to have their clitoris and sometimes other parts of their vagina removed by amateur surgeons should be liable for punishment, as well as those who actually perform the procedure.

The Ghana chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) has meanwhile called for stiffer penalties to be imposed on those who carry out the traditional operation. It points out that the law is much more lenient than in neighbouring Burkina Faso where those who practice FGM can be goaled for up to ten years, particularly if the girl bleeds to death. Many women’s groups are calling for stiffer penalties particularly for those who carry out the operation on more than one girl at a time However, many Ghanaian women's rights activists say the current law is too lenient. They are calling for stiffer penalties, particularly in cases where the practitioner circumcises two or more girls at the same time.

The practice was made illegal in Ghana in 1994; those who perform the operation face a prison sentence of at least three years; but the law does not cover accomplices such as family and members of the community and prosecutions are rare. FGM has traditionally been more popular in the North, there are no reliable statistics to show how common it is, and during recent years the practice has gone underground.

Florence Ali, the president of GAWW, said: "If these collaborators are left free, this traditional practice will continue." She also pointed out that the law does not cover cross border offenders; it is common for people to send their daughters to Cote D’Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso to undergo the procedure and escape prosecution. In November 2003 and Jan 2004, two women were goaled for carrying out the procedure. In both cases members of their own communities alerted the authorities. This is a sign that public awareness campaigns condemning FGM are having an impact.

GAWW is affiliated to the Addis Ababa-based Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children which aims to completely eliminate female circumcision in Africa by 2010. Already GAWW and other non-governmental organisations involved in the campaign have persuaded traditional chiefs in the Upper West Region to publicly condemn the custom as 'inhuman and degrading.' The chiefs have also been persuaded to warn their subjects of the dire legal consequences should they persist in continuing the practice.

Source: Push Journal, 2.2.04, via IPPF News.
Senegal: Programme to Fight FGM

An innovative health and human rights program in Senegal is on the brink of eradicating female genital mutilation (FGM), a centuries-old custom that involves excising large parts of the female genitalia, a custom which can have a debilitating effect on women's reproductive and general health, as well as their overall quality of life.

Molly Melching is founder and director of Tostan, a nongovernmental organization based in the capital city of Dakar that has played a crucial role in informing Senegalese about the dangers of genital mutilation. Soon, her innovative programs will be available to other health workers and community leaders. Melching's staff is putting the final touches on a new training center--scheduled to open in January or February--that will teach other organizations how to use Tostan's methodology in the fight against FGM. Their goal for the first year is to work with Gambia, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea.

Many organizations in Africa are already asking for or have gotten help from Melching, including groups in Sudan. Recently the World Health Organization recognized the groundbreaking work of Tostan and called for its replication and dissemination throughout Africa.

Source: PlanetWire via IPPF News, 8.11.03.
Somalia: Campaign Against FGM

In the school hall in Berbera, a port on the Gulf of Aden, the audience is jam-packed. On the walls posters declare: “The time has come to disarm! Put down your weapons!” The mayor takes his place on the platform and begins his speech: “I want to make it clear that we, in the regional authority, are with you in this war”. The ‘weapons’ to be laid down are the scissors, knives, razor blades, needles and surgical thread used by those who, until now, have cut and stitched girls’ genitalia as their profession.

A few years ago, for a man to stand on a platform anywhere in Somalia and talk about this subject would have been unthinkable. An estimated 95% of girls stil endure the practice. The practice, mistakenly thought to be sanctioned in the Koran, is an extreme form of protection against sexual predators in the desert, where nomadic herding life is pursued.

Back at the event in Berbera, Sado, local head of maternal and child health services, is the first to greet the six circumcisers of Berbera in whose honour the event is held. Each volunteered to disarm. Among the speakers are the members of the anti-mutilation team from Borama, a town in the north. Zahara Abdillahi, a midwife, explains why she is involved: “We all know what we have gone through”. The cutting, healing and scarring involed in mutilation narrows the birth canal and makes it inelastic. Labour often lasts for days and stillbirths are common.

Zahara also says that in 1985 she witnessed a birth by a woman who had not been mutilated, while working in Yemen. She was so impressed by how easy the birth was that ever since she has been an activist. When Zahara returned home she met Annalen Tonelli, an Italian woman who last year received the UN’s Nansen Refugee Award and this year was found murdered, age 60.

In 2001, they and Sheikh Haji Mohammed Sayeed and a social worker, opened together an ‘office against mutilation’. Sheikh Mohammed preaches against the practice on the radio and at Friday prayers. “When we started, we made statistics of who was doing the cutting in Borama” he said. The team of these four activists caused a lot of women to ‘disarm’.

Source: The Guardian, 26.1.04.

For more information on these stories and related information, visit the website of The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) which links national autonomous Family Planning Associations (FPAs) in over 180 countries worldwide.