15 May 2011

One of the most common human rights abuses is the grotesque sexual torture of girls for religion and tradition

New York Times - May 11, 2011

A Rite of Torture for Girls


HARGEISA, Somaliland

People usually torture those whom they fear or despise. But one of the most common forms of torture in the modern world, incomparably more widespread than waterboarding or electric shocks, is inflicted by mothers on daughters they love.

It’s female genital mutilation — sometimes called female circumcision — and it is prevalent across a broad swath of Africa and chunks of Asia as well. Mothers take their daughters at about age 10 to cutters like Maryan Hirsi Ibrahim, a middle-aged Somali woman who says she wields her razor blade on up to a dozen girls a day.

“This tradition is for keeping our girls chaste, for lowering the sex drive of our daughters,” Ms. Ibrahim told me. “This is our culture.”

Ms. Ibrahim prefers the most extreme form of genital mutilation, called infibulation or Pharaonic circumcision. And let’s not be dainty or euphemistic. This is a grotesque human rights abuse that doesn’t get much attention because it involves private parts and is awkward to talk about. So pardon the bluntness about what infibulation entails.

The girls’ genitals are carved out, including the clitoris and labia, often with no anesthetic. What’s left of the flesh is sewn together with three to six stitches — wild thorns in rural areas, or needle and thread in the cities. The cutter leaves a tiny opening to permit urination and menstruation. Then the girls’ legs are tied together, and she is kept immobile for 10 days until the flesh fuses together.

When the girl is married and ready for sex, she must be cut open by her husband or by a respected woman in the community.

All this is, of course, excruciating. It also leads to infections and urinary difficulties, and scar tissue can make childbirth more dangerous, increasing maternal mortality and injuries such as fistulas.

This is one of the most pervasive human rights abuses worldwide, with three million girls mutilated each year in Africa alone, according to United Nations estimates. A hospital here in Somaliland found that 96 percent of women it surveyed had undergone infibulation. The challenge is that this is a form of oppression that women themselves embrace and perpetuate.

“A young girl herself will want to be cut,” Ms. Ibrahim told me, vigorously defending the practice. “If a girl is not cut, it would be hard for her to live in the community. She would be stigmatized.”

Kalthoun Hassan, a young mother in an Ethiopian village near Somaliland, told me that she would insist on her daughters being cut and her sons marrying only girls who had been. She added: “It is God’s will for girls to be circumcised.”

For four decades, Westerners have campaigned against genital cutting, without much effect. Indeed, the Western term “female genital mutilation” has antagonized some African women because it assumes that they have been “mutilated.” Aid groups are now moving to add the more neutral term “female genital cutting” to their lexicon.

Is it cultural imperialism for Westerners to oppose genital mutilation? Yes, perhaps, but it’s also justified. Some cultural practices such as genital mutilation — or foot-binding or bride-burning — are too brutish to defer to.

But it is clear that the most effective efforts against genital mutilation are grass-roots initiatives by local women working for change from within a culture. In Senegal, Ghana, Egypt and other countries, such efforts have made headway.

Here among Somalis, reformers are trying a new tack: Instead of telling women to stop cutting their daughters altogether, they encourage them to turn to a milder form of genital mutilation (often involving just excision of part or all of the clitoris). They say that that would be a step forward and is much easier to achieve.

Although some Christians cut their daughters, it is more common among Muslims, who often assume that the tradition is Islamic. So a crucial step has been to get a growing number of Muslim leaders to denounce the practice as contrary to Islam, for their voices carry particular weight.

At one mosque in the remote town of Baligubadle, I met an imam named Abdelahi Adan, who bluntly denounces infibulation: “From a religious point of view, it is forbidden. It is against Islam.”

Maybe the tide is beginning to turn, ever so slowly, against infibulation, and at least we’re seeing some embarrassment about the practice. In Baligubadle, a traditional cutter named Mariam Ahmed told me that she had stopped cutting girls — apparently because she knows that foreigners disapprove. Then a nurse in the local health clinic told me that she had treated Ms. Ahmed’s own daughter recently for a horrific pelvic infection and urinary blockage after the girl was infibulated by her mother.

I confronted Ms. Ahmed. She grudgingly acknowledged cutting her daughter but quickly added that she had intended only a milder form of circumcision. She added quickly: “It was an accident.”

This article was found at:




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  1. Female circumcision anger aired in India

    By Rupam Jain Nair | AFP – April 24, 2012

    Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

    The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as the Dawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

    "We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern," Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, told AFP in New Delhi.

    She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.
    The Bohra brand of Islam is followed by 1.2 million people worldwide and is a sect of Shia Islam that originated in Yemen.

    While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

    The community's insistence on "Khatna" (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent.

    "If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?" Bano says.

    For generations, few women in the tightly-knit community have spoken out in opposition, fearing that to air their grievances would be seen as an act of revolt frowned upon by their elders.

    But an online campaign is now encouraging them to join hands to bury the custom.

    The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform Change.org in November last year.

    She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to the World Health Organisation.

    Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.

    Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.
    When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin's spokesman, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.

    "I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument," he said.

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    But over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have since signed the online petition.

    Many describe the pain they experienced after the procedure and urge their leader to impose a ban.

    "The main motive behind Khatna is that women should never enjoy sexual intercourse. We are supposed to be like dolls for men," 34-year-old Tabassum Murtaza, who lives in the western city of Surat, told AFP by telephone.

    The World Health Organisation has campaigned against the practice, saying it exposes millions of girls to dangers ranging from infections, hemorrhaging, complicated child-birth, or hepatitis from unsterilised tools.

    In the Middle East, it is still practised in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

    "It is an atrocity committed under the cloak of religion," says Murtaza, who along with her husband was asked to leave their family home when they refused to get their daughter circumcised.

    "My mother-in-law said there was no room for religious disobedience and we should move out if we cannot respect the custom," she explained. "It is better to live on the street than humiliate your daughter's body."

    Asghar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, has known the dangers of fighting for reform.
    He has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women, and has been attacked by hardliners inside a mosque in Egypt and had his house trashed by opponents.

    While both France and the United States have laws enabling the prosecution of immigrants who perform female circumcisions, the practice remains legal in India and Engineer expects this to remain the case.

    "Female circumcision is clearly a violation of human rights, the Indian government refuses to recognise it as a crime because the practice has full-fledged religious backing," he said.

    "No government has the courage to touch a religious issue in India even if the practice is a crime against humanity."
    He says many fathers are simply unaware of the damage they are doing by following the custom.

    "I prevented my wife from getting our daughters circumcised but in many cases even fathers are not aware of the pain their daughters experience," he says.


  3. Genital cutting tied to later abuse risk

    By Amy Norton, Reuters September 24, 2012

    (Reuters Health) - Women who underwent genital cutting as young girls may be at increased risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse from their husband, a study of women in Mali suggests.

    The study, of nearly 7,900 women, found that 22 percent of those with genital mutilation said they'd been physically abused by a husband or male partner. That compared with 12 percent of women who'd never been subjected to the procedure.

    It's estimated that more than 130 million women worldwide have undergone genital mutilation, also known as female "circumcision." The centuries-old practice, which involves removing part or all of a girl's clitoris and labia, and sometimes narrowing the vaginal opening, remains a common practice in some countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.

    It's well-known that genital cutting has long-term consequences for women - including sexual dysfunction, childbirth complications, incontinence and psychological disorders.

    In the new study, researchers looked at whether there's a link between genital mutilation and a woman's odds of suffering abuse from her partner.

    In Mali, where the vast majority of women have undergone genital mutilation, the government has taken steps to raise awareness of the consequences of the practice. But genital mutilation has not been outlawed.

    The difficulty is that genital cutting is widely seen as an important cultural tradition, rather than a form of abuse.

    "If something is entrenched in a culture, it is difficult to change," said Dr. Hamisu Salihu of the University of South Florida in Tampa, the lead researcher on the new study.

    On the other hand, physically abusing your wife - though common in Mali and other African countries - does not have that cultural acceptance, Salihu told Reuters Health.

    So being able to frame genital cutting in the context of domestic violence might help change people's views on the practice.

    The study, reported in the obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG, included 7,875 Malian women. The large majority - 6,919 women - had genital mutilation.

    Of those women, 22 percent said they'd suffered physical abuse from their partner, while five percent reported sexual abuse and 12 percent emotional abuse.

    When the researchers accounted for other factors - like education level and poverty - genital mutilation was linked to two- to three-fold increases in the risk of all three types of abuse.

    One of the possible limitations of the study, according to Salihu's team, is that women were asked about sensitive issues. The actual levels of abuse may have been higher than women reported.

    Past studies have suggested that across sub-Saharan Africa, half of all women have been abused by a husband or partner.

    Salihu said these latest findings suggest that women with genital cutting may be in particular need of screening and counseling for abuse.

    When pregnant women with genital mutilation see a healthcare provider, they are already considered "high risk" because of their increased odds of pregnancy and childbirth complications.

    Those visits offer a "window of opportunity" for women to get counseling about domestic violence, Salihu said.

    Right now, though, that is not usually done.

    SOURCE: bit.ly/NCx4Kw BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, online August 24, 2012.


  4. The day I saw 248 girls suffering genital mutilation

    In 2006, while in Indonesia and six months pregnant, Abigail Haworth became one of the few journalists ever to see young girls being 'circumcised'. Until now she has been unable to tell this shocking story

    by Abigail Haworth The Observer, Sunday 18 November 2012

    It's 9.30am on a Sunday, and the mood inside the school building in Bandung, Indonesia, is festive. Mothers in headscarves and bright lipstick chat and eat coconut cakes. Javanese music thumps from an assembly hall. There are 400 people crammed into the primary school's ground floor. It's hot, noisy and chaotic, and almost everyone is smiling.

    Twelve-year-old Suminah is not. She looks like she wants to punch somebody. Under her white hijab, which she has yanked down over her brow like a hoodie, her eyes have the livid, bewildered expression of a child who has been wronged by people she trusted. She sits on a plastic chair, swatting away her mother's efforts to placate her with a party cup of milk and a biscuit. Suminah is in severe pain. An hour earlier, her genitals were mutilated with scissors as she lay on a school desk.

    During the morning, 248 Indonesian girls undergo the same ordeal. Suminah is the oldest, the youngest is just five months. It is April 2006 and the occasion is a mass ceremony to perform sunat perempuan or "female circumcision" that has been held annually since 1958 by the Bandung-based Yayasan Assalaam, an Islamic foundation that runs a mosque and several schools. The foundation holds the event in the lunar month of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, and pays parents 80,000 rupiah (£6) and a bag of food for each daughter they bring to be cut.

    It is well established that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not required in Muslim law. It is an ancient cultural practice that existed before Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It is also agreed across large swathes of the world that it is barbaric. At the mass ceremony, I ask the foundation's social welfare secretary, Lukman Hakim, why they do it. His answer not only predates the dawn of religion, it predates human evolution: "It is necessary to control women's sexual urges," says Hakim, a stern, bespectacled man in a fez. "They must be chaste to preserve their beauty."

    I have not written about the 2006 mass ceremony until now. I went there with an Indonesian activist organisation that worked within communities to eradicate FGM. Their job was difficult and highly sensitive. Afterwards, in fraught exchanges with the organisation's staff, it emerged that it was impossible for me to write a journalistic account of the event for the western media without compromising their efforts. It would destroy the trust they had forged with local leaders, the activists argued, and jeopardise their access to the people they needed to reach. I shelved my article; to sabotage the people working on the ground to stop the abuse would defeat the purpose of whatever I wrote. Such is the tricky partnership of journalism and activism at times.

    Yet far from scaling down, the problem of FGM in Indonesia has escalated sharply. The mass ceremonies in Bandung have grown bigger and more popular every year. This year, the gathering took place in February. Hundreds of girls were cut. The Assalaam foundation's website described it as "a celebration". Anti-FGM campaigners have proved ineffective against a rising tide of conservatism. Today, the issue is more that I can't not write about that day.

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  5. By geopolitical standards, modern Indonesia is an Asian superstar. The world's fourth-largest country and most populous Muslim nation of 240 million people, it is beloved by foreign investors for its buoyant economy and stable democracy. It is feted as a model of tolerant Islam. Last month, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited London to receive an honorary knighthood from the Queen in recognition of Indonesia's "remarkable transformation". Yet, as befitting an archipelago of 17,000 islands, it's a complicated place, too. Corruption and superstition often rule by stealth. Patriarchy runs deep. Abortion is illegal, and hardline edicts controlling what women wear and do are steadily creeping into local by-laws.

    Although Indonesia is not a country where FGM is widely reported, the practice is endemic. Two nationwide studies carried out by population researchers in 2003 and 2010 found that between 86 and 100% of households surveyed subjected their daughters to genital cutting, usually before the age of five. More than 90% of adults said they wanted the practice to continue.

    In late 2006, a breakthrough towards ending FGM in Indonesia occurred when the Ministry of Health banned doctors from performing it on the grounds that it was "potentially harmful". The authorities, however, did not enforce the ruling. Hospitals continued to offer sunat perempuan for baby girls, often as part of discount birth packages that also included vaccinations and ear piercing. In the countryside, it was performed mainly by traditional midwives – women thought to have shamanic healing skills known as dukun – as it had been for centuries. The Indonesian method commonly involves cutting off part of the hood and/or tip of the clitoris with scissors, a blade or a piece of sharpened bamboo.

    Last year, the situation regressed further. In early 2011, Indonesia's parliament effectively reversed the ban on FGM by approving guidelines for trained doctors on how to perform it. The rationale was that, since the ban had failed, issuing guidelines would "safeguard the female reproductive system", officials said. Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, the Nahdlatul Ulama, also issued an edict telling its 30 million followers that it approved of female genital cutting, but that doctors "should not cut too much".

    The combined effect was to legitimise the practice all over again.

    It is impossible to second-guess what kind of place holds mass ceremonies to mutilate girl children, with the aim of forever curbing their sexual pleasure. Bandung is Indonesia's third largest city, 180km east of the capital Jakarta. I had been there twice before my visit in 2006. It was like any provincial hub in booming southeast Asia: a cheerful, frenzied collision of homespun commerce and cut-price globalisation. Cheap jeans and T-shirts spilled out of shops. On the roof of a factory outlet there was a giant model of Spider-Man doing the splits.

    Bandung's rampant commercialism had also reinvigorated its moral extremists. While most of Indonesia's 214 million Muslims are moderate, the 1998 fall of the Suharto regime had seen the resurgence of radical strains of Islam. Local clerics were condemning the city's "western-style spiritual pollution". Members of the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline vigilante group, were smashing up nightclubs and harassing unmarried couples.

    The stricter moral climate had a devastating effect on efforts to eradicate FGM. The Qur'an does not mention the practice, and it is outlawed in most Islamic countries. Yet leading Indonesian clerics were growing ever more insistent that it was a sacred duty.

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  6. A week before I attended the Assalaam foundation's khitanan massal or mass circumcision ceremony, the chairman of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the nation's most powerful council of Islamic leaders, issued this statement: "Circumcision is a requirement for every Muslim woman," said Amidhan, who like many Indonesians goes by a single name. "It not only cleans the filth from her genitals, it also contributes to a girl's growth."

    It was early, before 8am, when we arrived at a school painted hospital green in a Bandung suburb on the day of the ceremony. Women and girls clad in long tunics were lining up outside to register. It was a female-only affair (men and boys had their own circumcision gathering upstairs), and the mood was relaxed and sisterly. From their sun-lined faces and battered sandals, some of the mothers looked quite poor – poor enough, possibly, to make the foundation's 80,000 rupiah cash handout as much of an enticement as the promise of spiritual purity.

    Inside, I was greeted by Hdjella, 57, a teacher and midwife who would supervise the cutting. She was wearing a pink floral apron with a frilly pocket. She had been a traditional midwife for 32 years, she said, although, like most dukun, she had no formal training.

    "Boy or girl?" she asked me, brightly. I was almost six months pregnant at the time.

    "Boy," I told her.

    "Praise Allah."

    Hdjella insisted that the form of FGM they practised is "helpful to girls' health". She explained that they clean the genitals and then use sterilised scissors to cut off part of the hood, or prepuce, and the tip of the clitoris.

    "How is this helpful to girls' health?" I asked. "It balances their emotions so they don't get sexually over-stimulated," she said, enunciating in schoolmistress fashion. "It also helps them to urinate more easily and reduces the bad smell."

    Any other benefits? "Oh yes," she said, with a tinkling laugh. "My grandmother always said that circumcised women cook more delicious rice."

    FGM in Indonesia is laden with superstition and confusion. A common myth is that it is largely "symbolic", involving no genital damage. A study published in 2010 by Yarsi University in Jakarta found this is true only rarely, in a few animist communities where the ritual involves rubbing the clitoris with turmeric or bamboo. While Indonesia doesn't practise the severest forms of mutilation found in parts of Africa and the Middle East, such as infibulation (removing the clitoris and labia and sewing up the genital area) or complete clitoral excision, the study found the Indonesian procedure "involves pain and actual cutting of the clitoris" in more than 80% of cases.

    Hdjella took me to the classroom where the cutting would soon begin. The curtains were closed. Desks had been covered in sheets and towels to form about eight beds. Around each one, three middle-aged women wearing headscarves waited in readiness. Their faces were lit from underneath by cheap desk lamps, giving them a ghoulish glow. There were children's drawings and multiplication tables on the walls.

    The room filled up with noise and people. Girls started to cry and protest as soon as their mothers hustled them inside. Rapidly, the mood turned business-like. "We have many girls to circumcise this morning, about 300," Hdjella shouted above the escalating din. As children were hoisted on to desks I realised with a jolt: this is an assembly line.

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  7. Hdjella led me to a four-year-old girl who was lying down. As the girl squirmed, two midwives put their faces close to hers. They smiled at her, making soft noises, but their hands took an arm and a leg each in a claw-like grip. "Look, look," Hdjella commanded, as a third woman leant in and steadily snipped off part of the girl's clitoris with what looked like a pair of nail scissors. "It's nothing, you see? There is not much blood. All done!" The girl's scream was a long guttural rattle, which got louder as the midwife dabbed at her genitals with antiseptic.

    In the dingy, crowded room, her cries merged with the sobs and screeches of other girls lying on desks, the grating sing-song clucking of the midwives, the surreally casual conversational hum of waiting mothers. There was no air.

    Outside in the courtyard, the festive atmosphere grew as girls and their mothers emerged from the classroom. There were snacks and music, and later, prayers.

    Ety, 40, was elated. She had brought her two daughters, aged seven and three, to be cut. "I want them to be teachers. Being circumcised will bring them good luck," she said. Ety was a farmer who came from a village outside Bandung. "Daughters should be pure and obey their parents."

    Neng Apip, 28, was smiling radiantly. She said she was happy her newly cut daughter Rima would now grow up into "a good Muslim girl". Rima, whose enormous brown eyes were oozing tears, was nine months old. Apip kissed her and gave her a rice cracker to suck. "Shh, shh, all better now," she cooed.

    Tradition is usually about remembering. In the case of FGM in Indonesia it seems to be a cycle of forgetting. The act of cutting is a hidden business perpetrated by mothers and midwives, nearly all of whom underwent FGM themselves as young children. The women I met had little memory of being cut, so they had few qualms about subjecting their daughters to the same fate. "It's just what we do," I heard over and over again.

    When the pain subsides, it is far from all better. The girls in the classroom don't know that removing part of their clitoris not only endangers their health but reflects deep-rooted attitudes that women do not have the right to control their own sexuality. The physical risks alone include infection, haemorrhage, scarring, urinary and reproductive problems, and death. When Yarsi University researchers interviewed girls aged 15-18 for their 2010 study, they found many were traumatised when they learned their genitals had been cut during childhood. They experienced problems such as depression, self-loathing, loss of interest in sex and a compulsive need to urinate.

    I saw my interpreter, Widiana, speaking to Suminah, the 12-year-old who was the oldest girl there, and went to join them. Suminah said she didn't want to come. "I was shaking and crying last night. I was so scared I couldn't sleep." It was a "very bad, sharp pain" when she was cut, she said, and she still felt sore and angry. Widiana asked what she planned to do in the evening. "We will have a special meal at home and then read the Qur'an," said Suminah. "Then I will listen to my Britney Spears CD."

