Sudan is set to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) in a historic amendment to the country’s current legislations. The move comes after years of persistent pressure from women campaigners against the brutal practice, which targets girls as young as five years old.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as all measures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Women activists at all levels are being hailed for this momentous step toward ending all forms of FGM after years at the forefront of campaigns to criminalize it.
The news coming from Muslim majority country had an outpouring positive reaction, yet the Law criminalizing FGM “still needs to be approved by the joint meeting between the Sovereign Council and the Council of Ministers,” said Osman Abufatima, Secretary General of the Government of Sudan’s National Council on Child Welfare.
The North African country claims one of the highest rates of FGM in the world with 88% of Sudanese women enduring the practice, according to the UN. FGM in Sudan is prevalent in women and girls between 15 and 49 years old and can lead to health and sexual complications that could be deadly.
Means to End FGM
FGM is a deeply seeded tradition in Sudan, which is the major challenge facing efforts to end it beyond written law.
“We realise that legislation is not enough in changing beliefs and attitudes towards cultural practices” said Naana Otoo-Oyortey, executive director of FORWARD in an email to Muslim.
FORWARD is the leading African women-led organization working to end violence against women and girls.
“It is through the empowerment of men and women in communities and awareness raising activities that we can normalize the conversation which is often taboo,” she added.
Another facet Otoo- Oyortey raised is the need to address FGM from a systematic point of view through education. FORWARD wants to see supplemental steps to ensure the implementation of local policies to adapt to this legislation in addition to educating “young people about the practice in their curriculum”, said Otoo- Oyortey to Muslim.
FGM: A Religious Mandate?
The controversy as to whether FGM is a religious or cultural practice is still ongoing. However, it is widely common in some Muslim majority countries, where it is promoted as a religious procedure.
In Sudan, numerous religious leaders are strong proponents of FGM, and the overall practice is accepted and seen as sanctioned by Islam.
There have been recurrent calls by women campaigners for the government to build meaningful relationships with the local community and to work intensively with the religious leaders who still oppose the elimination of FGM.
These religious leaders need to recognize “the importance of protecting women and girls in their communities in future” said a spokesperson of 28 Too Many in a statement to Muslim.
28 Too Many is a charity established to aid the elimination of FGM in the countries in Africa and across the diaspora worldwide.
The law gives a governmental backing and support to the advocacy work that has been going on for decades. In addition, it highlights the necessity to have “more men and boys into the advocacy work through education and community driven projects,” the spokesperson told Muslim.
According to WHO, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated. The long and continuous efforts by Sudanese women crowned by this historic legislation sends a clear message that FGM is a crime and is no longer an accepted practice in modern Sudan.