Thursday, April 05, 2007
The Eritrean government has banned female genital mutilation (FGM), saying the practice was painful and put women at risk of life-threatening health problems.
A government proclamation published on Wednesday said it was illegal for anyone to subject a person to FGM or provide tools to anyone who intended to carry out the practice. Failing to inform authorities on intended plans to subject anyone to FGM also constituted an offence, according to the legal notice.
The government and civil society had in February expressed optimism that efforts to combat FGM were bearing fruit, saying the campaign against the practice had gained support in rural areas where it was most common.
"We do not have the statistics yet, but we have seen a positive response, with even village councils coming up with their own provisional laws with the people's consensus to discourage the practice," Dehab Suleiman, the head of information and research at the National Union of Eritrean Women, told IRIN.
Suleiman said FGM prevalence rates in Eritrea were estimated at 94 percent, but the practice was expected to decline in the near future because an increasing number of parents were choosing not to have their daughters subjected to FGM.
We have seen a positive change
FGM involves the cutting and/or removal of the clitoris and other vaginal tissue, often under unsanitary conditions. It is practised in at least 28 countries globally. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that up to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of FGM.
It is practised extensively in Africa, and also in parts of the Middle East and among immigrant communities around the world. According to medical experts, it causes physical and psychological complications, as well as heightening the risk of HIV/AIDS when unsterilised instruments are used.
At least 16 African countries have banned the practice, and the Maputo Protocol, an African regional document that prohibits and condemns FGM, came into force in November 2005.
This is a point of interest for me because I spent most of my childhood in regions where some form of FGM is common practise.
I wonder if it only seems like a baby step, compared to what still needs to be done.
I'm also curious which countries are affected, because the even bigger health concern are the regions that practise infibulation.
Once the idea catches hold, it will only take 2 generations for it to be gone entirely. For something that's been around 4000+ years, that's pretty quick.
1) Outlawing the practice rarely does much to actually change it, so I wouldn't jump up too fast to celebrat the fact that it's been banned. So far, the most intelligent legal move I've seen has come from Kenya, where they legislated that girls must be at least sixteen to undergo, and also it must be by choice. While the issue of choice is of course not simple, it has led to protection under law for girls who refuse the practice.
2) Concerns aside, what really made me happy about the Eritrean ban was that it came about as a response to activism from Eritrean women's groups, who were calling for the ban. There seems to be at least a little bit of grassroots activism and women speaking for themselves.