    Back in Jakarta, an Indonesian friend, Rino, agreed to help me find out about the newborn-girl "package deals" at city hospitals. Rino phoned around Jakarta's hospitals. They told him he must see a doctor to discuss the matter. So we decided that is what we would do: since I was visibly pregnant, we'd visit the hospitals as husband and wife expecting our first baby. ("It's not necessary to bring your wife," Rino was told repeatedly when he rang back to book the appointments.)

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  8. We visited seven hospitals chosen at random. Only one, Hermina, a specialist maternity hospital, said it did not perform sunat perempuan. The other six all gave package prices, varying from 300,000 rupiah to 550,000 rupiah (£20-£36), for infant vaccinations, ear piercing and genital cutting within two months of birth.

    Interestingly, the only doctor who argued against the procedure was a female gynaecologist from the largest Islamic government hospital, the Rumah Sakit Islam Jakarta. "You can have it done here if you wish," the doctor said with a sigh. "But I don't recommend it. It's not mandatory in Islam. It's painful and it's a great pity for girls."

    Last month I spoke to Andy Yentriyani, a commissioner at Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women. Yentriyani told me the problem is now worse than ever. Since the government's guidelines on FGM came into effect last year, more hospitals have started offering the procedure.

    "Doctors see the guidelines as a licence to make money," she says. "Hospitals are even offering female circumcision in parts of Sumatra where there has never been a strong tradition of cutting girls."

    "They are creating new demand purely for profit?"

    "Yes. They're including it in birth packages. People don't really understand what they're signing up for." Nor do some medical staff, she adds. The new guidelines say doctors should "make a small cut on the frontal part of the clitoris, without harming the clitoris". But Yentriyani says that most doctors are trained only in male circumcision, so they follow the same principle of slicing off flesh.

    Moreover, according to The Jakarta Post, the guidelines were rushed through partly in response to the deaths of several infant girls from botched FGM procedures at hospitals.

    Likewise, Yentriyani says, the recent endorsement of FGM by some Islamic leaders has vindicated those carrying out mass cutting ceremonies, such as the Assalaam foundation. "Women are caught in a power struggle between religion and state as Indonesia finds a new identity," the activist explains. "Clamping down on morality, enforcing chastity, returning to so-called traditions such as female circumcision – these things help religious leaders to win hearts and minds."

    Yentriyani and other Indonesian supporters of women's rights believe FGM can never be justified as a religious or cultural tradition. "Our government and religious leaders must condemn it outright as an act of violence, otherwise it will never end," she says. Her view is supported by organisations such as Amnesty International, which has called on Indonesia to repeal its guidelines allowing FGM. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also weighed in, saying in February this year that, although many cultural traditions must be respected, female genital cutting is not one of them. "It is, plain and simply, a human rights violation," Clinton declared.

    Suminah will be 18 now; a grown woman. She could well be married, or at least betrothed. Soon enough she will probably have her own kids. I hope she's forgotten her pain, but held on to her rage.


  9. Makes me feel sick to read about this systematic torture of little girls. Thank you for your insightful report.

  10. UN committee calls for ban on female genital mutilation

    Landmark resolution calls on member states to condemn FGM and pass laws to protect girls and women 'from this violence'

    Associated Press The Guardian November 27, 2012

    Campaigners against female circumcision have scored a major victory with the approval by a United Nations committee of a resolution calling for a global ban on female genital mutilation (FGM).

    The resolution, adopted by consensus by the UN general assembly's human rights committee, calls the practice harmful and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls.

    It calls on the UN's 193 member states to condemn the practice and launch educational campaigns for girls and boys, women and men, to eliminate it. It also urges all countries to enact and enforce legislation to prohibit FGM, to protect women and girls "from this form of violence" and to end impunity for violators.

    With 110 sponsors the resolution is virtually certain to be approved by the full general assembly, which is expected to take it up in the second half of December. Although not legally binding, assembly resolutions reflect international concerns and carry moral and political weight.

    Italy's UN ambassador, Cesare Maria Ragaglini, who has been working with African partners for a ban, called the resolution "a breakthrough in the international campaign to end the harmful practice of FGM".

    "I think that together we can change the fate of many young girls around the world, and today this goal appears closer than ever," he said. "The resolution, in condemning the practice and promoting social and educational programmes, is … the beginning of a new journey."

    FGM is a centuries-old practice used to control women's sexuality in some religions, although both Muslim and Christian leaders have spoken out against it.

    The procedure involves the removal of the clitoris and sometimes also other genital parts, usually in childhood or early adolescence. It can lead to infection, painful sexual intercourse, complications in childbirth, and eliminates any pleasure for women during sex.

    The UN said in 2010 that about 70 million girls and women had undergone the procedure, and the World Health Organisation said about 6,000 girls were circumcised every day.

    According to Amnesty International, FGM is commonplace in 28 countries in Africa as well as in Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and among certain ethnic groups in South America, but it is also a worldwide concern because it is also practised by some immigrant groups in diaspora communities.

    José Luis Diaz, Amnesty International's UN representative, said this was the first time the general assembly's human rights committee has addressed the problem.

    "FGM is an indictment of us all that a girl or young woman can be held down and mutilated is a violation of her human rights and, shockingly, an estimated 3 million girls are at risk each year," he said.

    Alvilda Jablonko, co-ordinator of the FGM programme at the organisation No Peace Without Justice, applauded the committee's action as "a landmark step in the international campaign to foster global leadership" in the campaign against the practice.


  11. Egyptian Female Cartoonist Pokes Fun at Fundamentalists

    Dooa Eladl is 34-year-old Egyptian woman who is turning the male-dominated world of political cartoons upside down.

    By Medea Benjamin, cofounder of www.CODEPINK.org and www.GlobalExchange.org AlterNet March 29, 2013

    One of the women who spoke at the Women’s Assembly during the World Social Forum in Tunisia was not a political activist, but a cartoonist. Dooa Eladl is 34-year-old Egyptian woman who calls herself a Muslim anarchist. Her work appears in the prominent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm—Egyptians Today. She has become one of Egypt’s best-known political cartoonists, in a field completely dominated by men. (One of her humorous drawings is a portrait of herself marching to work, her hair tied to the mustaches of four of her male colleagues.)

    During the Egyptian uprising, Eladl and her colleagues supported the revolution by printing up some of their fiercest political satire, the kind that would not have been published, and handing them out in Tahrir Square. “I don’t think artists like myself should be members of political parties or organizers, but we should certainly use our art to speak out against injustice and oppression.”

    Eladl’s blistering caricatures have landed her in hot water with some of Egypt’s powerful fundamentalists. She now has the distinction of being the first cartoonist in Egypt to face blasphemy charges. In 2012 Salafi lawyer Khaled El-Masry, Secretary General of a group called National Center for Defense of Freedoms, filed a complaint against her for defaming religious prophets. The cartoon he objected to shows an Egyptian man with angel wings lecturing Adam and Eve. The man is telling Adam and Eve that they would never have been expelled from heaven if they had simply voted in favor of the Brotherhood’s draft constitution in the recent Egyptian referendum. The court has not yet heard the case.

    If the fundamentalists are upset about her irreverent depictions of religious figures, one has to wonder if they have seen her searing drawings about women’s rights—and wrongs. One cartoon against child marriage shows a lecherous, old man with a cane peering greedily up the skirt of a little girl holding a teddy bear.

    Another has the streaming beard of a fundamentalist flowing across a woman’s mouth to silence her.

    Eladli uses her art to bring attention to domestic violence, underage marriage, sexual harassment, violence against women, and the new phenomenon of attacks against female demonstrators. Some accuse of her being sacrilegious, claiming that her work is too shocking. The accusations don’t seem to phase her, and they certainly haven’t influenced her style.

    Most disturbing, yet thought-provoking, is one cartoon against female genital mutilation, in which a man is standing on a ladder between a woman’s legs, reaching up to cut her with a pair of scissors.

    “I criticize habits that I think are wrong and should be totally reconsidered, like female circumcision, which doesn't stem from the Muslim religion at all. There are Muslim scholars who say female circumcision is a crime against humanity and is not related to Islam. Yet it is still being practiced in Egypt's countryside and unfortunately, in the name of religion.”

    continued in next comment...

  12. While Eladl was delighted to see Mubarak ousted, she says that in many ways, the situation for women is worse because now those in power use religion to dominate women. A Muslim who covers her head out of choice, Eladl is vehemently opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. “They interpret religion in their own way but I don’t think it is the real way of Islam. Since the revolution, I feel compelled to draw cartoons about women in order to defend my own personal freedoms, which are threatened under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    Eladl complains that the new constitution does not guarantee women’s rights or respect the international treaties that protect women. It does not give rights to divorced women or guarantee equal rights for women workers. If the constitution is implemented, she fears women’s right will be turned back.

    One of her cartoons shows a professional-looking woman walking up to the door of Parliament, only to be told by a bearded man “Sorry, this is only for men.”

    Eladl’s critique of the post-Mubarak era goes way beyond the treatment of women. She says there has been little change in general because the new government is similar to the old, more concerned about holding onto power than making life better for the poor. One drawing depicts the “new ruler” as a bull, fighting the military matador to get onto the king’s throne.

    Another shows the head of Mubarak severed from his body, but his suit plastered with the faces of many more Mubaraks.

    Eladl is also disappointed in U.S. policy. Like millions in the Arab world, she had high hopes when Obama was first elected. “We were so hopeful when Obama came to Cairo with his beautiful speech, but then we saw that he continued to support repressive regimes, including here in Egypt, and that his words were hollow.” That’s why she drew a cartoon of Obama surrounded by a huge empty speech bubble. Another sketch shows Qaddhafi’s army shooting at civilians, while a big arm of America reaches out to grab a giant barrel of oil. The caption says: “America lends a hand to Libyan revolutionaries.“ “I see the hypocrisy of U.S. policy, intervening in places like Iraq and Libya that have a lot of oil, but not in the case of Syria,” says Eladl.

    If Eladl is worried about the blasphemy case and the enemies she is making with her scornful brushstrokes, she doesn’t show it. “The extremists don’t scare me,” she insists. “Whatever they do, I will continue to use my skills to poke fun at them. They must understand that we Egyptians have changed with the revolution, and we will not go backwards."


  13. Egypt teen dies after female circumcision

    Statistics reveal poor families pose biggest hurdle to efforts to abolish practice

    By Ayman Sharaf, Special to Gulf News June 10, 2013

    Cairo: The death of a 13-year-old girl at a private clinic while undergoing a circumcision operation has once again highlighted that female genital mutilation continues to endanger lives in Egypt despite laws forbidding the practice.

    The family of the girl, identified as Soher, filed an official complaint, accusing the doctor who performed the operation of having caused her death.

    The girl died on Thursday evening in a village in the Daqahliya governorate, north-east of Cairo.

    Doctors and nurses in Egypt have been banned from performing procedures involving female genital mutilation (FGM) since 2007 following the death of two young girls after being subjected to such surgeries at public hospitals. The procedure was subsequently declared illegal in 2008.

    The ban notwithstanding, poorer families continue to put youngsters at grave risk. According to national statistics, around 80 per cent of girls born to poor families become victims of FGM, as against only 30 per cent of girls from wealthy, educated backgrounds.

    “We left our daughter with the doctor and the nurse. Fifteen minutes later, the nurse took my daughter out of the operation room to a nearby room, along with three other girls whom the doctor was circumcising,” Soher’s father, Mohammad Ebrahim, a farmer, told the Al Masry Al Youm newspaper.

    “I waited half an hour hoping that my daughter would wake up but, unfortunately, unlike the rest of the girls, she did not,” Ebrahim said.

    “The doctor brought her back to the operation room and then we were surprised when an ambulance transferred her out of the clinic. When we asked the doctor what was going on, he told us that she was weak and that the clinic did not have the necessary [medical] equipment to treat her. When we reached Aga Central Hospital, they told us she was dead. If I had known the operation was going to kill her, I would never have [allowed] her to have it. The same doctor conducted a similar operation on her elder sister two years ago, and villagers visit this doctor because he has a remedy for everything at low prices,” the distraught father said.

    “The doctor does everything and the nurse helps him. Doctors at the Aga Hospital told me that she died of an anaesthesia overdose,” the girl’s mother, Hasanat Naeem Fawzi, said.

    “I want nothing but to hold the doctor accountable and to have justice for my daughter,” Hasanat said.

    The girl’s uncle, Mohammad, said that the doctor had offered the family 20,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh10,299) in return for an assurance that they would not file a complaint against him.

    Tareq Hamouda, head of the Aga prosecution in Daqahliya, summoned the doctor for an interrogation and ordered that an autopsy be conducted on the girl to find the cause of death.

    Abdul Salam, the family’s lawyer, said that although most forensic doctors were on vacation, the prosecutor was able to call on one to conduct the autopsy. The health inspector’s report, he added, confirmed that the cause of death was a sharp drop in blood pressure resulting from shock trauma.

    Abdul Wahab Sulaiman, undersecretary of the Ministry of Health in Daqahlia, said that the Health Directorate had not yet been notified of the incident. He stressed that FGM is strictly prohibited and that the doctor had violated the law.

    — Ayman Sharaf is a journalist based in Cairo


  14. Fighting female genital mutilation in Africa

    More than 100 million girls have suffered genital 'cutting' to save family honour.

    Davinder Kumar, Aljazeera June, 16 2013

    Dakar, Senegal - Now in her 50s, Madina Bocoum Daff still cannot get over the agony and shame of her teenage years.

    Madina - barely into adolescence - was subjected to one of the most severe forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) - a practice long carried out in many African countries.

    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 required to go through the rite of passage before the onset of puberty.

    The practice involves "cutting" a girl's vagina to create a seal that narrows the opening, just wide enough to allow the passing of urine and menstrual blood. Infibulated girls often have their legs bound together for up to four weeks to allow the freshly fused tissue to heal.

    "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.

    On the International Day of the African Child, the suffering caused by female genital mutilation is under the spotlight with the controversial practice widely condemned by rights and health organisations.

    According to the World Health Organisation , there are about 140 million girls and women around the world currently living with the consequences of the practice. The majority of these females are in Africa, where it is routinely done in 28 countries.

    An estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone varying forms of genital mutilation in Africa. A study by child rights and development organisation Plan International in Mali in 2010 found more than half of all fathers and one-third of mothers wanted their girls excised.

    "I don't see any harm from this practice. It has been our tradition for centuries," Abdoul, a father of two young girls, told researchers.

    Dangerous operation

    For families it is a seal of guarantee that secures girls against any sexual encounter prior to marriage, and protects the family honour.

    For infibulated girls, mutilation does not end with the childhood operation. On the day of their wedding, brides undergo another painful surgery to reverse it. This involves cutting open the connecting tissue and restoring the vaginal opening to enable sexual intercourse with their husbands.

    "I cannot even explain the feeling of terror that runs through infibulated girls' minds thinking of marriage," says Madina.

    In most cases cutting is done by a traditional practitioner without any anaesthesia and little care for hygiene. Razors, knives or scissors are used and they are rarely sterilised. The surgery takes place wherever it is convenient - from out in the open to a bathroom floor.

    "It is only after completing this procedure an excised bride is considered 'free'. She usually has her first sexual experience the very same night after cutting," says Madina.

    In most places where it is practised, FGM is considered an essential part of raising a girl and preparing her for womanhood and marriage. With its direct link to beliefs about premarital virginity and marital fidelity, the social pressure to adhere to the practice is intense.

    Thousands of girls every year suffer health complications including severe vaginal pain, shock, bleeding and infection. Life-long consequences include infertility, childbirth complications and new-born deaths.

    continued in next comment...

  15. Recently 13-year-old Soheir al-Batea died in a clinic in Egypt when a doctor was performing the procedure. The girl's death has caused an uproar in the country where FGM is legally banned but still widely practised, affecting more than two-thirds of women there.

    From verbal threats and physical force, all kinds of methods are used to coerce unwilling girls into submission.

    "I will never forget that day. My mother woke me up very early in the morning and told me firmly to get ready for circumcision," says 13-year-old Ahlam, her surname withheld to protect her identity.

    "Immediately an old woman entered the room and got a razor out of her bag. My mother held my arms very tight so that I could not move. The woman used her razor to circumcise me. I cried loudly but nobody listened, the pain was unbearable. After all was done, my mom paid her some money and she left. A few hours later, I started to bleed."

    In countries such as Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Mali, Somalia and Guinea the practice is so rife that almost nine out of 10 girls undergo genital mutilation.

    Dreading the day

    Eleven-year-old Mariama is dreading the day she will have to go through her excision ritual. Her family fled the violence in northern Mali and moved to the capital Bamako a few months ago.

    As if the stress of displacement is not enough, Mariama says she is consumed by thoughts of the pain that awaits her. "My friend's sister from our neighbourhood died after her excision. I am very worried what will happen to me," she says.

    Religious leaders take varying positions on the issue, with some promoting it and others supporting its elimination.

    El Sheikh Saad is the sheikh of his village mosque in Egypt's Assiut province. A father of a seven-year-old girl, Sheikh Saad was not initially against female genital mutilation until he became informed about its health dangers, and after consulting religious scholars.

    "I was not convinced about the harms of this tradition," he says. "I brought the matter up before the local religious committee and they told me clearly that there was no religious basis of the practice."

    In many instances, female circumcision is performed on extremely young girls. In rural areas in Mali, for example, it is being done to girls under five. In some urban areas, the surgery is even conducted on new-born girls before they are 40 days old.

    The practice violates a number of fundamental rights outlined under international protocols. But despite that, only 19 of the 28 countries that practice FGM in Africa have national laws prohibiting it. And even where laws exist, prosecutions are rare.

    Despite many African countries signing up to international legal frameworks to protect children, traditional laws governing customary practices often override such treaties.

    After suffering through female genital mutilation herself, Madina now works with Plan International to eliminate it from her country, Mali. She says progress is being made.

    "Through community awareness and education, 44 villages in areas where we work have declared themselves FGM-free," Madina says.

    "Besides parents and elders, engaging with children and young people is a key part of our approach. Girls and boys are not only rights holders themselves, but also future parents who will play a crucial role in ending this generational scourge."


  16. Evidence Shows That Illegal Female Genital Cutting Is a Growing Phenomenon in US

    By Jodie Gummow, AlterNet June 21, 2013

    Female genital cutting (FGC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) and female circumcision, is an increasing international concern to human rights activists and feminists across the globe. An estimated 140 million girls have been subjected to the practice worldwide and it is still prevalent in at least 28 countries according to the World Health Organization Progress Report [3] in 2011.

    In Western culture, mere mention of FGM sends feminist activists up in arms, generating intense negative feelings and evoking discussion about sexism, brutality and gender-based violence. However, while FGM is mostly practiced in African and Middle Eastern countries and classified as an “off-shore problem,” many Americans are unaware of the cultural complexities embedded in the custom and the fact that it is happening right under our noses.

    According to a report [4] by the non-profit group Sanctuary for Families [5], the practice of FGC is on the rise in the United States. The study claims that up to 200,000 American girls and women are at risk of FGM whether at home or through what is known as "vacation cutting," in which young women in the U.S. are sent abroad to undergo the ritual.

    "People in the United States think that FGM only happens to people outside of the United States, but in all actuality, people here all over the country have been through FGM. Kids that were born in this country are taken back home every summer and undergo this procedure," a 23-year-old woman from Gambia stated in the report.

    The document claims that traditional practitioners are often secretly brought in from overseas to carry out the ritual on U.S. soil, where an entire group of girls may be cut in an afternoon.

    Such occurrences, according to Claudia De Palma of Sanctuary for Families, are the result of family pressure from the ancestral home as well as from community and regional leaders who wish to preserve the practice for generations that are now growing up in the United States.

    “We started to see that once it became illegal to conduct FGM in the United States in 1996, more and more families started sending children back home over school vacation, and it would happen there. Sometimes it was the intention of the trip to meet with grandparents—a coming of age—and sometimes it was not intended that it was going to happen, but once the girl arrived, it became clear that this was what the larger community had in mind,” she told AlterNet.

