Renewed efforts to outlaw female genital mutilation

Women in Eritrea have joined a nationwide campaign to try to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) by lobbying for a law to ban the practice and raise mass awareness among the population, an official at the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) said on Wednesday.

"We are campaigning throughout the country with different institutions, including religious leaders and government ministries," Dehab Suleiman, the head of information and research at NUEW, said. "We also want parliament to change the law to make it illegal."

According to the NUEW, an estimated 94 percent of Eritrea's women have undergone the practice. "Most of the women undergo the mild type - especially in the highlands where farmers live. The more serious type - infibulation - is more common among the pastoralists in the lowlands," Dehab told IRIN.

The milder types of mutilation are carried out on girls at the age of one, while the more serious types are done at seven. "Some Eritreans think it is culturally correct to do it, so we are campaigning to change such attitudes," she added.

NUEW, which has trained hundreds of advocacy activists, is working with the justice ministry on the law and using materials produced by the health ministry, including videos, in its training programmes.

In June, the African Union urged its member states to end FGM, saying the ritual traumatised millions of girls and women on the continent. Alpha Oumar Konaré, chairman of the AU commission, in a message on the Day of the African Child, 16 June, said it was a violation of the human rights and dignity of girls and women.

Human-rights activists have put pressure on governments to legislate against FGM. 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.

Several agencies, including the United Nations children’s fun, UNICEF, are also working to reach both school-aged children and men. According to UNICEF, young people have been trained as advocates against the practice and anti-FGM clubs have been established in various regions.

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. 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, especially when crude instruments are used.

eo/mw