The African activists Mary Oloiparuni, Asha Ismail and Jaha Mapenzi Dukureh do not know each other but they share a painful experience: they all suffered genital mutilation. Pain, haemorrhages and scars persist almost 20 years later in the young woman’s memory.
Laura Becquer Paseiro
Mary Oloiparuni was subjected to genital mutilation when she was just 13-years-old. Her story, published on the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) website, recalls the morning when there was a banging on the door of her home and her genitals were cut with allusions to notions of ‘purity’.
Mary, together with Asha and Jaha, is among the 200 million women and girls aged between 15 and 49 who are victims of the ‘traditional’ adulthood initiation rite practised by certain ethnic and religious groups in at least 30 countries, mostly in Africa. The highest concentration of cases is in Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia, whilst female circumcision is a ‘widespread’ phenomenon in Djibouti, Guinea and Somalia, according to the latest figures from Unicef.
The report laments the absence of legislation against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia and Sierra Leone, despite it being prohibited by legal documents such as the Maputo Protocol which was signed in 2003 by almost all African countries and which watches over the discontinuation of the practice.
Sentences given for this type of gender violence vary from country to country, from 5 years in prison to forced labour in perpetuity or life sentences.
The authorities in many countries complain that those suspected of carrying out FGM are often arrested but cannot be convicted due to lack of proof.
Others, like the director of Amref Health Africa, Githinji Gitahi, remark that female circunsicion is a deeply rooted cultural idiosyncrasy and that for many families it represents a way out of poverty.
Gitahi, CEO of the largest African-run international health organisation, points out that when girls become adult women – a fact accomplished when they are mutilated, goes the belief – parents can obtain a dowry upon marrying them.
This is why it is often not in people’s interest to condemn the practice, he adds.
Ismail, another victim, denounces the ‘politicking’ around the subject and says that fines or even the prison sentences should not just be brought against those who carry out the mutilation but also against parents who offer up their daughters like the spoils of war.
As for Jaha Mapenzi Dukureh, Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa, she condemns at every opportunity the fact that ‘when you force a girl to marry, you’re giving the man the right to rape her every day.’
The Gambian, a victim of female circunsicion who was forced to marry at a very young age, claims that new policies are urgently needed to protect the future of millions of girls today exposed to this practice.
Many of these women do sometimes have better luck, like Kenyan Nice Nailantei Leng’ete who fled genital mutilation when she was 8-years-old and who has been named one of most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
The activist believes FGM represents the end of a girl’s education, child marriage and sometimes even death.
Leng’ete resolutely states that ‘it’s a violation of girls’ human rights and it perpetuates a vicious cycle of gender inequality’. Experts believe that governments are not sufficiently committed to putting an end to the practice. Calls to action to counteract genital mutilation are part of the ‘Accelerating change’ plan presented in 2008 by Unicef and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
This plan promotes zero tolerance policies and laws, working with healthcare professionals to eliminate FGM and offer assistance to victims, as described on the organisations websites.
Since its publication, regulations have been passed that pave the way for FGM to be outlawed in 13 countries and over 3 million women and girls have accessed services for prevention, protection and treatment.
Additionally, around 34 million people in more than 21 thousand communities have publicly declared their rejection of female genital mutilation. (PL)
(Translated by Elizabeth Dann – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)