    It's difficult to estimate exactly how many girls have been exposed to the practice in the United States. The procedure is heavily under-reported and shrouded in secrecy by communities and family members who are aware of the legal ramifications of revealing that they have committed FGC. According to De Palma, anecdotal evidence suggests that the figures of those at risk of FGM in the United States are a lot higher than initially indicated.

    “Every year we see thousands of women who have experienced FGM or who are fearing the practice come in to see us. Some of the women we receive are community survivors, others have immigrated here based in part that they were forced to undergo FGM, and others have daughters who are U.S. citizens and are terrified their daughters will be subject to vacation cutting,” she said.

    The report provides a number of case studies of victim statements, such as a 17-year-old girl who was sent from the U.S. to Angola and told she was being prepared for circumcision in order to become a woman so her husband would respect her. The girl didn’t know what the procedure involved, and could only conclude from her family’s reassurance that this was the best thing for her.

    A 25-year-old woman from Ivory Coast was threatened by her parents to be sent to Africa to undergo FGM. ...

  17. Having moved to the United States at 13, and knowing full well the effects of FGM, she did not want to comply. However, because she was an undocumented alien, she was afraid to report the threats and her counselor failed to intervene on her behalf, as he viewed the issue a cultural problem.

    Human rights activists and feminists view such examples of FGC as mutilation, a barbaric practice that violates women’s fundamental human rights—a position that is backed by international treaties, medical documentation and United Nations resolution [6]. However, at the other end of the spectrum are hundreds of thousands of women who see such objections to FGC as ethnocentric and racist [7] and wish to honor the custom, which has been passed down through generations.

    In many cultures, it is inconceivable to think that a woman has not undergone some sort of cutting, with many women not considered “fully female” and ostracized by their communities for failing to undergo the procedure. The practice is said to pre-date religion and is linked to femininity, honor, social status and marriageability.

    Cultural relativism plays an important role, as those who disagree with the ideology that FGC constitutes a human rights violation advocate for the right to cultural self-determination [8]. While cultural relativism has shifted over time as human rights arguments gain momentum, there are a number of groups that view the international response as one-sided and ignorant of the culture complexities that underlie the practice.

    The term FGC has been chosen over FGM by a number of organizations, such as Sauti Yetu [9], a community center for African women and families in New York. They believe it better reflects the fact that over the last decade in communications with women in the community, “mutilation” is not always the intent of the practice and thus does not apply to all cases. Their website [9] deemed it inappropriate to label all women as mutilated, when each woman should have the right to determine the terminology which best describes their own personal experience.

    Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu, director of the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic [10] in Arizona, agrees. In her experience treating immigrant patients and providing medical care to women who have undergone FGC, she found that many women actually embraced their scars after being cut and in some cases requested recutting after the scar had been opened, viewing the scar as a representation of their womanhood.

    “Some women are opposed to the practice, while others view it with pride and honor. There are women who consider it part of their beauty and want to protect the practice, and other opinions that fall in between,” she told AlterNet.

    Johnson-Agbakwu explained that there is a public policy debate over what we label "genital modification" in the United States. While FGC among African communities is considered a human rights violation, vaginal rejuvenation among American adult woman is viewed as a personal cosmetic choice.

    “How is it that a white woman in Beverly Hills is able to have her clitoris reduced for aesthetic reasons, yet an adult women who seeks to modify her genitals for cultural reasons is considered mutilated,” she said.

    When it was pointed out that the majority of girls undergoing FGC procedures are 10 to 15 years old and thus not voluntary electing to have their genitals cut, Dr. Johnson-Agbakwu was quick to distinguish such a situation described above in which an adult woman makes an informed choice about her body, from the plight of an under-aged girl who is incapable of consenting and has the procedure forced upon her against her will.

    “From a human rights perspective, subjecting minors to cutting should not be allowed for either girls and boys, period. I don’t distinguish between the sexes,” she said.

    Fuambai Ahmadu [11], a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago offered similar insight, although her own story is unique. ...

  18. After growing up in the United States, she returned home to Sierra Leone at the age of 21 to willingly undergo FGC in an initiation ceremony.

    “My experience is rare," she told AlterNet. "My parents were African immigrants and interested in preserving our culture and traditions whilst providing me with an education in the United States. When I returned to Sierra Leone, I was greeted by a supportive, embracing feminist society of women in my community. The practice was celebrated and girls were pampered and spoiled prior to the cutting. It was an opportunity for me to join a larger movement and I wanted to go through this experience because of the notion of empowerment.“

    When asked her opinion on the consent issue, Ahmadu said, "Why do African girls have to give consent, when males circumcised at birth do not? Why are we singling out and stigmatizing African girls? I have a problem with the fact that we are treating these girls differently in a negative way. As a result, these girls are internalizing this negativity and believing that they are inadequate whereas once before, this procedure marked their sexuality and empowered them sexually. The standard of consent should be applied equally across the board and not just to Africans."

    Ahmadu’s perspective rarely rears its head in human rights discussions, as we generally only hear about girls who are subjected to FGC against their wishes or who suffer irreparable harm. Her story highlights the need for more empirical data specific to particular ethnic groups and regions in order to obtain a better understanding of the procedure and more accurate representation of the groups exposed to FGC.

    Still, the severe physical pain some young girls experience while undergoing FGC, specifically when enduring Type III FGC, cannot be denied. This category, called infibulation, involves the removal of all the external female genitalia and the sealing or narrowing of the vaginal opening, with a small hole left for urination and menstruation. Often performed with glass or razor blades in extreme cases, many women experience acute physical, sexual and psychological complications as a result.

    So how do we protect girls in the U.S. and abroad who may be at risk of a similar fate? In January 2013, President Obama introduced legislation criminalizing the transport of girls abroad [12] to undergo FGM, which finally brought the United States in line with international standards to end the practice. However, U.S. policy has focused largely on prohibitive legislation rather than enforcement, with no prosecutions under federal laws and only one criminal case under state law [13].

    Perhaps the answer lies in working with local community groups that have a clearer understanding of the cultural complexities and are better equipped to challenge questionable FGC practices by engaging with women affected by the practice. Such efforts would assist in working toward the protection of human rights for women and girls both in our own country and abroad.

    [3] http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2011/WHO_RHR_11.18_eng.pdf
    [4] http://sanctuaryforfamilies.org/storage/sanctuary/documents/report_onfgm_w_cover.pdf
    [5] http://www.sanctuaryforfamilies.org/index.php
    [6] http://www.unwomen.org/2012/12/united-nations-bans-female-genital-mutilation/
    [7] http://www.rwjf.org/en/about-rwjf/newsroom/newsroom-content/2012/05/grantee-triumphs-over-culture-and-politics-to-care-for-women.html
    [8] http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/key-issues/fgm/human-rights
    [9] http://www.sautiyetu.org/issues-female-genital-cutting
    [10] http://www.mihs.org/services-and-programs/refugee-womens-health-clinic
    [11] http://www.fuambaisiaahmadu.com/
    [12] http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr4310enr/pdf/BILLS-112hr4310enr.pdf
    [13] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julia-lallamaharajh/female-genital-mutilation_b_498529.html


  19. The UKs Female Genital Mutilation Hotline goes live today

    A Million Gods (blog) June 24, 2013

    It is estimated that roughly 70 women a month are brought in with complications with regards to the practice. Most of these are young children.

    The UK police are treating the practice as child abuse and a special help line to ask both about legal advice and to seek help if you have or know someone who is at risk or has been subject to this practice.

    This practice cannot and should not be disguised as being part of any culture; it is child abuse and offenders will be relentlessly pursued. It is not acceptable in the UK and in the UK we jail child abusers.

    Now I understand the MRA will show up saying “what about boys and circumcision” to which I will point out that Circumcision is not done as routinely in the UK as it is in the USA. And secondly the effect of male circumcision is less traumatic than female circumcision and the rates of practice are falling. The major stumbling block to that is “Religious Belief”. Now there are medically related reasons for male circumcision, but the fact of the matter is that the practice of female circumcision is ENTIRELY aesthetical and forced on young girls for no real reason often using the notion that uncircumcised women are unclean or sluts or are prone to disease. These are not analagous topics.

    Derailing this conversation to talk about male circumcision makes you part of the FGM problem.

    Many of the girls who have this done do not realise the true nature of the procedure, do so in unhygenic conditions with untrained practitioners of traditional medicine and above all are not aware of the illegality.

    What this means? Doctors now have a definite solid protocol of who to go to and what to do in cases of FGM. If it is to be categorised and treated as child abuse it will neatly fit into existing infrastructure to protect these children (where possible) and help doctors engage parents and educate about this practice.

    The number of the free 24-hour anonymous, helpline is 0800 028 3550; the dedicated email address is fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk


  20. High hopes: the UFO cult 'restoring' the victims of female genital mutilation

    Victims of FGM are only offered surgery to reduce their pain. But a cult is supporting a few surgeons as they attempt to restore sexual sensation. Joanna Walters reports on the controversial procedure

    by Joanna Walters, The Observer, August 25, 2013

    A nondescript suburb on the outskirts of San Francisco. A plain brick building. Seven nervous women wait in the sunlight. They are here for surgery, which perhaps has as much claim as any other to describe itself as "miraculous".

    The little building doesn't shout its purpose, for many reasons. First, this surgery is about female sexuality. Secondly, it is contrary to the beliefs and traditions of millions of families worldwide – brutal beliefs and traditions. And then there's the delightful surreality of the pair behind the procedure: the tall, blonde female surgeon – one of the best in the US – who happens to have been born male, and the cheerful French counsellor who follows the bizarre 1970s Raëlian sect that believes humans were created by extra-terrestrials for the purpose of unalloyed joy.

    Soon afterwards one of the first patients, Zaria, 24, is under anaesthetic. "This one's pretty bad," says the surgeon, glancing at me from the stool where she sits between the legs of her patients, scalpel poised.

    When I'd met Zaria, just before her operation, I was struck by the energy of this funny, feisty, beautiful young medical student with a tattoo and bundles of raven hair. Now, by her invitation, I am looking at her genitals over the surgeon's shoulder and trying not to cry.

    Zaria looks more like a doll than a real woman. Her genitals are featureless, completely smooth apart from the opening. Barbie might actually be more anatomically correct.

    The surgeon lifts her scalpel and begins carefully slicing away at the flat skin surface; basically a thick layer of scar tissue. It is the second time in Zaria's life that someone has taken a knife to her most intimate parts. The first was when she was 11 in Sierra Leone, and that time there was no anaesthetic.

    Relatives had taken her into the countryside under the ruse of a day-trip to pick oranges. Once there she was lined up with 20 other girls and forced to the ground by a cluster of older women. Her labia and clitoris were sliced off in a ritual once called female circumcision but now known more accurately as Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM.

    "I remember I struggled and I was yelling so loudly that one of the women actually sat on my head and practically suffocated me while they cut me," Zaria told her fellow FGM victims as they swapped stories before their operations.

    According to the World Health Organisation more than 140 million women worldwide live with the effects of FGM, which is most commonly practised in northeast and west Africa, but also in places such as Yemen and Indonesia. But an infinitesimal fraction, almost exclusively those who emigrated to the west, are now finding their way to an emerging handful of surgeons who offer a radical attempt at rehabilitation.

    This surgery doesn't just make intercourse and childbirth easier. Controversially, it also aims to give the women the capacity to feel sexual pleasure – most for the very first time – by rehabilitating the clitoris.

    continued below

  21. Zaria has travelled to California from her home on the east coast of America, where she moved from west Africa as a teenager. The wounds from Zaria's cuts healed long ago, but in the process have formed a layer of thick scar tissue that has left her genitals numb to the touch.

    "My fiancé left me two months ago because I don't want sex," she'd told me when she first arrived at the clinic, her sad and bewildered tone mixed with a note of defiance. "I did start having sex with him, but I don't feel anything and I don't care for it. He's from Sierra Leone, too, so he understands about FGM and was supportive at first, but in the end he went off with another African girl who hadn't gone through it and wasn't inhibited like me," she had said.

    While some of Zaria's relatives dealt with her heartbreak by telling her she should just "get on with it" and have sex out of obedience, Zaria had what she describes as a "lightbulb moment" and began searching the internet.

    In just seconds she had come across an alternative solution. Next thing, she had taken out a loan, which she has "no idea" how she'll pay back, jumped on a plane and found herself in this plain brick building.

    Once at the clinic, she and the other patients (including one who had flown from Australia, who had been "cut" when living in Kenya as a young girl and who had hugged Zaria as she first told her story) were greeted by the two women who were instrumental in encouraging them to break their bonds of cultural taboo. They are an intriguing pair.

    One is the surgeon, Dr Marci Bowers, who normally specialises in sex-change surgery, and indeed herself was born male before she transitioned. There's a 14-month waiting list for her $21,000 gender reassignment surgery, but twice a year she clears her diary to operate pro bono on FGM victims – although they must pay a $1,700 fee to the clinic, near San Francisco airport, where Bowers rents an operating theatre.

    So far she's operated on 50 such women.

    The other is Nadine Gary, a Frenchwoman who lives in Las Vegas. A schoolteacher, she was inspired to help FGM victims by her following of the outré Raëlian sect. Founded by Claude Vorilhon ("Raël"), who spouts absurd claims about being taken up in an alien spaceship to meet Moses, Jesus and Buddha, it professes that humans – and all living things on Earth – were created by extra terrestrials using genetic engineering. Followers strive to campaign for world peace, sharing and nonviolence, but also unfettered sexual joy, which is what drives their movement against FGM. They were most recently in the news for offending people with their use of the swastika, often set inside the Star of David.

    When I meet her, Gary is wearing this scandalous combination on a gold necklace and, noting my alarm, explains at length why it symbolises infinity for Raëlians and employs the swastika in the ancient eastern sense of sacred goodness "before Hitler hijacked it". I waver between dismay and bemusement.

    She comes across as a paradox: an unambiguously dynamic, charming, kind and generous person in all our conversations who, until she starts talking about UFOs, seems rational. I deal with the discomfort by listening politely, but then turning back to the practical and political implications of the charity she helps run, provocatively called Clitoraid. Formed by the Raëlians, it campaigns for the end of FGM and, meanwhile, promotes the surgery to victims and offers free long-term emotional and sexual counselling.

    Gary has driven across from Vegas to support the women, many of whom have not told their families about their journey. The atmosphere in the clinic is more than a little surreal. There is much nervous laughter.

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  22. On the operating table, however, everything is clinically methodical. After stripping off old scar tissue, Bowers makes deeper incisions to disconnect small ligaments around the area where Zaria's clitoris was before it was removed. At the stroke of the scalpel, a prominent nub of raw pink flesh practically pops up, suddenly protruding from the tissue surrounding it.

    "There! That's her womanhood right there," Bowers declares triumphantly. She pauses for effect. "It's like a magnificent tower in the forest." What's barely understood, Bowers explains, is that when the clitoris is cut off in FGM, it's like losing just the visible "tip of the iceberg".

    "The clitoris is much larger than previously advertised. Even after they cut off the tip, about 99% of the clitoris is actually still intact, but hidden beneath the surface. We can access that." Apparently women possess another eight inches of unseen clitoral erectile tissue that lies under the skin, arching around the vagina. "Two inches longer than the average penis," says Bowers, archly.

    By removing the obstructive and often painful scarring and exposing some of that remaining erectile tissue, then stitching it finely into place, she asserts that after about two months of healing it can function as a new clitoris, restoring the potential for pleasurable sex.

    After that procedure, known as clitoroplasty, Bowers then stitches some side folds of spare skin near the vagina to give Zaria the token appearance of labia minora. It can never be her natural perfection, Bowers warns. But even to my non-medical eye, I can see that this travesty, this sub-Barbie, has been transformed into a fair simulacrum of what Zaria had been born with. And, luckily, she has not suffered the infibulation ritual that stitches the vagina partially shut.

    After 55 minutes she is wheeled out of surgery and the next patient, Sara, 29, is wheeled in. Sara was cut in Eritrea, East Africa, at the age of just three months and it was more a symbolic slash than a mutilation. But the manner in which her scar tissue formed fused a section of the labia, restricting the vagina and clitoris. Now living on the west coast of America, Sara suffers pain, not only if her boyfriend attempts to touch her there, but even when doing exercise, such as yoga. In just 12 minutes of delicate scalpel work, Bowers removes a lifetime of discomfort for Sara.

    Between sessions, Bowers checks her emails, gulps a coffee and chats with the nurses in an ante room. She's exasperated that more surgeons aren't training and research hospitals aren't adopting this operation, describing progress in the field as "glacial".

    Compared with the delicate gynaecological, urological and plastic surgery she uses for five-hour gender-reassignment operations, FGM-restorations are a doddle.

    "Clitoroplasty isn't rocket science. If I wanted to be controversial I'd say that the three reasons why more surgeons don't train for it are that these patients are African, Islamic and female. There's a cultural bias or indifference there, combined with good old racism and sexism in a traditionally paternalistic medical profession.

    "There may be some legitimate fear about interfering with other people's cultures, but when you talk to the husbands and boyfriends of the women they're not happy that their wives and girlfriends cannot respond sexually – and that's even without going into the misery that the women suffer," says Bowers.

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  23. There is, as you might imagine, disagreement in the medical world about the effectiveness of the surgery. The pioneer of FGM repair surgery is Dr Pierre Foldès in Paris, who began offering the clitoroplasty two decades ago and has operated on almost 3,000 women. He has trained Bowers, 10 more surgeons in France and one in Barcelona, and another doctor who has started offering the surgery in upstate New York. (The reason, incidentally, why there are so many French trainees is that clitoroplasty is paid for by the state as corrective surgery, not only to increase the chance of sexual pleasure, or at least reduce the chance of sexual pain but, crucially, to make women feel normal again; the French see this as a human right.) Just one surgeon in Britain, Dr Kamal Iskander, based at Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex, is known to perform the occasional clitoroplasty on a patient but, he explains, only if he's already operating on them for more extensive post-FGM problems, such as chronic pain or infibulation.

    There are an estimated quarter of a million women in the US who have suffered FGM or are at risk of it. In Britain there are an estimated 66,000 victims, largely among the African diaspora, and a further 20,000 of their children are believed to be at risk, mostly of being taken abroad for the ritual, even though this is illegal.

    An article in the Lancet by Foldès in June last year stated that of those who attended a one-year surgical follow-up consultation (admittedly only 29% of his patients), more than half were now having orgasms and almost 98% felt clitoral pleasure. But leading British doctors Sarah Creighton, consultant gynaecologist at the private Portland Hospital,Susan Bewley, consultant obstetrician at St Thomas's and Lih-Mei Liao, clinical psychologist in women's health at University College Hospital then wrote to the journal countering that his clitoral restoration claims were "anatomically impossible".

    Their letter went on to say that his results were not "supported by current evidence" and "where the body of the clitoris has been removed, the neurovascular bundle cannot be preserved". Outraged, Bowers described the letter as "sneering", citing patients who ring her up crying with happiness after their first ever orgasm.

    Efua Dorkenoo, who leads the campaign against FGM at the women's anti-violence pressure group Equality Now in London, called on the World Health Organisation to initiate clinical trials on the surgery urgently. She said there was such a lack of information, she could not dismiss either side's arguments.

    Bowers tells FGM patients that "there are no guarantees" but that eight out of 10 report improvements in their sex life after her surgery, ranging from eliminating pain and acquiring some pleasure to full-on orgasm.

    Gary organises a pre-surgery workshop about the mental transition needed from lingering trauma to embracing sensuality, and sends them all home with a vibrator. Once they've healed she sends them literature on discovering masturbation, and Gary and Bowers give all the patients their phone numbers and email. "The physical surgery is just one step of the journey. Many religions repress women's sexuality – we break the taboo. A woman's body is connected to her self esteem – we explain to the patients the many different things that happen when a woman feels pleasure, and that it's natural," Gary says.

    Miriama, 30, who was born in Guinea but now lives in the US, had the surgery with Bowers three years ago and says it's changed her marriage. "Sex with my husband is fun now; it was just a duty before. I haven't reached the orgasm part yet, but I'm working on it."

    Travelling to Bowers's clinic had been a huge step. "When I told a cousin what I was getting done she called me a slut," Miriama recalls.

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  24. She has a daughter, who is eight, but Miriama refuses to take her to visit her mother, who still lives in Africa and has never met her granddaughter, in case the child is snatched and taken to be cut, as Miriama's mother did to her.

    Natasha, 35, who also moved to the US from Guinea, had the first orgasm of her life three months after her 2010 surgery with Bowers, using the vibrator Gary gave her. "I'd never felt anything like it before; these waves of excitement came over me and I lost control – it's very intense, quite amazing."

    She now has regular orgasms and in case doubters think they're imagined in a misplaced eagerness to be convinced that the surgery worked, she points out that she climaxes in her restored clitoris despite what's in her head, not because of it – "I was surprised that I actually felt a little bit ashamed, I felt guilty that I was doing something selfish and dirty."

    The social conditioning of her upbringing is hard to shake. Her husband is making efforts to reassure her, she said, and she also turns to Gary for support. "I can talk to Nadine freely. She feels like a big sister." Natasha and the other women say that Gary talks of the Raëlian philosophy of sexual freedom, but absolutely deny that the treatment has been used as an attempt to convert them to the outlandish religion.

    When I question Gary further on her beliefs, she explains that the aliens who created humans are called "Elohim", which is generally taken as Hebrew for god or gods but which, to the Raëlians, means "those who came from the sky".

    "The Bible is essentially an atheist book," she tells me earnestly. "There is no God." Gary says this set of beliefs seemed more "mature" to her when she converted at 17 from the Catholicism that surrounded her when growing up near Lyon. She is now, she adds, a Raëlian priestess.

    I turn to Bowers, who shrugs. "The Raëlians are very unabashed about their sexuality and unapologetic about erotic pleasure, but it's a red herring in terms of my work. It doesn't affect the price of bread," she says.

    "But they do deserve credit for promoting women's sexual health and Nadine has got me talking much more frankly about sexual matters with my patients."

    Bowers was supposed to be travelling to the small west African state of Burkina Faso in October to celebrate Clitoraid opening a hospital there. When it happens, it will be Africa's first clinic specifically for performing FGM-restoration surgery, including clitoroplasty – a highly symbolic act at the heart of a region where the ritual is prevalent.

    Clitoraid says local medical staff and surgeons will be trained to work there and that several hundred local women have already broken the taboo to sign up for operations. Critical voices have accused

    Clitoraid of neocolonialism, and of using the hospital as a fundraising tool. Gary fires back that their motive is purely humanitarianism. Yet the opening, which has been delayed several times, has just been put back to next year.

    Campaigners hope FGM will be phased out within a generation, to join Chinese foot-binding as a horror of history. "The idea of reducing women's sexual pleasure with FGM so they can be controlled is falling apart because men are having sex outside their communities and seeing the difference, and it's creating problems within relationships, here but also in Africa," says Efua Dorkenoo, of Equality Now.

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  25. The day after her surgery in San Mateo, Sara is tired but ecstatic. Most of the women are dotted around in various cheap hotels near the clinic, recovering, but Sara is collected by her boyfriend, who lives nearby. "I feel free. I'd felt so unheard and my whole life had felt like there was something missing. Now the anger I've had for years has gone," she says.

    Her boyfriend Jack, who was born in Eritrea, puts up with the fact that they've been together for three years but don't have sex. "I'm not going to rush. I love her and she is my good match," he says in a soft accent, smiling shyly. "I'm very glad she got the surgery – for her. It's necessary for her to feel like a full woman."

    Another of the women Bowers has just operated on, Ayanna, 23, a marketing assistant from the Pacific northwest who fled the civil war in Somalia, is in a quandary after her clitoroplasty, for she is not in love with her current boyfriend.

    "I told him I was coming for the surgery and the way he was talking I'm worried he's going to expect me to be an instant sex machine," she says.

    Ayanna lied to her conservative mother that she was visiting friends in San Francisco, then sneaked off to Bowers's clinic with her best friend Emma for support. Emma's parents are from Ethiopia, but she was born in America and was never cut. The two exude such an all-American youthful mischief it's hard to believe Ayanna was once steeped in a very different tradition. They banter about boozy parties and dating. They order room service while giggling in their dressing gowns. Ayanna shows off the scrapes on her leg from a skateboarding escapade the previous week.

    But then she is suddenly solemn.

    "My friends and I will all be in a nightclub having a crazy time, but while they are getting guys' numbers, I hang back," she says. "Technically there's no reason why, just because I'm cut down there, I couldn't feel sexy when a guy is kissing me or touching my breasts. But my mind leaps to what that leads to next and then I shut down," she says.

    She has high hopes of a fulfilling sex life now that she's had surgery, but still has years of negative mind games to overcome.

    Zaria feels the same and is not in a hurry to find a new man. She turns her eyes to the endless blue sky and lets the sun warm her between takes for the Observer's photo- grapher, 24 hours after the surgery.
    Chattering nonstop, she's on a mental roller coaster – wanting to be the "face of Clitoraid" one minute, worrying about repercussions from her family the next. Excited about the notion of erotic pleasure, and equally scared. Weeping, laughing.

    She finally pauses for breath. "I didn't do this to get back at my ex-fiancé, or get him back. This isn't about him or my family any more. It's all about me," she says.

    Some names have been changed


  26. Female genital mutilation: Mothers need to say no

    Faduma Ali, 86, still remembers the pain of being circumcised at eight. Horrific as it was, she allowed her own daughters to go through the same ordeal. But when it came to her granddaughters, she decided to step in and stop it

    by Homa Khaleeli The Guardian September 7, 2013

    "As a little girl I would go looking for the cutters and ask them when it was my turn," Faduma Ali says. "I thought it was exciting. I wish I had known then what I know now."

    It's almost eight decades since Faduma underwent female genital mutilation (FGM), sometimes known as female circumcision, in Somalia. Today, sitting in her daughter's lounge in north London, she says it has left her with a lifetime of pain and medical problems. Yet despite her own agony she felt powerless to resist the societal pressure driving the tradition, and insisted her own daughters have it done too.

    But when her granddaughters faced the same fate, she knew something had to change. And as an older woman, her voice carried more weight. Faduma told her daughter not to let her granddaughters be cut. "Women can eradicate this," she says. "Mothers are responsible for refusing the practice."

    Campaigners say that a tangled mix of family pressure, cultural traditions and religious motivations make FGM – illegal for almost 30 years in the UK – hard to eradicate. It has been documented in 28 countries in Africa and in a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. The practice involves removing all or part of the external female genitalia (including the clitoris, labia minora and labia majora – and in some cases the narrowing of the vagina), and is usually carried out before the age of 15. As well as the risk of bleeding to death or infection, a terrifying array of physical and psychological problems can follow.

    Today 30,000 girls in the UK are said to be at risk of this form of mutilation, while 66,000 live with the consequences of it. Yet no one has ever been prosecuted for carrying out or abetting the practice (which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years).

    This, say campaigners, is because children are unwilling to speak out against their families and communities and that is why Faduma, along with her daughter, Lul Musse, and granddaughter, Samira Hashi, have agreed to explain how – even in a loving and close-knit family such as theirs – such a custom can be perpetuated.

    Samira, 22, is translating for her grandmother, who explains that growing up in the suburbs of Galkayo, a city in south Somalia, being "cut" was not just something she looked forward to, but insisted upon. "Everyone had it done," says Faduma, 86. "If you didn't, you were shunned. I saw it as something exciting."

    She was under no illusions about how painful it could be, however. "I saw it being carried out – most girls would try and run away. But it was part of our way of life. My grandmother and mother had had it done, so it seemed natural."

    Faduma's father, who was in the Somali military, was not convinced. "He had a city attitude because of his travels," says Faduma. He told her grandmother, with whom Faduma lived, that she was not to be cut. But Faduma convinced her grandmother to take her while he was away.

    The cutter had no medical qualifications and performed the operation in the open air, without sterilisation or pain relief. Faduma was eight.

    "There were four of us," Faduma recalls. "But because I was the bravest I was told to go first.

    "My grandmother and the other girls' mothers held me down and the woman cut me with a knife. It's like someone is cutting your finger off without pain relief. My blood was shooting into her face and eyes."

    Next, the wound and her vagina were sewn up, leaving her a hole the size of a match head through which to pass urine and menstrual blood. With no medical equipment, three thorns were used in place of stitches.

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  27. Yet her ordeal was far from over.

    "They gave you milk and waited to see if you could urinate," she recalls. "If not, they cut you open a little more. For two weeks it is agony."

    Afterwards, she says, she boasted to her friends she had been cut, but never realised it would have such severe complications. "The minute you have it done you have problems," she says. "When you have your period, it is very painful and when you have children it is very painful."

    Female genital mutilation, says Faduma, was intended to guarantee virginity before marriage by ensuring sex would be frightening and painful for girls. Giving birth, however, was nothing short of torture. Faduma had 10 children, but her first labour lasted five days with midwives forced to "cut me everywhere" to get the baby out.

    Yet when her daughters turned seven, Faduma could not shun the custom. "Without it, my daughters would not have been allowed to marry," she says. "There was not a girl in sight who hadn't had it done."

    Now 52, Lul agrees: "You couldn't go to school without it, or people would laugh at you," she recalls. Her operation was in a hospital under anaesthetic, aged seven. "I tried to run from the operating table, but my mum and her friend held me down."

    The operation, she says, had a devastating effect on her life and affected her marriage. "When you have sex it is very painful and you don't feel any pleasure. You will never enjoy sex."

    Giving birth was excruciating and complicated for Lul. Yet, amazingly, this did not affect her decision to have her own daughters cut. But her mother stepped in. "I was sick of it," Faduma says, firmly. "Times had changed. Women were freer and had more power."

    She told her daughter not to do it. Yet Lul says she would have rebelled had they stayed in Somalia. "I would have done it even though my mother said no. All men wanted circumcision. If your daughters weren't cut they would say they are like hookers."

    She believes it is up to men to take a stand. "This has to be a man's campaign. Until men say stop, that this is not part of our religion and not part of our culture, it will still go on."

    For Samira, the very idea of this kind of mutilation is incomprehensible. Brought up in London, she was working as a model when she was approached by BBC3 to present a documentary about Somalia. Visiting the war-torn country, she met women who planned to have their daughters cut and saw a six-year-old girl who had been recently subjected to FGM. "I just didn't understand how a mother who had gone through this pain could have it done to her children. I don't blame the women, I blame the society that doesn't stop it."

    Since the film came out last year, Samira has been touring schools with Save the Children to highlight issues facing Somalia. "One thing I have learned is that while people may say we are moving on, it still continues."

    Although Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities carry out FGM, mainstream spiritual leaders from all three religions have denied that the practice stems from religion. Samira believes the desire to control women's sexuality lies behind it.

    "I think women here are scared their daughters will become too westernised and not get married – that they will have boyfriends and go out, and this is why they have it done."

    Yet the subject, she says, is rarely discussed. "I go into schools with a high number of Somali girls, and they always seem shocked that it is part of our history and culture. We need women to talk about their experiences, men to talk about their marital experiences, clerics to explain it is not linked to religion and doctors to talk about the problems it causes. Then things will change – when we discuss what FGM is really doing."


  28. FGM: Its like neutering animals – the film that is changing Kurdistan

    A film made over 10 years with the stories of girls and women affected by female genital mutilation is tackling a taboo subject

    by Maggie O'Kane and Patrick Farrelly, The Guardian October 24, 2013

    A young girl is given a plastic bag of sweets and a bottle of lemonade after being genitally mutilated … the story of the 10-year fight against female genital mutilation by two film-makers has been made into a hour long documentary by the Guardian and BBC Arabic and will go out across the Arab world from Friday, reaching a combined global audience of 30 million viewers. This is the Guardian's shorter web version of that film

    It started out as a film about a practice that has afflicted tens of millions of women worldwide. It culminated in a change in the law.

    Ten years after they embarked on a documentary to investigate the extent of female genital mutilation in Kurdistan, two film-makers have found their work changing more than just opinions in a fiercely conservative part of the world. Partly as a result of the film, the numbers of girls being genitally mutilated in the villages and towns of Iraqi Kurdistan has fallen by more than half in the last five years.

    Shara Amin and Nabaz Ahmed spent 10 years on the roads of Kurdistan speaking to women and men about the impact of female genital mutilation (FGM) on their lives, their children and their marriages. "It took a lot of time to convince them to speak to us. This was a very taboo subject. Speaking about it on camera was a very brave thing to do.

    "It took us weeks, sometimes months to get them to talk and in the end it was the women that spoke out – despite the men," said Ahmed.

    The result was a 50-minute film, A Handful of Ash. When it was shown in the Kurdish parliament, it had a profound effect on the lawmakers.

    The film-makers' work began in 2003, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The stories they were told had a numbing consistency. In one scene in the documentary a young mother with her children sitting beside her tells Shara that in their village: "They would just grab the little girls, take them and cut them, and the girls came back home. I can still remember I was sick, infected for three months. I could barely walk after I was cut."

    A mullah tells the film-makers that "Khatana [the Kurdish term for FGM] is a duty; it is spiritually pure." That is the position of the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam that is practised by Iraqi Kurds. It is the same branch of Islamic law that predominates in Egypt, where studies show that up to 80% of women have been mutilated. But FGM is not just confined to some Muslim countries in the Middle East – it is also widespread in parts of Africa and Indonesian. It pre-dates Islam or Christianity and is on record since the time of the Pharaoh.

    "It is about controlling women's sexuality and keeping them under control," said Nadya Khalife, from Human Rights Watch.

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  29. There are an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide living with the effects of FGM, the World Health Organisation estimates.

    "There were a lot of kids in the room," one 18-year-old woman told the film-makers. "My mother and sister took hold of me. They were taking off my trousers and separating my legs. I screamed 'What are you doing to me?' My mother said 'nothing dear, just a little pain'. They put me on the ground and the pain started between my thighs. Everything turned dark. When they wanted to raise me to my feet, I couldn't stand. My thighs were covered in blood."

    Another woman took them to her sister's grave. "One of my sisters got an infection and died. She was cut with a dirty blade. She had an infection for two days so we took her to a doctor. He couldn't treat her and she died. She is buried here."

    "It's not something that families discuss. It's just something that is done, and is forgotten about," said Khalife. "Countless generations of girls were sentenced to lives lacking in sexual pleasure or fulfilment and cheerless marriages."

    One Kurdish couple encountered by Amin and Ahmed illustrated this underlying sadness with extraordinary, raw honesty.

    Hawa, a seamstress, and Erat, a farmer, have been married for 10 years and have three children. Hawa said she and her three sisters were mutilated at her grandmother's insistence.

    "My two sisters and I, three of us, we all had khatana [cutting]. Believe me, my mother did not care about the practice, never insisted. But my grandma insisted. She would always say food and water served by their hands would be haram [impure] if the girls were not cut."

    Asked about the extent of her mutilation, she said: "My husband always says 'nothing is left of you'."

    Hawa's husband said FGM had destroyed his marriage. "I was not aware of this when I married her. If I had known, I swear to God even if they paid me $10,000 I would not have married her. Because it is a problem for me.

    "This circumcision is similar to neutering animals," he said. "It's a major problem. There is no sensation. It feels like lying next to a cold fish."

    Piroza, now 15, recalled what was done to her when she was five. "They said: 'Come here, we brought beads for you.' They took me into a room. There was an old woman. There was a razor and ash, and they cut me."

    The film-makers found that when they first started the project they were visiting villages where every one of the girls had been mutilated. The Iraqi Kurdish government denied that it was widespread but the film-makers' testimonies found otherwise. In many cases, all the women in a village had been mutilated – usually between the ages of five and nine. Most alarmingly, the fall of Saddam Hussein had led to a resurgence of the practice – FGM was seen as a mark of national cultural independence for the Kurds.

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  30. The film-makers, both in their 30s and ardent campaigners against the practice, joined forces with Wadi, a small German-Iraqi non-governmental organisation dedicated to eliminating FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan, and took their campaign film to parliament. They were invited in but only female politicians turned up to the viewing. Nevertheless, the showing sparked a campaign by the Kurdish parliamentary women's committee to outlaw FGM.

    It took three years and it was not until Human Rights Watch published a devastating report into the scale of FGM in Kurdistan, and pressure was applied on the Kurdish government from Brussels, that the law was implemented in 2011.

    It then sparked a debate with the Muslim clergy. A key turning point was when a leading Kurdish cleric, Mullah Omar, told a conference organised by Human Rights Watch: "Female circumcision is an injustice. It is a crime against women." A fatwa, or edict, was declared against it and word began to filter down to the villages.

    One midwife who practised FGM for 20 years, Pura Sewa, said: "We have been advised not to practice mutilation and we have obeyed that. They said not to mutilate or you will be taken to jail. They took away my licence and I stopped. But if they hadn't taken it away, I would still be performing khatana for Islam."

    Female genital mutilation – the facts:

    • Female genital mutilation (FGM) is carried out in 29 countries, according to the World Health Organisation. Although prevalent in many Muslim countries in the Middle East, it is also widespread in Africa and Indonesia.

    • Some 140 million girls and women globally currently live with the consequences of FGM, according to the WHO.

    • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and the age of 15.

    • More than 18% of all FGM is performed by medical professionals – and this trend is increasing.

    • FGM varies from the the cutting the clitoris in some countries, such as Kurdistan, to removing all the external genitalia.

    • More than 66,000 women and girls living in Britain have undergone FGM, according to the NHS, but there has not been a successful UK prosecution since it was criminalised 28 years ago.

    • Human Rights Watch calls FGM a practice to control women's sexuality.

    • There are several degrees of mutilation. In the most extreme form, the sexual organs are removed and the vagina is sewn up and narrowed. It is thought to reduce a woman's libido and thus to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts.

    • Long-term consequences can include infertility and an increased risk of childbirth complications and deaths of newborns. Complications can also result in the need for later surgery. • In December 2012 the UN general assembly approved a resolution calling for the elimination of FGM.

    • In most countries the prevalence of FGM has fallen, and an increasing number of women and men where it is practised support ending the practice.


  31. Report calls for female genital mutilation to be treated as child abuse

    Coalition of health professionals recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in the UK

    by Conal Urquhart, The Guardian November 4, 2013

    Thousands of girls in danger of genital mutilation are being failed by the health and justice systems, a coalition of health professionals has warned in a report that recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in the UK.

    Female genital mutilation (FGM) should be treated the same as any other kind of child abuse and evidence of it must be reported to the police, according to the report.

    Janet Fyle, a policy adviser of the Royal College of Midwives and one of the report's authors, said that just as it was inconceivable that a health worker would not report evidence of child abuse to the police, it should be equally important to report evidence of FGM.

    "If we are applying child protection laws, we cannot pick and choose which crimes against children we pursue," she said.

    "We are not asking for more money or legislation, we are just asking that child protection laws should work for all children not just some."

    According to the report more than 66,000 women in England and Wales have undergone FGM and more than 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of it.

    Despite its regular occurrence, FGM has not resulted in a prosecution in Britain, whereas in France there have been about 100.

    The report – Tackling Female Genital Mutilation in the UK – will be launched at the House of Commons on Monday by the Royal Colleges of Midwifery, Nursing and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Unite union and Equality Now. It has been praised by the government.

    FGM is carried out in Africa and the Middle East by Muslims and non-Muslims. It predates Islam and is not called for in the Qur'an although it mostly occurs in countries that became Islamic.

    In countries such as Somalia and Egypt more than 90% of women have undergone some kind of FGM but it is also common in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali and Sierra Leone. Although FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, migrants from countries where FGM is common have continued the practice here or by taking girls to their home countries for it to be performed.

    Since 2003, Britons can be prosecuted for acts of FGM abroad.

    The report recommends that FGM must be treated as child abuse and evidence of it should be collected by the NHS and shared with the police and education officials. It also recommends that health workers who detect evidence of FGM should treat it as a crime and inform the police.

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  32. The former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said it was only a matter of time before prosecutions for FGM took place.

    "Through working together closely with the police, health and social care professionals and the third sector, we are now in a much better place to have a successful prosecution against those who perpetrate this practice," he wrote in the report's foreword.

    "It is only a matter of time before this happens and this will send a very powerful message that FGM is a crime that will not be tolerated in a modern multicultural society."

    The report recommends that health workers identify girls at risk and treat them as if they were at risk of child abuse. Girls at risk are defined as girls born to a woman who has undergone FGM or a child who lives closely with someone who has.

    It also calls for a government-funded awareness strategy, similar to the HIV campaigns, and for health workers to be held accountable for their success or failure in monitoring FGM among patients and sharing information.

    The report clearly emphasises the importance of an individual's safety over the respect for religious and racial sensibilities, a point welcomed by Shaista Gohir, the chairwoman of the Muslim Women's Network.

    "We need to be mindful of cultural and religious sensibilities but safeguarding the child from FGM has to be the priority. If a child is at risk it is better to protect them rather than religious and cultural feelings," she said.

    The report's launch will be hosted by the public health minister, Jane Ellison, who has praised the report but not yet endorsed any of its recommendations.

    She said: "One of my priorities as public health minister is to work towards eradicating female genital mutilation. Having supported this report during its development, I welcome its publication and the lead that the organisations involved, representing so many healthcare workers, are showing."

    A spokesman for the Department of Health said ministers had yet to study the report's recommendations.

    Other suggestions include that medical staff should question all new young female patients to determine the prevalence of FGM in their families and that teachers and schools should highlight the issue with at-risk groups and individuals.

    Sarian Karim, a 36-year-old community worker from Peckham, south London, who suffered FGM as an 11-year-old in Sierra Leone, welcomed the report.

    "FGM is a normal thing for us. We don't know it is against the law, but I know that it damages girls and leaves them scarred for life – mentally and physically.

    "It is very important that everyone knows that FGM is illegal. We suffer from a lot of complications [because of the procedure].

    "We want those people who work in schools to have guidelines and be able to inform, prepare and protect children."

    to view video and embedded links go to:


  33. Female genital mutilation a huge problem in U.K.

    An estimated 66,000 girls and women affected, no prosecutions

    By Gabrielle Fahmy, CBC News December 04, 2013

    Britain’s reputation for turning a blind eye on the illegal practice of female genital mutilation may be about to change after British doctors, nurses and midwifes decided to take a stand and demand it be treated as child abuse.

    Earlier this month, leading British medical groups delivered an extensive report to Parliament, recommending aggressive steps to eradicate the practice, which is still being carried out on young girls from certain African, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.

    The report revealed tens of thousands of cases of FGM in Britain (as many as 66,000 by some estimates). And while the practice was outlawed in 1985 and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment, the country has never seen a single prosecution.

    ‘’It’s a huge problem in Britain,’’ says Dr. Deborah Hodes, a London community paediatrician and chair of child protection with the Royal College of Paediatrics, outlining that more than 24,000 girls are at risk of FGM and more than 66,000 women are living with the consequences. Hodes regularly gets referrals for young girls who underwent cutting — a common term for the practice in the U.K.— or who are at high risk of being cut.

    Britain's medical community now wants all front-line health professionals to be better trained in detecting FGM and responding to it, and to report female patients who have had their sexual organs mutilated to police and other services.

    FGM, sometimes called female circumcision, involves removing all or part of the clitoris as well as, often, the labia, the "lips" that surround the vagina, to make young girls more virginal and therefore attractive to future mates.

    An estimated 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences of the practice, according to the World Health Organization, and in countries like Britain it is often done on young girls who are sent back to their ancestral homelands to have the procedure done.

    Leyla Hussein, a British woman, was once one of these girls. She was taken away to Somalia to be cut when she was seven. She’s now campaigning to end the practice.

    During her own pregnancy, she recalls, "I was shaking, having panic attacks, my body remembered the trauma. That’s when I decided there was no way my daughter was going through that. But I needed the right information to defend my decision to my community.’’

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  34. Soft-touch Britain

    In Britain, anti-FGM campaigners are saying that an overzealous cultural sensitivity has led to authorities being slow to react on the FGM front, with some even questioning whether FGM is actually a British problem.

    ‘’It’s not so much that I’ve encountered resistance, but there’s a lot of silence," says Hussein. "For me when you’re silent, you’re consenting.’’

    In contrast, neighbouring France has adopted a much less tolerant approach to tackling FGM. Its systematic examination of young girls has led to some hundred prosecutions.

    ‘’I think England is very tolerant because they put cultural relativism first," says Isabelle Gillette-Faye, a French sociologist. "So if in your country of origin, you cut your girl, then it’s possible in England as well.’’

    Gillette-Faye suspects many French girls are sent to "easier" Britain to have the procedure done.

    ‘It’s easier to take the Eurostar to go to London, to a private clinic, and have someone cut the girl. It’s just easier, it’s less money than to go to another country,’’ she says.

    For her part, Hussein likes France’s attitude towards FGM, but allows that an approach like that of the Netherlands’ might be more effective.

    "What the Netherlands have done really well," she says, "is implement that work in sexual education classes. It’s compulsory. Front-line staff working with women and children, every new nurse, every new doctor, every new teacher, has to be trained on FGM.’’

    'Cultural sensitivity'

    In Britain, the ministry of education has so far refused to make FGM training mandatory for teachers, though in a statement it said that "schools can choose to teach about FGM as part of their curriculum.’’

    That is not enough for some. ‘’We’re talking about girls who are British citizens, and this is against their right to be safe," says Dr. Hodes. "So I don’t really think it’s a debate.’’

    As a result of the report, parliament's home affairs committee is considering an inquiry into why there hasn’t been a prosecution yet in Britain. The Crown Prosecution Service is reportedly looking into a handful of cases that it may bring to trial.

    To date, there are not definitive studies of the number of girls at risk of FGM in Canada, but immigration patterns and human rights groups in Canada indicate that the figures could be substantial.

    ‘The biggest Somali community in the diaspora is in North America, that’s a big alarm for me,’’ says Hussein.

    ‘’A lot of Canadian women contact us. They suffer in silence, they don’t know where to go.’’


  35. Sydney Dad Charged for Allowing 9-Month-Old Baby Daughter's Genital Mutilation

    By Reissa Su, International Business Times Australia January 2, 2014

    A father in Sydney, Australia has been charged by authorities for consenting to the genital mutilation of his infant daughter during a holiday trip abroad.

    According to the police, the man travelled with his family in February 2012. It was also during that time the father consented to have his nine-month-old baby undergo female circumcision. It was only six months later that the mother realised what her partner had done when she took her baby to the doctor.

    NSW Police Child Abuse Squad was alerted of the incident. The father was arrested on Dec 31, following police investigations. He was charged with aiding/abetting/counseling or procurement of female genital mutilation. The Sydney father was granted conditional bail. He is scheduled to appear in court on Jan 28.

    Authorities declined to reveal the country where the family stayed on holiday as part of efforts to protect the identity of the baby.

    NSW Community Services Minister Pru Goward remarked that female genital mutilation on children is "much more common in Australia." Ms Goward said enforcing stricter laws on what she calls a "hideous crime" is not the solution.

    In an interview with ABC Radio, Ms Goward stated that there is a need to improve community engagement and education to prevent infants and young girls from being targeted.

    The arrest of a father in Sydney is only the second case to be prosecuted in relation to female genital mutilation in NSW, according to reports. The recent case was also described as the first time a person was charged for having the procedure done outside Australia.

    In 2012, members of a small religious group in Sydney were charged for the genital mutilation of two sisters, aged 6 and 7 years old. The case is still pending in courts.

    Ms Goward believes it is easy for people to hide in a community that tolerates female genital mutilation. She said the Sydney father's case was the second one to have been conducted secretly with conspirators keeping authorities from knowing.

    The crime of female genital mutilation is often discovered when the victim suffers a complication from the procedure or there is trouble in the marriage. Ms Goward called for a change in culture and attitudes.


  36. Egyptian doctor to stand trial for female genital mutilation in landmark case

    Raslan Fadl, a doctor in a Nile delta village, is accused of killing 13-year-old schoolgirl Sohair al-Bata'a in a botched operation

    A doctor is to stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation on Thursday, the first case of its kind in a country where FGM is illegal but widely accepted.

    Activists warned this week that the landmark case was just one small step towards eradicating the practice, as villagers openly promised to uphold the tradition and a local police chief said it was near-impossible to stamp out.

    Raslan Fadl, a doctor in a Nile delta village, is accused of killing 13-year-old schoolgirl Sohair al-Bata'a in a botched FGM operation last June. Sohair's father, Mohamed al-Bata'a, will also be charged with complicity in her death.

    Fadl denies the charges, and claims Sohair died due to an allergic reaction to penicillin she took during a procedure to remove genital warts.

    "What circumcision? There was no circumcision," Fadl shouted on Tuesday evening, sitting outside his home where Sohair died last summer. "It's all made up by these dogs' rights people [human rights activists]."

    In the next village along, Sohair's parents had gone into hiding, according to their family. Her grandmother – after whom Sohair was named – admitted an FGM operation had taken place, but disapproved of the court case.

    "This is her destiny," said the elder Sohair. "What can we do? It's what God ordered. Nothing will help now."

    According to Unicef, 91% of married Egyptian women aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, 72% of them by doctors, even though the practice was made illegal in 2008. Unicef's research suggests that support for the practice is gradually falling: 63% of women in the same age bracket supported it in 2008, compared with 82% in 1995.

    But in rural areas where there is a low standard of education – like Sohair's village of Diyarb Bektaris – FGM still attracts instinctive support from the local population, who believe it decreases women's appetite for adultery.

    "We circumcise all our children – they say it's good for our girls," Naga Shawky, a 40-year-old housewife, told the Guardian as she walked along streets near Sohair's home. "The law won't stop anything – the villagers will carry on. Our grandfathers did it and so shall we."

    Nearby, Mostafa, a 65-year-old farmer, did not realise that genital mutilation had been banned. "All the girls get circumcised. Is that not what's supposed to happen?" said Mostafa. "Our two daughters are circumcised. They're married and when they have daughters we will have them circumcised as well."

    Local support for Fadl, who is also a sheikh [elder] in his village mosque, remains high. "Most people will tell you he is a very good man: don't harm him," said Reda el-Danbouki, the founder of the Women's Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, a local rights group that was the first to take up Sohair's case. "If you asked people about who is the best person to do this operation, they would still say: Dr Raslan [Fadl]."

    Most villagers said they thought the practice was prescribed by Islamic law. But female genital mutilation is not mentioned in the Qur'an and has been outlawed by Egypt's grand mufti, one of the country's most senior Islamic clerics. It is also practised in Egypt's Christian communities – leading activists to stress that it is a social problem rather than a religious one.

    "It's not an Islamic issue – it's cultural," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, regional representative for Equality Now, a rights group that lobbied Egypt to follow through with Fadl's prosecution. "In Sudan and Egypt the practice is widespread."

    continued below

  37. "But in most of the other Arab countries – which are mostly Muslim countries – people don't think of it as a Muslim issue. In fact, there has been a fatwa that bans FGM."

    Campaigners hope Sohair's case would discourage other doctors from continuing the practice. But villagers in Diyarb Bektaris said they could still easily find doctors willing to do it in the nearby town of Agga, where practitioners could earn up to 200 Egyptian pounds (roughly £16.70) an operation. "If you want to ban it properly," said Mostafa, the farmer, "you'd have to ban doctors as well."

    Up the road in Agga, no doctor would publicly admit to carrying out FGM operations, and said the law acted as a deterrent. But one claimed FGM could be morally justified even if it caused girls physical or psychological discomfort.

    "It gives the girl more dignity to remove [her clitoris]," said Dr Ahmed al-Mashady, who stressed that he had never carried out the operation but claimed it was necessary to cleanse women of a dirty body part.

    "If your nails are dirty," he said in comparison, "don't you cut them?"

    A few hundred metres away, sitting in his heavily fortified barracks, the local police chief agreed the practice needed to end. But Colonel Ahmed el-Dahaby claimed police could not work proactively on the issue because FGM happened in secret. He also said they were held back by the nuances of the Egyptian legal system – something that would surprise those who argue police officers have readily contravened due process in other more politicised cases.

    "It's very hard to arrest a doctor," said Dahaby. "Why? You don't know when exactly he is going to do this operation. In order to arrest him legally you have to have the papers from the prosecutor, and only then can you go. But you don't know when the operations will take place, so you have to catch them in the act or it has to be reported by the father. And that's difficult because the father will deny what happened."

    In Sohair's case, her family did initially testify that she died after an FGM operation but then changed their testimony a few days later, leading the case to be closed. It was only reopened following a triple-pronged pressure campaign led by Reda el-Danbouki, Equality Now and Egypt's state-run National Population Council.

    Thursday's hearing will likely be short and procedural. In subsequent sessions, Sohair's family is expected to waive the manslaughter charges against Fadl, after Dahaby said the two sides reached a substantial out-of-court compensation agreement.

    But the family has no say over the FGM charges levelled at both Fadl and Sohair's father – and the state will continue to seek a conviction against them both. But whether such a result will serve as a major deterrent against FGM remains to be seen.

    For Equality Now's Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the answer is a systematic educational programme that would see campaigners frequently visit Egypt's countryside to start a conversation about a topic that has previously never been questioned. "You need to go continuously into the communities. We need to find a way of really debating these issues with the villagers, the doctors and the midwives."

    And for the victims themselves, says Abu-Dayyeh, this process cannot start soon enough. "They should enjoy their sexual relations with their future husbands. They are human beings."

    Additional reporting by Manu Abdo


  38. Americas Underground Female Genital Mutilation Crisis

    by Nina Strochlic, The Daily Beast June 11, 2014

    FGM is illegal in the U.S.—yet activists estimate that hundreds of thousands of girls are at risk of being cut each year.

    As a one-week-old baby, Jaha Dukureh was circumcised—just as women in her family had been for generations in their home country of Gambia. Fifteen years later, when she was brought to the United States for an arranged marriage, she was taken to a New York City doctor who worked closely with African communities, in order to be “reopened” for her husband. “Now that I think back,” Dukureh remembers, “that’s what pisses me off. The fact that I was 15—you saw how young I was, you didn’t say anything, you didn’t do anything.”

    As students across the country prepare for summer vacation, female genital mutilation (FGM) activists like Dukureh are gearing up for what they call “cutting season”—the summer months when young girls can be sent to their ancestral lands to be circumcised.

    Now 24 years old and living in Atlanta with her second husband, Dukureh has made it her life work to ensure that young girls won’t go through the same practice that hurt her and killed her half-sister. On Wednesday, she arrived in Washington D.C. to testify in front of Congress, armed with thousands of signatures to demand the U.S. implement a nationwide program that trains authorities across all sectors—from education, to public health, to law enforcement—to watch for warning signs that girls might be pressured into the practice.

    Across the 28 African and Middle Eastern countries where FGM is still practiced, three million girls are at risk of being cut each year. The procedure, seen as a rite of passage and believed to discourage premarital sexual activity, removes part or all of the genitalia on young girls. It can lead to a lifetime of painful medical conditions and even death, and for years has been decried as a human-rights abuse by the international community.

    But it’s not just an issue for faraway lands: FGM is occurring on American soil and to American children. As immigrant communities grow the United States, activists say the number of American girls has only been increasing since the last known study—done nearly 15 years ago—which estimated that nearly 230,000 young women annually were at risk for FGM in the U.S.

    On Wednesday, Dukureh, along with Rep. Joe Crowley of New York and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas, will present a petition letter with nearly 200,000 signatures to 50 members of Congress, and will hold meetings with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

    Dukureh has a simple question for U.S. authorities: How many girls in America are at risk of undergoing the same painful practice she went through? She and all those backing the petition are requesting that President Obama and these departments commission a report about the prevalence of FGM in the U.S. and implement a program to train authority figures across the country to detect and halt the practice through state laws, hotlines, and umbrella coalitions.

    Before starting her now-viral petition in February, Dukureh, who founded ++Safe Hands for Girls++ [http://www.safehandsforgirls.org/], wasn’t aware of how widespread the practice is on U.S. soil. “We’ve had calls from girls saying this doesn’t only happen on vacation, we get cut right here in the USA; they have cut us in Minnesota, they have cut us in Claxton, Georgia.”

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  39. FGM has been illegal on US soil since 1996, and last year President Obama passed legislation that made transporting girls out of the U.S. for FGM punishable by five years in jail. But activists say the procedure has just gone deeply underground and is still clandestinely carried out on girls across the country.

    “Girls write to us that when they come back from Africa, they went back to school and they’re withdrawn but no one asks them, ‘What happened to you? What changed to make you this way?’” Dukureh says.

    In the United States, the issue remains mostly outside of public consciousness. Without census numbers pointing to communities at risk, there’s no way to effectively strategize a response. Once these statistics come through, though, Dukureh says, activists will be able to begin targeted campaigns. “It’s going to be like a revolution, more girls will come out, but we first need to address issue and let families know we are looking for this.”

    “I didn’t have an understanding of how much it occurred in the U.S.,” says Shelby Quast, a senior policy advisor with Equality Now, a human-rights organization that began one of the first U.S. anti-FGM campaigns two decades ago. “The more the campaign is going on, the more people are speaking up. This has been a very quiet issue. What we’re finding out is it might have been a bigger problem than thought.” As these stories rolled in over the past few months, she remembers thinking, “Oh my goodness is it actually being performed in the U.S.?”

    Right now, all evidence of both vacation cutting and cutting in the U.S. is anecdotal, coming from social workers and health care providers working with immigrant populations. There hasn’t been federal data on FGM in the country since 1997, when the CDC determined that between 150,000 and 200,000 women were at risk. Three years later, the African Women’s Health Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital estimated 227,887 women and girls were at risk that year. Since then, activists have had no official statistics to aid in their fight against the practice.

    A study released by Sanctuary for Families last year reports that, “Typically, FGM in the U.S. is carried out by traditional practitioners who operate covertly and illegally. When U.S. health care providers carry out the procedure, they frequently come from countries where the practice is prevalent, and they operate on girls from their own communities at the request of a child’s parents.”

    Engy Abdelkader, co-director of the organization’s Immigrant Intervention Project, says that they have heard there are women being brought into the U.S. to perform the ritual on children so young there’s no chance they’ll remember or relay what they have undergone to anyone else.

    Abdelkader works on asylum cases involving vulnerable women who have undergone FGM already, or are at risk of undergoing FGM if they stay or are returned to their home country. She is currently fighting for asylum for a woman with two-year-old daughter who is being pressured by her family to bring her daughter back to their home country to undergo FGM. “FGM is such an entrenched cultural practice in many countries the women who survive don’t necessarily identify as having endured a human-rights violation,” she says.

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  40. Few cases are brought in by law enforcement, which Dukureh says is largely unaware how to handle FGM, considering it a cultural issue that is best left alone, and worrying they’ll be considered insensitive if they get involved. In 2006, an Ethiopian immigrant in Atlanta was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having FGM performed on his two-year-old daughter. Otherwise, potential cases have gone unnoticed.

    “When I go to the police and tell them my parents are about to cut me, I don’t need the police officer to be shocked about what I’m talking about. I want them—I need them—to know where to report me to and what to do,” Dukureh says. “These girls feel exactly how I feel: They feel no one understands them, and when they talk about FGM people normally treat them like a freak show.”

    The response by health officials, meanwhile, has been mixed. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed doctors should be allowed to “nick” girls so their families wouldn’t perform full-blown circumcision. After a wave of criticism, the suggestion was withdrawn.

    “The U.S. is so far behind when it comes to this issue,” Dukureh says, citing a successful recent campaign in the U.K., where FGM was banned as a criminal offense in the 1985. “Because everything in this country is about politics. They think this doesn’t affect the vote, this is not like abortion, it’s not like some of other women’s rights issues.”

    For activists working to build trust in insular immigrant communities without scaring away the people they’re trying to help, to combating FGM involves walking a fine line. Communities practicing FGM often feel strongly about their right to maintain a tradition carried out for generations. After starting her petition, Dukureh was so targeted by proponents of the procedure that she had to shut down her Facebook account after people began commenting on pictures of her four-year-old daughter, saying if they ever met her they would mutilate her themselves.

    Dukureh says she’s “willing to do everything to make sure that at least if these families are not willing to listen, I’m going to make sure that we make an example of one family because I’m not afraid to report it to authorities. I’m not scared.”

    But there isn’t a complete consensus on how to best eradicate the practice in the U.S. “When you say the word ‘illegal’, they just shut down, do what they do, and hide it,” says Safiatou Coulibaly, a 30-year-old Malian caseworker for an African women’s organization serving a mainly West African population in the east Bronx.

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  41. Before the summer months she and other social workers go through a checklist with the young girls they counsel: What are you doing when you go back to Africa? they ask. Are you going to get married? Are you going to get cut?

    One family with two girls, aged 11 and 12, was planning a six-month trip back to the Gambia, which immediately triggered alert for Coulibaly. “Since then I’ve been freaking out,” she says. A visit that long normally means the girls won’t be returning, she says, and could indicate plans for FGM and arranged marriages.

    “If girls are OK with it, we’re not going to say, ‘You’re not going.’ We educate them about risk and how it’s going to affect their lives.”

    Coulibaly isn’t cut, but her four sisters are. She remembers begging her aunt to let her undergo FGM because she didn’t want to be different. “And I’m so glad that I am [different] but it took me a lot of education to realize that.”

    Sometimes the girls do oppose their parents’ plans for marriages or cutting. One case that Coulibaly’s organization worked on involved a girl who feared a trip back to her parent’s homeland. The organization contacted the embassy here and in her country, and gave the girl a cell phone and phone number to call for help. But she ended up going despite their efforts. “Most of the time when parents say, ‘we’re taking the child back’, there’s nothing we can do—it’s their children.”

    Most activists agree that ultimately, the message against FGM has to come from within the community to truly take root. “If we are to come to total eradication, it has to come from the community, it cannot come from outside. Someone who doesn’t have the experience we do can’t come in and say, ‘You can’t do this’—our cultures are so different,” says Naima Abdullahi, an Atlanta-based case manager for an international organization, who does community outreach for Dukureh’s campaign. Abdullahi was circumcised when she was nine, two years before her family moved from Kenya to America.

    “We’re not coming to this as victims, we’re coming to this as survivors,” Abdullahi says. “We want to lift people up and allow the community to stand up, not to shame them. As much as I want to bring light to this I don’t want the community to hide in the dark even further and do things in hiding.”


  42. Parents who allow female genital mutilation will be prosecuted

    Cameron pledges tougher law as study reveals 137,000 girls and women in England and Wales have been mutilated

    by Alexandra Topping, Sandra Laville and Rowena Mason, The Guardian July 22, 2014

    Parents will be prosecuted if they fail to prevent their daughter being cut, and all victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) will get lifelong anonymity, David Cameron will say on Tuesday.

    As the prime minister hosts a Girl Summit with Unicef aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end FGM and child marriage, new measures will be announced aimed at ending the practices "once and for all".

    The announcement comes the day after it emerged that the number of women living in England and Wales who have been subjected to FGM is twice as high as previously thought. A new study reveals more than 137,000 women in England and Wales are living with the consequences of FGM. The number has significantly increased in the past 10 years as women flee war-torn countries to find safety in Britain, according to the report from City University and the human rights group Equality Now.

    To mark the first Girl Summit in the UK, the prime minister will announce a change to the law that will make it parents' responsibility to protect their daughters from FGM or face punishment. Currently it is against the law to cut a child in Britain or take a child out of the country for the purposes of FGM, but this new law will extend sanctions.

    Cameron will also launch a £1.4m "prevent programme" to help stop the practice being carried out on girls and to care for survivors, and he is expected to unveil new police guidance on how to handle new cases, and a consultation on civil orders to protect those at risk of FGM.

    A new specialist FGM service, which will include social services, will identify those at risk of being cut. Cameron will say: "All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage, or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world, including here in the UK."

    The new study reveals that in England and Wales about 103,000 migrant women aged 15 to 49, 10,000 girls under 15 and about 24,000 women aged 50 or above had been subjected to FGM. The numbers of women from the Horn of Africa – where the most extreme form of FGM is common – had increased by 32,000, while the number of women from east and west Africa also increased by 10,000 over the past decade.

    A 2007 report using 2001 census data stated that 66,000 women and girls had been subjected to FGM in England and Wales with an estimated 24,000 girls under 15 at risk. Until now the most recent study, funded by the Trust for London and the Home Office, does not estimate the number of at-risk girls, but reveals 60,000 girls under 15 were born in England and Wales to mothers who had undergone FGM between 2001-11.

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  43. Earlier this year the then education secretary Michael Gove, agreed to write to headteachers about the dangers of FGM after 250,000 people joined a campaign backed by the Guardian and change.org in the runup to the summer holidays when many girls are sent away to be cut.

    Efua Dorkenoo of Equality Now said the government had made positive steps but professionals needed clear guidance to identify at-risk girls and give them help. "The government needs to get a handle over this extreme abuse of the most vulnerable girls in our society by implementing a robust national plan to address the issue," she said.

    "There is no time to waste on platitudes as thousands of girls living in England and Wales are having their life blighted by this damaging practice."

    The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM, a cultural practice designed to curb female sexuality that involves the partial or whole removal of the outer sexual organs and can cause lifelong physical and psychological complications.

    The report states: "A common-held belief in FGM-practising communities is that girls and women who have not undergone FGM have an insatiable sexual appetite, which has to be restrained to prevent bringing dishonour and shame to families."

    Measures to protect girls from FGM in the UK have also been announced by police and Border Force agents, who are stepping up operations as the school summer holidays begin.

    New Border Force child protection squads are joining with police to target specific flights in a bid to prevent vulnerable girls being taken out of the country for FGM. The beefed-up teams at major airports and border crossings in the UK are on alert for the start of the summer holidays, when experts say girls are at the highest risk of being taken out of the country.

    Specially trained Border Force agents will be working with police forces, which are also set to receive new advice stating that officers should put aside cultural sensitivities and fears of being branded racist in order to pursue investigations into FGM. In the first national guidance issued to all police across the country, the College of Policing warns officers not to let fears of being branded a racist stop them investigating FGM.

    As the summer holidays start, an 80-strong team of specialist officers at Heathrow, 65 at Gatwick and 21 at Manchester will be on the lookout for at-risk children. The port of Harwich also has a new team, while specialist FGM training is also planned at Birmingham, London City, Stansted, Calais and Dunkirk.

    Working with police intelligence, specific flights to countries which practise FGM – including Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Dubai, Egypt and Turkey – will be targeted, said Ingrid Smith, assistant director of the Border Force at Gatwick. "The message we are sending with this intensification of operations is that the practice of FGM will not be tolerated in this country," she said. " Police, Border Force agents and social services will act together to stop this and people attempting to take children out of the country will be caught."

    continued below

  44. James Brokenshire, the immigration and security minister, said border police were well-placed to gather intelligence on possible perpetrators and prevent FGM from being carried out.

    "The school summer holidays are a time of particular risk for many girls," he said. "Which is why we have teams of specially trained officers at major airports with the skills to identify and protect potential victims and stop the perpetrators."

    The guidance drawn up by the College of Policing is the first to deal with female genital mutilation and reflects growing public and political concern over the mutilation and the lack of prosecutions of individuals in the UK.

    Officers in England and Wales will be told that when investigating the mutilation of young girls in the UK they must consider all child protection measures, including removing a girl from her family if they believe she is at risk of FGM.

    Under section 46 of the Children Act 1989 police officers can decide to remove a child who they believe is at risk of "significant harm" to a place of safety for up to 72 hours. They can also apply to a court for an emergency protection order when they believe a child is in imminent danger.

    Officers will also be told that they should consider removal of younger sisters in a household where there are concerns that an older girl is at risk of FGM, because the younger siblings will also need protection.

    Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, said: "We want to ensure that officers have the best information possible to help them to protect the vulnerable and tackle this terrible crime. We must not let perceptions of cultural sensitivities get in the way of action against female genital mutilation.

    "This guidance will help build our understanding and confidence in policing this crime so that we're better able to respond to victims' needs and ultimately bring perpetrators to justice."

    It warns officers not to be put off pursuing investigations because of the "cultural sensitivities" involved. "Female genital mutilation is the deliberate cutting of the female genitalia. It is illegal, extremely painful and a form of violence against women and girls ... Officers must not avoid tackling FGM for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing or being considered racist."

    Female genital mutilation has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and the law was tightened in 2003 to make it an offence for a British resident to travel abroad in order to have FGM carried out on a child. Pressure has been growing on police and prosecutors over the failure – until earlier this year – to bring a single case to the British courts. Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, announced the first ever charge relating to FGM earlier this year but the case has yet to go through the courts.


  45. The US Female Genital Mutilation Crisis

    by Nina Strochlic, The Daily Beast February 6, 2015

    Estimates released today show more than half a million girls living in America have been cut or are at risk of being cut—more than triple the figure from the first nationwide count.
    Since the practice of female genital mutilation was outlawed by the United States in 1996, the federal-level crackdown has been swift and unforgiving. In the following decades, 22 states would add their own bans, and “vacation cutting,” or taking minors abroad for the purpose of FGM, would be outlawed. But now, new numbers show that these measures have done little to stanch the skyrocketing rate at which girls are subjected to this cruel form of circumcision on our shores.

    Data has been slow to come to the aid of American activists against FGM. It’s been 25 years since the government released its first solid numbers on how many women may be subjected to the practice of genital mutilation in America. In 1997, the CDC estimated that 168,000 girls and women were at risk or had undergone FGM—at the time of the last national census in 1990. A few years later, in 2000, the African Women’s Center upped the number at 227,000.

    But according to estimates released on Friday, there currently are around 507,000 girls living in the U.S. who are either at risk of being cut or who have already been cut. That’s more than triple the figure from the very first nationwide count.

    This fresh data comes from a new report issued Friday by the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. It was culled from the U.S. Census’ 2013 American Community Survey. The PRB then crunched the numbers from immigration communities and compared them with the prevalence of FGM in the countries where those people hail from. Working under the assumption that first- or second-generation Americans either have experienced FGM or will at the same rate as their homeland counterparts, the PRB narrowed the focus to teens from 15 to 19, presumably most at risk, and women up to 49, a percentage of whom already have undergone the procedure. New York City and Washington, D.C. have the highest concentration, with more than 50,000 girls at risk in each city. Minneapolis, with its large Somali population, is third.

    If this data seems ambiguous—“may have undergone” or “at risk of undergoing”—that’s because it is. Getting solid numbers on how frequently FGM is actually practiced in the U.S. has been virtually impossible. There is little information on what actually goes on in these insular immigrant communities, and with felony charges facing anyone who admits to orchestrating the cutting, it seems unlikely that many people would answer surveys truthfully.

    continued below

  46. The CDC was set to release a report of its own on Friday—the 12th annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM—but at the last minute delayed the publishing indefinitely, saying the numbers were not yet finalized. According to The Guardian, the PRB figure is corroborated almost exactly in the draft of the CDC’s report.

    The people most in the know—local teachers and healthcare providers—must be involved to paint an accurate picture of FGM in the United States. They’re also the ones with the best footing to stanch the practice.

    Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs, the PRB’s program director for gender, says there’s a drought of good numbers. “How can we get better data?” she asks. “We need to find out more about where they come from because if you look at maps on FGM, it’s not from all parts of all countries. If you take, for instance, the north of a particular country, it may have a100 percent FGM rate, while another region of the same country has zero. So assuming a girl [from that country] has 100 percent been cut may be incorrect.”

    This is why activists are pushing government agencies to create a bottom-up approach to information gathering, so that the federal level can better evaluate on-the-ground needs.

    Sharing these numbers with residents of these immigrant communities also could be a first step to quashing the practice. The communities may not even be aware that the practice in many of their home countries actually is on the decline, says Feldman-Jacobs. From Benin to Iraq, from Liberia to the Central African Republic, the rate of FGM has dropped by as much as half among young girls in the past 20 years.

    In Washington, the wheels are being set in motion. On Wednesday, two Democratic representatives, New York’s Joe Crowley and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, announced new legislation that will force the government to create a strategy to protect girls in America from FGM. They’re calling for a national study that would gather data on the practice, along with a cross-sector strategy to address it, pulling the expertise of teachers, healthcare workers, and law enforcement. Crowley, who previously authored a law criminalizing the travel of a minor out of the U.S. to undergo FGM, called for better data about the issue in a statement. “In order to improve efforts to protect these little girls, we must know the facts about FGM in the United States,” he said.

    Part of the impetus behind the federal effort is a 25-year-old activist named Jaha Dukureh, who, along with advocacy group Equality Now, filed a petition last May asking the government to carry out a new study. Her story, as it was told to me at the time, and an examination of the underground FGM crisis in America, can be found here:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/06/11/america-s-underground-female-genital-mutilation-crisis.html [also in comments above at 11 June 2014 at 15:25]


  47. Female genital cutting in Thailands south

    FGM is a rising cultural practice in southern Thailand and, with little regulation, concerns are at an all-time high.

    by Gabrielle Paluch | Al Jazeera April 2, 2015

    Yala, Thailand - "Just a little," Dr Patimoh Umasa says, pinching the tip of her finger showing how she cuts the clitorises of small girls.

    Dr Umasa runs a small clinic on Yala's main drag, just down the street from a bombed-out building, near the edge of the Muslim quarter.

    As one of the few female doctors in the city, she is the one everyone goes to for sunat - the practice of female circumcision, which the World Health
    Organisation (WHO) classifies as female genital mutilation (FGM).

    "Just an incision to leak some blood, no excision of flesh," Dr Umasa says, using her grey cat, asleep at the clinic reception, to demonstrate the way she holds the girls still before she cuts them.

    "It takes three people, see? The mother holds the baby up here for comfort, and an assistant holds the legs open like this," she says, spreading the cat's legs apart and pinning them down to the counter.

    She adds: "And then with my left hand I spread the labia, and with my right hand I pull back the clitoral hood, and slice."

    Umasa uses a sterile size-11 surgical blade, and performs the procedure for free, because she says its a religious procedure.

    "The babies cry," she says, "but not much. They don't have any lasting health complications."

    Like others, Dr Umasa believes that the procedure, if done by a doctor, should not be considered mutilation.

    "If it's done by a trained doctor, they are using the right technique, then never mind!"

    In the past, traditional birth attendants performed sunat on the newborn baby girls a few days after birth.

    Wamae Tahe is a 65-year-old retired midwife who says in the 23 years she worked in Yala, she performed sunat on almost all female babies whose births she attended.

    "But now babies are born in the hospital, so I no longer do cutting, because mothers are afraid to have it done at home," she says.

    "It's important to be careful and not hurt the baby's vagina! But I wasn't concerned that I was harming the baby. They cried a little, but it must be done."

    She says on two occasions she performed the procedure on girls over the age of 18, which she said made her very nervous.

    continued below

  48. Off the radar

    Dr Umasa says she performs anywhere between 10 and 20 procedures a month, and the figure is rising as women increasingly give birth in hospitals.

    The practice of female genital cutting in southern Thailand is virtually undocumented, and the prevalence is unknown as there is no reliable data available. But Dr Umasa believes it is universally prevalent.

    Dr Sudarat Teeraworn is a maternal health supervisor for the department of public health in Yala province, and she says the issue of female genital mutilation is completely off the Thai Health Ministry's radar.

    Adding to this, Dr Teeraworn says, it's just simply not a topic of discussion: many women do not even know if they are "cut" since most of the procedures are performed during infancy.

    "There are no laws or regulations surrounding the practice, and the Health Ministry doesn't say anything about it or study it because it's not harmful - it's a cultural phenomenon. If it's cultural and not harmful, then what can we do about it?"

    Dr Teeraworn says there have been no prevalence studies done in Thailand, but believes the prevalence in border provinces is probably similar to the FGM's prevalence in Malaysia.

    An unpublished study conducted in 2011 by the University of Malaya's department of preventive medicine in Malaysia found that 93 percent of Muslim women in Malaysia have undergone the procedure.

    Though not comprehensive, the numbers for Kelantan state, which borders Thailand, are similar.

    The cutting that occurs in Malaysia is similar to the process described by Dr Umasa in southern Thailand. It falls under type IV of the WHO's classification system - the least invasive type, typically done without removing flesh.

    Undefined procedure

    Malaysia's highest religious authority issued a fatwa, an Islamic legal edict, in 2009 making the cutting procedure required for all Muslim women, unless "harmful".

    Many religious leaders in Malaysia, like their counterparts in Thailand, believe the procedure as practised there is so minimally invasive that it should not be called mutilation.

    Saira Shameem, who works with the United Nations Population Fund, says the process is never harmless, and the WHO created the type IV category specifically to include the practices in countries like Malaysia.

    Because there is such a variety of practices of increasing invasiveness, she says any sort of cutting on a woman's genitals, no matter how small, is harmful and should not be done.

    Malaysia's fatwa does not define the procedure, and Shameem says health officials are trying to work that avenue to change the practice to a more symbolic one.

    "In order to prevent the procedure from becoming more extensive, we are trying to persuade the Ministry of Health to replace it as currently practicsed with cleansing with an alcohol swab," she says, referring to a routine examination typically performed by obstetricians at birth.

    continued below

  49. The fatwa poses a dilemma for medical professionals caught between their unwillingness to violate WHO guidelines, and parents who feel pressure to have their daughters cut.

    But Shameem says doctors can play a big part in the transition to eradicating the behaviour.

    "We don't have as much influence and control over traditional practitioners as doctors, so if you're talking about effectively eradicating the procedure, working through the medical system with doctors would shift the practice more quickly," Shameem said.

    The religious and social pressure to have a baby girl cut in Thailand works on practitioners as well. As retired midwife Tahe explained, "If parents come to me to ask me to do it, I can't say 'no'. Can I?"

    Accessing 'red zones'

    Julia Lalla-Maharajh is the CEO of Orchid Project, a London-based organisation that advocates against female genital mutilation.

    She says the biggest problem they face is massive information gaps.

    "There is very little data or evidence about the practice outside of African countries, and this is something we absolutely need to address," she says.

    "We cannot show how urgent and important this issue is, so we would urge organisations around the world to really keep asking the questions: Is [female genital cutting] happening in your country, and what can be done about it?"

    Dr Teeraworn says she and her health teams have no access to so-called red zones in Thailand's conflict-stricken south, areas where bombings and attacks occur regularly.

    She is unable to directly supervise health stations there.

    Thailand's deep south was part of the independent Malay Pattani sultanate some 200 years ago,and the practice of sunat dates back to that era.

    Today, ethnic Malay Muslims who inhabit the region speak Bahasa Melayu and consider themselves to be culturally Malay, though they are Thai nationals.

    Since 2004, over 6,000 people have died in sporadic bombings and attacks that are part of a violent insurgency, which has an apparent but unclear demand for increased autonomy.

    Imam Abdullah Abu-Bakr of the Committee of Islamic Council of Yala says Muslims in the south are more observant than their co-religionists in Bangkok, because there are more foreign-educated imams and fewer distractions, such as the entertainment hub of Bangkok.

    He himself was educated in Syria and Malaysia.

    Thailand's fatwa committee has not issued a fatwa surrounding the practice of sunat, but Imam Abdullah says everybody knows the practice is required for boys, typically in a public ceremony around age seven, and though is not absolutely required of women, it is something all women should do.

    He says the way it is currently practised is not harmful, and is key to a Muslim's cultural identity.

    "You must peel a banana before you can eat it," Abu-Bakr says, "and for women, it will reduce their wildness, making them clean and strong."


  50. Dad Is Taking Us to Africa

    Reddit’s FGM Scare

    by Samantha Allen, Daily Beast August 10, 2015

    In a desperate Reddit post, a 16-year-old girl expressed her fear of ‘vacation cutting’—transportation out of the U.S. to receive female genital mutilation.
    A few days ago, a haunting post appeared on one of Reddit’s most popular forums for women. The title: “Dad is taking my family to Africa, I’m worried of FGM.”

    The anonymous poster claimed to be a 16-year-old girl whose Muslim parents are planning a family trip to their home country of Somalia. She added that her mother has already undergone female genital mutilation (FGM)—a ritualistic practice primarily performed in Africa and the Middle East in which some or all of the female external genitalia is removed—leading her to suspect that the vacation might be a ruse to perform FGM on her.

    “Help, Reddit!” she wrote. “I'm so scared and I don't know what to do.”

    The story might seem like a paranoid nightmare but it could very well be authentic. (The Daily Beast reached out to the original poster but she did not respond.)

    Situations like the one she described, however, are all too real. The practice of transporting a girl out of the United States in order to perform FGM—known colloquially as “vacation cutting”—has been illegal since 2013 when the Transport for Female Genital Mutilation Act amended an existing 1996 federal prohibition on FGM. To date, however, no cases of “vacation cutting” have been prosecuted under federal law and the practice continues underground.

    In fact, there have only been a total of three convictions for FGM in the U.S. ever: one federal-level conviction in California in 2005 and two state-level convictions in Georgia and Illinois. Twenty-four states have laws against FGM. In the United Kingdom, FGM has been illegal since 1985 but the first prosecution did not come until 2014, largely because of the difficulty of securing testimony from a girl against her own parents.

    I spoke with several federal agencies to try to determine what a girl or young woman in the anonymous Redditor’s alleged position could do to stay safe. Although legal prohibitions on FGM and “vacation cutting” are in place, enforcement is lagging behind, leading lawmakers to call for further coordination and action.

    An important first step, however, is increasing public awareness of the practice.

    Reports of “vacation cutting” in the United States are only now beginning to emerge in mainstream media. In June of last year, The New York Times discovered the stories of teenagers and young women who had fled from their homes when they learned about the true purpose of planned visits to Somalia. Jaha Dukureh, founder of the anti-FGM organization Safe Hands for Girls, drew attention to the practice in a July Guardian op-ed. And that same month, Mariama Diallo, a social worker who serves African immigrant communities in New York City, told PBS that she has encountered four cases of “vacation cutting” in her work.

    “Vacation cutting” may even be on the rise. According to the Population Reference Bureau, up to 507,000 women and girls in the U.S. were at risk of FGM in 2013, an unprecedented high primarily driven by immigration from Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—all countries where the majority of women and girls undergo FGM. In these countries and others, FGM is performed for a variety of cultural and religious reasons related to notions of female sexual purity, cultural identity, and coming of age traditions. Of the three countries responsible for the heightened domestic risk of FGM, only Egypt has made it illegal (but FGM is still widely practiced there with a prevalence of 91 percent for women and girls age 15 to 49).

    continued below

  51. A country like Somalia has an even higher prevalence with no legal protections. If the anonymous Redditor does get taken there for FGM, she will face a dire situation. In Somalia, FGM is performed on 98 percent of women between 15 and 49. Somalia has no U.S. Embassy and the State Department advises citizens to “avoid all travel” to the country. The country’s Ministry of Women Affairs and Human Rights did not announce a legislative plan to ban the practice until last week.

    With these dangers in mind, concerned Redditors have given the poster a range of panicked suggestions. Some say that she should call the police Child Protective Services, others have advised her to seek help at the airport, and another told her to contact the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of State, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). One thing is clear: No one knows exactly what she should do.

    I followed through on these suggestions to discover which would be viable options for a girl at risk of FGM or “vacation cutting.”

    The USCIS website hosts a detailed page on FGM which advises anyone at risk to call a helpline. But this helpline is not operated by USCIS or its overseeing organization the Department of Homeland Security. Rather, it is a general number for women’s health information operated by the Office on Women’s Health within the Department of Health and Human Services—not a helpline specifically for women and girls at risk of FGM.

    The Office on Women’s Health did not immediately respond to request for comment. Women and girls at risk of FGM—or anyone with information—can call the helpline at 1-800-994-9662.

    If the anonymous poster is unable to avoid being taken to the airport, she might be able to tip off a TSA agent but this should likely be a last resort. In the United Kingdom, women and girls at risk of forced marriage have been advised by advocates to hide spoons in their underwear before going to the airport, leading some Redditors to conclude that she should try a similar strategy to stall her family vacation.

    TSA spokesman Mike England told The Daily Beast: “If during security screening procedures an officer becomes aware of a potentially illegal act, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation.”

    England did not comment on the spoon suggestion and did not speak specifically about FGM.

    If a girl or young woman does not realize the purpose of a vacation until after she arrives in another country, the State Department—which is not a law enforcement agency—can only offer some forms of assistance and may be unable to stop FGM from taking place depending on the country.

    A U.S. State Department official told the Daily Beast: “If it’s a U.S. citizen and they are overseas and feel that they are in trouble, they can reach out to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. But if something is about to happen to them where they need the protection of local authorities, then they should call local law enforcement.”

    continued below

  52. The State Department can help to transport a citizen back to the U.S. but, in order to prevent criminal activity, they would have to pull from local law enforcement resources. In many of the countries where FGM is practiced, however, law enforcement is “extremely lax” or “even non-existent,” according to an online State Department resource.

    The State Department official emphasized that U.S. citizens traveling overseas can still be prosecuted at home for crimes they commit abroad.

    Of all the suggestions made on Reddit, contacting the U.S. Department of Justice is the most direct and actionable option. A spokesperson for the DOJ told the Daily Beast: “DOJ, in coordination with other U.S. government agencies, works to ensure that persons are aware of the FGM law. Our outreach includes, meetings, presentations, and publications including the 2014 newsletter.”

    The newsletter (PDF) provides clear guidance for women and girls at risk of FGM and/or those who are aware of such situations: Contact Kathleen O’Connor at Human Rights and Special Protections at 1-800-813-5863, or send an e-mail to hrsptips@usdoj.gov. In a March DOJ Webinar for educators and counselors who have contact with at-risk girls, O’Connor emphasized that she can accept messages in any language and that tips can be made anonymously.

    The DOJ newsletter also advises anyone with information on FGM to contact the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center at hrv.ice.@ice.dhs.gov or online at tips.fbi.gov.

    Although the DOJ is currently working with other federal agencies as part of the 2012 Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence, some lawmakers feel that further action is needed to raise awareness and to increase enforcement, which has been virtually nonexistent so far.

    New York Congressman Joseph Crowley (D)—who worked with other legislators and the human rights organization Equality Now to pass a ban on “vacation cutting”—is now working Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to pass the Zero Tolerance for FGM Act of 2015, which calls for a federal-level “multi-agency strategy” to provide services to survivors of FGM and to prevent the practice from continuing.

    A spokesperson for Congressman Crowley told The Daily Beast that the legal ban on “vacation cutting” was an important first step but that this new legislation would go further toward ending the practice and educating the public of the danger.

    A press release from Crowley’s office notes that “[s]uch a strategy could include the establishment of an emergency hotline for girls seeking assistance; the provision of resources to help those on the frontlines, such as educators, healthcare workers, and law enforcement; implementation of a public awareness campaign; and appropriate funding to support these efforts.”

    The goal, it seems, is to create an atmosphere in which a girl at risk of FGM can know what resources are available to her without having to turn to Reddit for help.


  53. FGM number of victims found to be 70 million higher than thought

    Half of girls and women cut live in just three countries as Unicef statistics reveal shocking global scale of barbaric ritual

    by Jessica Elgot, The Guardian February , 2016

    The huge global scale of female genital mutilation has been revealed in disturbing new statistics, which show at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone ritual cutting, half of them living in just three countries.

    The latest worldwide figures, compiled by Unicef, include nearly 70 million more girls and women than estimated in 2014 because of a raft of new data collected in Indonesia, one of the countries where FGM is most prevalent despite the practice being banned since 2006.

    In the analysis of 30 countries, published to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, statistics showed women in Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia account for half of all FGM victims worldwide. Somalia has the highest prevalence of women and girls who have been cut – 98% of the female population between the ages of 15 and 49.


    Claudia Cappa, the report’s lead author, said data from Indonesia shows FGM was practised more widely than researchers thought. “In countries where data was not available, we had previously only had anecdotal evidence. We knew Indonesia has a growing population of women and girls, but I would say (these figures) are higher than expected,” she said. “It shows it is a global issue, when the focus has previously been on Africa.”

    About 44 million victims of FGM around the world are aged 14 or younger, and the majority of girls who have had their genitals mutilated were cut before they were five years old, Unicef’s research found.

    In Guinea, where 97% of girls aged 15 to 49 are FGM victims despite the practice being outlawed, Unicef staff described seeing girls taken away from their families against their will to be cut, on the orders of village authorities. One five-year-old died from her wounds.

    “Two days after this Christian community celebrated Christmas in a village, five-year-old Koumba was among 11 girls that were taken into the bush, some without their parents’ permission or knowledge, and others directly against strong parental protest, to receive their ‘initiation’,” the charity’s report said. “One day later, Koumba had bled to death before she could receive medical treatment.”

    Unicef said the picture was optimistic in some countries, with FGM prevalence rates declining by 41% in Liberia, 31% in Burkina Faso, 30% in Kenya and 27% in Egypt over the last 30 years.

    But in real terms numbers are still rising, largely due to population growth, and if trends continue the number of girls and women suffering genital mutilation will increase significantly over the next 15 years, Unicef said.

    continued below

  54. More young women are starting to speak out against the practice. Effie, a 20-year-old Malay-Muslim, told the Guardian she felt a creeping sense of horror as she read about genital mutilation on the internet, with the realisation the procedure she saw described as a backwards cultural practice had in fact been done to her when she was too young to realise.

    “When I was growing up, around eight or nine, and was starting to get curious about how bodies worked, it came as a shock to find out that my body wasn’t the same as it was when I was born because of a medical procedure carried out without my consent or knowledge,” she said.

    “Mainstream discussion on the issue fell into a very clear dichotomy that painted cultures that practised FGM as backwards or cruel. These were the kinds of discussions I read on the internet, and it further compounded the horror I felt in coming to terms with my own body.”

    Effie said she still believed her family, whom she described as middle class and educated but traditional, had seen cutting as a religious obligation. It is the minds of her peers, not the older generation, that she is more focused on changing.

    “Outlawing the practice will [go] a long way, and that requires political representatives to listen to their citizens instead of shutting down discussion, but I also believe there should be an accompanying change in mindset via awareness campaigns and community engagement, because legal reform can only go so far in discontinuing a practice so ingrained in our culture,” she said.

    Cappa said the struggle to change attitudes faster than population growth was extremely difficult to square with the inclusion of a target to eliminate FGM by 2030 in the UN’s new sustainable development goals.

    “The risk of being subjected to the practice is going down, because of changing attitudes, but the numbers are increasing because the global population is rising.

    “That makes elimination even more challenging and current efforts are not sufficient to combat this growth. FGM is happening in every continent, especially with the migration of people from traditional communities into other countries.”

    In Britain, the government’s health statistics body found 5,484 mutilation cases were reported to health authorities between October 2014 and September 2015. Campaign group Equality Now called the numbers “the tip of the iceberg” and said it estimated about 137,000 women and girls in England and Wales have been cut, calling for better teacher training on how to spot girls at risk.


  55. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy fights to end honour killings with her film A Girl in the River

    CBC Radio, The Current February 12, 2016

    Left for dead by her own uncle, and father, Saba Qaiser was the intended victim of a so-called honour killing. But she survived to tell her tale.

    Honour killings remain a shockingly common occurrence in Pakistan today. And Oscar award-winning Canadian journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has turned her lens on the phenomenon for her latest film, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, which tells Saba Qaiser's story.

    It's been nominated for best Documentary Short at this year's Academy Awards. It won't be the first time Obaid-Chinoy will walk the red carpet. In 2012, her film Saving Face won in the Short Documentary category.

    Speaking to Obaid-Chinoy about Saba and that pressure she was under to forgive stirred some complicated feelings in our gest host Amanda Lindhout. You can listen to her essay about forgiveness on the audio link at:


    Website for: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness



    AMANDA LINDHOUT: Hello, I'm Amanda Lindhout and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current. Still to come, the future of the Syrian crisis could lie in Aleppo, a former bustling hub and commercial capital has been bombed into rubble, but it hasn't fallen yet to the government forces. We'll get the latest from the region and find out what last night's apparent diplomatic breakthrough could mean for Aleppo and other Syrian cities under siege. But first, the voice of one girl speaking for many.


    transcribed audio content

    A pistol was pointed at my brain near my temple and my uncle was clutching my neck but I was just slightly able to tilt my face, which led to the shot missing its target. Then they put me in a bag and threw me in the river.

    AL: Left for dead by her own uncle and father, Saba Qaiser was the intended victim of a so-called honour killing. She survived to tell her tale but every year, many other women and girls in Pakistan do not. Honour killings remain a shockingly common occurrence there today and the Oscar award-winning Canadian journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, has turned her lens on the phenomenon for her latest film. It's titled A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness and it is the story of Saba Qaiser. It's been nominated for Best Documentary Short at this year's Academy Awards and I've reached Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy in San Francisco. Hello.


    AL: Tell me about this girl. Who is Saba Qaiser?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Saba is an 18-year-old girl who comes from a small town in Pakistan. She is not very educated, she was engaged to a young man, had fallen in love with him, but her uncle opposes the marriage because he wanted her to marry someone else. So, she ran away from home and got married to Qaiser and her father and her uncle duped her into coming back. Instead of taking her home, took her to a dark, wooded forest, shot her, and threw her in the river. And I found her a few days later in the hospital.

    AL: So, we've heard a bit of the description of the attack but can you tell us further details? What did they do to her?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Well, what had happened was that her father and uncle had come to the in-laws’ house where she was living and had said that you know, she has dishonoured the family by running away, so why don't you send her back home and you come and take her in a few days in an honourable manner.

    continued below

  56. Instead of taking her to the house, they took her to the forest where it was very dark at night and they had a gun which they pointed at her after beating her almost unconscious. And then they pulled the trigger, but because they were amateurs, they almost missed because she moved her face. Then she was tied in a gunny bag and thrown in the river. Miraculously, the water woke her up and she caught hold of some reeds that were on the side of the river, and then rolled out and found her way to a fuel station, a petrol station that was open. The guard that was present over there, the night watchman, he called the Rescue 1-1-2-2 services, which is the 9-1-1 of Pakistan. The paramedics came, they rescued her, took her to the local hospital which was run by a man who really believes in women’s rights. He got his best surgeons out there and a local policeman helped apprehend her father and uncle. But actually, the story shows that in Saba’s case, the local services worked. The paramedics worked, the hospital worked, and the police officer as well. Unfortunately, the law did not support her.

    AL: How unusual is it for a girl or woman to survive an honour killing?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: It is very unusual for a woman to survive an honour killing. You know, I've been trying to make a film about honour killing for a long time, but almost always the victim is dead and oftentimes nobody even knows her name, her body is never found, no one even registers the case because it is considered shameful for the family to do so. When I picked up the newspaper one morning and I read two lines in it that said that a girl had been shot and been thrown in a river in what appeared to be an honour killing, I was shocked that she’d survived and that's why I decided to pursue the story, because it's absolutely very rare. To tell the story of an honour killing, you have to get it from the perspective of a survivor because you want the audience to walk in the shoes to understand the ordeal, the trials and tribulations, and what they're up against by society.

    AL: Can you tell me more about this idea of honour that the father was talking about?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: You know, for years now there is this concept that the honour of a young woman who defies her parents and chooses to get married and have free will-- if an older woman who was married once-divorced, in trivial issues of inheritance, in pressing matters of disagreement, men kill women and claim that it is in the name of honour. But really, it is cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Somehow they are trying to make it look like it is part of Islam or part of culture, but a religion that gives its women the freedom of choice, of marriage, inheritance, divorce, definitely does not condone honour killings. What has happened is that there's been a loophole in the law in Pakistan which allows for forgiveness to take place. The father kills his daughter and his wife can forgive him. Brother kills his sister and the parents can forgive him. And so, the laws are manipulated and it's very seldom that people go to jail and because people don't go to jail for it, many people think that it's not a crime because people get away with it. You can go to small towns or villages in Pakistan and even medium sized cities and know people who have killed women and their families but are roaming around free. Until we start making examples of people, people will continue to think that it is okay to kill a woman and somehow there is something known as honour killing.

    AL: We're going to hear from Saba now, again. Here she is in your film describing how she felt after the attack.


    transcribed audio content

    I will never forgive them, no matter what happens or who comes in the middle. These people touched the Qur’an and lied. Even if someone powerful asks me, I will not forgive them. The world should see this ...

    continued below

  57. ... brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts so this doesn't happen again. They should be shot in public in an open market so that such a thing never happens again. With God's will, I'm going to fight this case. With His blessing, I will move forward.

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: You know, initially Saba was determined to fight the case. She has an excellent pro bono lawyer, she went to court a few times. The police is very keen that she fight this case because they had invested a lot of resources into finding her father and uncle. But, society pressures are too great in communities in Pakistan and the neighborhood elders would gather every day and tell her in-laws that she's further shaming the family by continuing to fight this case. They told the family that if the family ever needed money or if the family ever needed anything, they could no longer come to the community for it because the community would shun them if they did not forgive the father. The way the community has made it sound like, it was Saba’s fault she had run away and her father had no choice left but to kill her; that it was Saba’s good wishes that she survived but now she must forgive. For a while her in-laws resisted the pressure, but they are very poor and at the end of the day they had to give in and Saba had to go to court and tell the judge she was forgiving her father and her uncle and that she was okay with them walking free.

    AL: How often are women expected to forgive these kinds of heinous acts?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Women routinely forgive acts like this in Pakistan and it's because the justice system is stacked against them. They cannot afford to go to court for years and society pressures and the community pressures are always so great. That's why it is very important to remove the loophole in the law that exists, that it's not a crime against a person, it's a crime against the state and the state has to prosecute, and people have to go to jail. As long as people know that this loophole exists in the law, women will be forced to forgive because that's how society is structured in Pakistan.

    AL: So, I found it really interesting that you have her mother and her sister in the film, both of whom are standing by what the men did. How do you explain that?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: It's years of brainwashing. It’s years of having men tell women that they're superior to them, that it's their way or the highway. I interviewed Saba’s father in prison and I asked him did Saba’s mother know about your plans of killing her. And he said she's just my wife, she doesn't need to know anything. When I killed her I went and told her. She couldn't have done anything to stop me. So you know, I mean, that's just how societies function. I I was horrified to hear about the younger sister almost justified the act. That what did Saba expect by choosing to get married on her own free will? This was about to happen. And it is further perpetuated now that Saba’s father is free. It's not only Saba’s mother and sister who think that but there will be all of these other young women in town who will think that Saba made the wrong choice, not her father. Because her father is walking free now.

    AL: We have a clip of the father, so let’s listen to him.


    transcribed audio content

    After this incident everyone says I am more respected. They say I am an honourable man. They say that what I did was right. It was the proper thing to do. I have other daughters. Since the incident, each daughter has received proposals because I am called an honourable man. I can proudly say that for generations to come none of my descendants will ever think of doing what Saba did. My daughters will have fear in their minds that one of their sisters did something like that, and if we do the same God knows what our fate will be.

    continued below

  58. SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: And he says that he's gotten more honourable. He's gotten a better stature in society because now people look at him as a sort of a hero. That is why sending people to jail is the first step in making sure we curb honour killings.

    AL: And in the end even her own husband was pushing her to compromise, to forgive. What was that like for Saba?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: You know, at the end of the film Saba says very clearly that I have forgiven my father because of society and the community but in my heart he will always be unforgiven. And you know, Saba’s husband did not want her to forgive her father and he resisted it for a very long time. But again, he didn't control things. Family was very poor, he had to listen to his elder brother, his mother and they didn't have much of a choice. As the film progresses we began to notice they had to do as they were dictated to because of the poverty, because of circumstances that surrounded them.

    AL: So what did Saba do in the end? How was she able to come to terms with making the choice to forgive the people who did this to her?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: I don't think that Saba will ever come to terms with the fact that she's forgiven her father and her uncle. I think that she has just moved on with her life. She was pregnant. She's given birth to a son now, she's looking forward to educating him. And in some ways I think a part of her died the day that she went into court and had to forgive them.

    AL: How do you think that poverty plays a role in all of this?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Poverty plays an enormous role in all of this because if Saba was not poor she would have had more success in court. She would have had more resources available to her to fight the cases against her father and uncle. But having said that, even in wealthier families, the issue of shame is so much. The issue of honour is so much, that most families like to keep these kinds of issues within the four walls of their home. They encourage girls not to talk about it, encourage girls not to pursue the case. We as a society need to open up. We need to have difficult conversations. We need to let young women know that it is okay to fight cases, that it is okay to speak out against injustices and I hope that A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, the film that I've done, is one small step towards that. Because what has happened is that it has started a national discourse in the country about honour killings. We've had for years a lot of people who worked on the issue but suddenly everyone is talking about it. Being nominated for an Academy Award has, I think inspired the Prime Minister of Pakistan to come out with a statement in which he wants the first screening of the film to take place at the Prime Minister’s house and he wants to bring all the stakeholders together to think about how to close this loophole in the law.

    AL: How much of an uphill battle is this for the police and government?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: It's a huge uphill battle for the police because in Saba’s case for example, Ali Akbar, the Chief Investigator took all his resources, went out and found her father and her uncle.

    continued below

  59. He wanted so much for Saba to fight the case. He counseled her for a very long time and in the film he says look at the kind of message that Saba would send out, look at the kind of message that will go out to the community and to society, that it is okay to kill a woman and you will walk free if you do that. So, the police find it very frustrating that these loopholes exist in the law and I think in the judiciary as well. Saba’s first lawyer, because she was forced to change her lawyer, but her first lawyer says very eloquently in the film that our judicial system and our courts have become like post offices, where people come in and record a statement and then leave. They're not dispensing any justice because of these loopholes that exist.

    AL: What do you think it's going to take to change that fundamental understanding of these crimes, that they are murder and it has nothing to do with honour?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: I think that the most important thing is that people need to be made examples of. If people start going to jail, one, two, three, four people go to jail, the fifth person will think twice before killing a woman and her family because he will realize that he's going to spend the rest of his life behind bars. I think that is very important and as a society, we've already begun to have a difficult conversation about honour killing. Why do we call it honour killing when it should just be called premeditated murder? Is it part of a religion, is it a part of our culture? I think the film has sparked this conversation in Pakistan, on the internet, on social media, in newspapers, and television channels, people are talking about it, and I think that at least people are talking about it and there comes a certain level of awareness, people educating themselves about the issues. And then, what is hopefully the gap in the law being closed, together I think, they will really impact the way honour killing is processed in country in the future.

    AL: What do you want to Canadians to think about when they hear stories like Saba’s?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: I think I want Canadians to understand that the story of Saba is a story of any woman around the world. Even today, women around the world, even most [indecipherable] women around the world don't have choices over their bodies, over their own lives, over education, where they work. They don’t have freedom to get married and that, despite all of this, young women are fighting for their rights to make sure that in this generation they achieve it. Saba is a fighter and her story will inspire so many other young women to come forward with their stories in Pakistan, and it can potentially inspire the Prime Minister into changing the law. So, the way I look at Saba is that she's a hero and that she had brought upon a national discourse on honour killings simply by telling her own story.

    AL: How is she doing now, are you concerned for her safety?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Saba is doing well. You know, she has a young son now, a donor has come forward and donated a piece of land and she's hoping to build her own home on it. She's also looking to educate her son.

    continued below

  60. Things are coming along well for her. She has indicated that if the Prime Minister does move forward with taking a leadership role in changing the law that she would like to meet with him and thank him in person. I think that she's doing well.

    AL: So, what's at stake for the women of Pakistan, and the country as a whole if this continues?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Well, you know Pakistani society is changing. 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25, you have high levels of internet and telephone penetration now, many young women are going to schools and colleges, the economics of the country demands that women work, so women are leaving their homes, which means that more women are becoming economically independent and are beginning to understand what their rights are. I think there's a push and pull factor taking place in a deeply patriarchal society like Pakistan where women want to move into the 21st century, they want more rights and more say over their lives and a lot of people in the status quo are resisting that, which means that honour killings and attacks on women are rising because of that. Unless we start sending people to jail, unless we start making examples of people, these crimes will continue, and they will continue to rise. I think more than ever, it is important now to talk about the implementation of the laws in Pakistan.

    AL: Can Canada help Pakistan stop these honour killings? Is there any role that Canada can play?

    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: Yeah, I mean Canada can definitely--Canada leads in terms of women and human rights around the world with Prime Minister Trudeau now, with 50 percent of his cabinet women. I think that a real discussion you know, the Prime Minister of Pakistan is taking a brave and bold decision by saying that he wants to help with honour killings and Canada should congratulate the Prime Minister of Pakistan and offer to see how Canada can help to make sure that his loophole is closed in Pakistan.

    AL: Sharmeen, we want to wish you the best of luck at the Oscars. Thank you so much for being here today.


    AL: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s documentary is called The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. It's been nominated for an Academy Award in the Short Documentary category. The awards will be given out at the end of February and it won't be the first time Sharmeen will walk the red carpet. In 2012, her film Saving Face, won in the Short Documentary category. That film told another story about attacks on women by those close to them. It was about two women who survived acid attacks and the plastic surgeon working to help them put the incidents behind them. Here's how Sharmeen accepted the award in 2012:



    SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY: I just, Danny and I want to dedicate this award to all the heroes working on the ground in Pakistan including Dr. Mohammad Jawad who's here with us today. The plastic surgeon working on rehabilitating all of these women, Roxana and Zakia, who are our main subjects of the film whose resilience and bravery in the face of such adversity is admirable, and to all the women in Pakistan who are working for change: don't give up on your dreams. This is for you.

    AL: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy accepting the Academy Award in 2012 for her short documentary, Saving Face.


  61. Nigerian mom of triplets flees to Winnipeg to avoid female genital mutilation

    Lawyer Bashir Khan helps mother secure refugee status in Canada

    CBC News January 12, 2016

    A mom is now in Winnipeg after fleeing Nigeria to prevent her daughters from undergoing female genital mutilation.

    FGM, sometimes known as female circumcision, involves removing all or part of the clitoris as well as, often, the labia to make young girls appear "more virginal."

    The woman's father-in-law insisted her first daughter have FGM when she was just a few months old.

    "She was forced to get in the vehicle and driven to a rural area and … she couldn't bear to stay there while this was being forcibly done to her daughter," said lawyer Bashir Khan, who helped the woman get refugee status in Canada.

    He said the procedure was botched.

    "They cut off too much of [the daughter's] clitoris, and she nearly died from the infection," said Khan.

    Then, when she became pregnant with triplets – all female – the woman was told she could have the procedure done on the babies when they were born or abort them, Khan said.

    Instead, she fled Nigeria, and arrived in Canada in November 2015 when she was 29 weeks pregnant.

    "It was pretty hard [for her to get refugee status,]" said Khan.

    She was assigned Khan as a lawyer by legal aid, who assembled the documents for her refugee status claim.

    But in January, Khan uncovered a letter alleging the woman was involved in FGM and thereby aggravated assault on her first daughter.

    "The minister's consul – that is the minister of citizenship and immigration here in Winnipeg -- wrote a scathing four-page letter calling my client a bad mother and saying my client should not be able to make a refugee claim," said Khan. "Statistics tell us that ministerial interventions in the last few years have skyrocketed in the past few years."

    Khan said there was no evidence that that had taken place.

    "That was something that sat uncomfortably with me, my client and the board member who heard the case," he said.

    Khan called the statements disturbing and traumatizing for his client.

    "This is a horrible cultural practise. The purpose of [FGM] is to discourage sexual promiscuity and to promote chastity," said Khan. "Parents subject their daughters to FGM based on the social belief that young women who refuse to undergo this will have difficulty in labour or will be unfaithful to her husband."

    He said she was in a state of shock when he explained to her what was happening.

    "She was just horrified," he said. "It was a disturbing and uncomfortable moment. The room got really cold."

    Since then, the woman was granted refugee status.

    Khan said his client is now doing well, loves Canada and hopes to raise her three daughters here.


  62. Female genital mutilation should be legal in its mildest forms: gynecologists

    Compromising slightly on the issue will prevent more serious disfigurement, U.S. doctors say

    Thomson Reuters Posted: Feb 22, 2016

    Countries that have banned female genital mutilation should allow less invasive practices such as small surgical nicks to girls' genitalia as a compromise, two U.S. gynecologists said on Monday.

    But campaigners against mutilation strongly criticized the proposal, saying it would undermine global efforts to eradicate the internationally condemned ritual.

    At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM in over 30 countries, according to UN estimates.

    The ancient practice usually involves the partial or total removal of a girl's external genitalia. In some cases the vaginal opening is also sewn up.

    But some communities practice less invasive rituals such as pricking or nicking the clitoris.

    The U.S. gynecologists, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, argued that permitting more minimal procedures could allow families to uphold cultural and religious traditions while protecting girls from more dangerous forms of cutting.

    Communities which support FGM often consider it a prerequisite for marriage. Many also see it as a religious obligation, although it is not mentioned in the Qur'an or Bible.

    But female genital mutilation can cause a host of physical and psychological problems.

    Gynecologists Kavita Shah Arora and Allan Jacobs said procedures that slightly changed the look of a girl's genitalia without damaging them were comparable to male circumcision or cosmetic procedures in Western countries like labiaplasty.

    Laws against mild modifications were "culturally insensitive and supremacist and discriminatory towards women", they wrote in the specialist publication that is published by the British Medical Journal.

    'Behind the times'

    Female genital mutilation is practised in many African countries, pockets of Asia and the Middle East, as well as by diaspora communities living in the West.

    The gynecologists suggested that global attempts to stamp out FGM with legislation had failed and may be driving the practice underground.

    "We are not arguing that any procedure on the female genitalia is desirable," they said. "Rather, we only argue that certain procedures ought to be tolerated by liberal societies."

    They said the term "female genital mutilation" should be replaced with the less emotive "female genital alteration" to avoid "demonising important cultural practices".

    But experts on medical ethics, commenting on the proposal, said procedures to modify girls' genitals could not be compared to male circumcision because they are designed to control women and curb their sexual desire.

    They also predicted that legalising more minimal procedures would generate a litany of legal, regulatory and medical problems.

    Global campaigners against FGM said doctors should challenge harmful social norms, not condone them.

    "Any form of FGM is a violation of a child's rights," said Adwoa Kwateng-Kluvitse, head of global advocacy at the charity FORWARD, which campaigns against FGM in Africa and Europe.

    "Why would you put a little girl through that? There should be no medicalization of FGM. They [the gynecologists] are completely behind the times.

    "This is very different to male circumcision."

    In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar proposal. Within a month, the contentious statement was retracted.

    In an email, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada said female genital cutting is recognized as a harmful practice and a violation of girls' and women's rights to life, physical integrity, and health.

    Performing or assisting in female genital cutting is a criminal offence in Canada.


  63. Fighting female genital mutilation among India's Bohra

    FGM: girl-children of Dawoodi Bohra sect are the only Muslim women in India systematically and forcefully mutilated.

    by Sophie Cousins | Al Jazeera March 7, 2016

    Mumbai, India - About 40 years ago at the age of seven, Masooma Ranalvi was lured to a dark alley in a decrepit-looking building by her grandma's promise of ice-cream. It is a day that she will never forget.

    "I remember it so clearly. I was told to lie down, my legs were held and I was cut with a razor. It was a sharp piercing pain. It was so scary and I couldn't stop crying," Ranalvi told Al Jazeera English.

    After the procedure, black powder was put on the wound and for the next 10 days Ranalvi suffered silently in pain.

    "It happened in such a primitive way but we were in the throbbing metropolis of Mumbai. Even to date, what happened was never spoken about."

    Ranalvi, who grew up in Mumbai but has since moved to the country's capital, is one of the estimated 200 million girls and women alive today that have suffered female genital mutilation (FGM), according to the latest worldwide figures by UNICEF.

    But while FGM has been well-documented in countries including Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia, it has been shrouded in secrecy in India, where it is practised among the Dawoodi Bohra community, a Shia Muslim sect with origins linked to Africa and which is thought to number more than one million.

    While Muslims make up about 14 percent of India's population, FGM only occurs within this specific sect.

    It was not until Ranalvi was in her late 20s that she read about the practice in Africa and drew parallels with what had happened to her.

    "When I realised I was shattered. It was horrifying to realise that part of my clitoris was ripped out."

    'Speak out on FGM'
    While little was known about female genital mutilation in India, that is all changing thanks to Ranalvi and a group of women who have come together under the forum "Speak out on FGM" to tell of their experiences and to encourage other women to speak out too.

    Last month a petition was launched by 17 Bohra women calling for a law banning FGM in India.

    "A lot of Bohra women contacted me wanting to speak out and talk about what happened to them," Ranalvi said.

    "I needed to do something about it. All of us are scarred in some way. We were cheated in a clandestine way."

    Although it is not mentioned in the Quran, the Bohras consider Khatna - their name for female genital mutilation - to be a religious obligation. The Syedna, the religious head of the sect, who is based in Mumbai, supports the practice. Ranalvi said that the response of the religious head has been one of "silence".

    "He has decided to keep quiet and the practice continues unabated," she said.

    Dr Zeenat Shaukat Ali, a professor of Islamic Studies at St Xavier's College, in Mumbai, told Al Jazeera that the practice had nothing to do with religion.

    "Nowhere is it mentioned in the Quran, it is a 'tradition'. It has nothing to do with religion. We always have this tendency to confuse religion and culture," she said.

    "The idea is to suppress women, to dominate them. The practice is not acceptable for other Muslims in India except the Bohra sect. It is really not acceptable."

    continued below

  64. Ali added that she was proud of the women who were taking a stand against it.

    FGM - 'a form of abuse'
    Tasneem, who didn't want to disclose her full name for fear of retribution in the community, was also cut at the age of seven. She too was lured by the promise of ice-cream.

    "I realised that Khatna is not in the Quran. Why put girls through torture in the name of religion? We need to break the myth that it's compulsory. If something is advocated in the name of religion, it doesn't mean that it's right," she told Al Jazeera.

    She, and other Bohra women, believe that religion is used as an excuse to justify the practice which is done to "prevent promiscuity". Others in the community label it "female circumcision" as a means of justification - just as baby boys in the community have it done for health reasons.

    "God has made us the way we are. So what, sex shouldn't be for pleasure for women? We are meant to work in the house and act like robots?"

    Holding back tears, Tasneem spoke of her regret at having her 15-year-old daughter also cut at the age of seven.

    "I told her how sorry I am. If I was aware I would have fought against it. Every woman feels like they've been cheated," she said.

    "A revolution has to come and end this practice. Ultimately it's a form of abuse."

    Al Jazeera repeatedly called a Mumbai-based doctor who is well known for performing the procedure, only to be told several times that the wrong number had been reached.

    Stop the cutting
    For young Mumbai-based journalist, Aarefa Johari, speaking out against FGM was an obvious course of action.

    She said that the psychological impacts on women are vast, ranging from intimacy issues to marriage troubles and social anxiety.

    "They don't have the right to control women's sexuality. There is a complete lack of consent."

    More than a year ago, Johari and four other Bohra women began a group called Sahiyo which aims to create a safe space for women to speak about their experiences. The final goal is to empower Dawoodi Bohra and other Asian communities to end cutting.

    Sahiyo conducted a study to determine the prevalence of cutting among the community. The organisation study the incidence to be about 80 percent of girls, including other Bohra women who live outside India in countries including the US, UK and Australia.

    "More and more doctors are doing this," Johari said.

    But while Johari wants a law banning the practice, she admits it will be tough to achieve.

    "We've had no response from the clergy," she said.

    "If we're able to convince the leaders, maybe it'll be possible. We just need to build enough momentum and try and engage as many people as possible and then there will be a chance of legislation being effective."

    Ranalvi shares the same concerns.

    "Even if a law is passed, the practice is so secret it'll go underground. We need a change in hearts, minds and understanding. We have a long battle ahead and it won't happen easily," she said.

    "But even if one woman is stopped from getting her daughter cut, it's a big victory for us. That will make me happy."


  65. Sky News urged to drop footage of girl undergoing FGM

    Activist says film from Somalia shows young girl being held down and cut while people look on

    by Mary Carson, Jessica Elgot and Mark Sweney, The Guardian June 6, 2016

    Activists against female genital mutilation have urged Sky News to drop a segment which they say will show a girl as she undergoes the cutting in Somalia, saying it is tantamount to filming child abuse.

    Leyla Hussein, who co-founded anti-FGM campaign Daughters of Eve, said she was asked to appear on Sky News for an interview after a filmed segment about the prevalence of FGM in Somalia and Puntland, an autonomous state in Somalia’s north-east.

    Hussein said she asked to see the footage that would be used in the Sky News film, and described seeing “a little girl of about six or seven, being held down and cut”.

    “You can see her face,” she said. “People are watching. The film crew are filming. No one intervenes … when I was cut I remember that most of all, no one intervened.”

    Sky News initially did not confirm such a clip had been filmed or respond to the activists, but several hours after being contacted by the Guardian said the girl would not be identified and her face would not be shown in the final edit.

    A Sky News spokesman said: “This week Sky News will broadcast a powerful report from Somalia which sheds new light on the subject of FGM.”

    He added that the report treated a difficult subject with sensitivity and “captures the stark reality of this widespread practice … [and] will help our viewers to understand the issues surrounding FGM and its social and cultural acceptability in some parts of the world”.

    Hussein, who was about the same age as the girl in the film when she was subjected to FGM, claimed she refused to take part in the feature. She said she had asked Sky News not to use the clip, which was scheduled to be broadcast on Monday night. The Guardian understands this has now been delayed. “I was guilty of doing this myself in attempts to try to get people to pay attention to FGM,” Hussein said. “But I had time to think. We are supposed to be protecting children. How is this protecting children?”

    British-Somali activist Hibo Wardere, author of Cut: One Woman’s Fight Against FGM in Britain Today, tweeted: @nofgm @SkyNews pkease people boycott thus and show yoyr support. Monday skynews is goung to show a mutilation

    Wardere told the Guardian she believed the filming would still be inexcusable even if the clip was re-edited or not shown. “We have not had a single response from Sky News, despite hundreds of activists emailing and calling them,” she said. “Even if they re-edit, they were there, they were part of her pain and they did nothing to stop it.”

    Wardere told the Guardian she believed the filming would still be inexcusable even if the clip was re-edited or not shown. “We have not had a single response from Sky News, despite hundreds of activists emailing and calling them,” she said. “Even if they re-edit, they were there, they were part of her pain and they did nothing to stop it.”


  66. More than 1200 FGM cases recorded across England in three months

    The Royal College of Midwives calls on health workers to be vigilant as official figures are released

    Press Association June 9, 2016 The Guardian

    Midwives have called for renewed efforts to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM) after more than 1,200 cases were recorded across England in just three months. This includes 11 Britons who were identified as being subject to FGM.

    Between January and March there were 1,242 newly recorded cases of FGM reported across English healthcare providers, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

    Two per cent of all new cases were girls under the age of 18.
    The Royal College of Midwives’ (RCM) professional policy adviser Janet Fyle called on health workers to be vigilant.

    She said: “These figures show that we need renewed and focused efforts to tackle FGM. This has to be backed by a national action plan so that all sectors and all professionals see FGM as their business, and protecting girls from such abuses becomes a normal part of their practice.

    “Every one of these numbers is a girl or young woman who has been subjected to abuse.

    “It’s shocking that 29 of the new recorded cases [2%] are girls under 18. It is even more of a concern that 11 of those were girls born in the UK. “This is why all healthcare professionals need to be vigilant in identifying women and girls at risk. They can then provide them with support and appropriate care and referral, and collaborate in the collection of data.

    “Health professionals must report all cases of known FGM in girls under 18 to the police. It is important that regulated professionals comply with their mandatory duty and legal obligation to report FGM cases.

    “These statistics help us to determine where resources are needed, and where more concerted action needs to focus. London in particular needs to make even greater efforts to tackle this issue.”

    A spokesman for the Local Government Association, which runs the National FGM Centre in partnership with Barnardo’s, said: “While these figures show new cases of FGM recorded, the FGM Centre’s pioneering pilot project is also providing a more detailed picture of how many women and girls are at risk, adding to the information on total numbers available from the NHS, so support can be better targeted going forward.

    “The report states there were seven cases where FGM was undertaken in the UK. While frontline social workers in councils across the country are increasingly aware of the criminal practice of FGM, it will only be stopped permanently if all agencies, including GP practices and communities, work together to keep women and girls safe.”