Nearly a decade after a ban on health workers performing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Yemen, the harmful practice continues unabated, with the government saying more research is needed before an outright ban can be imposed.
“Nine years after the ban we see that it works the opposite of what was intended,” said Wafa Ahmad Ali, a leader of the Sanaa-based Yemen Women’s Union (YWU). “Now instead of going to the hospital where the tools are at least clean, FGM is carried out at home.”
The Ministry of Human Rights supports a new study on the practice. “If the study proves that the practice is still being carried out, we will push for a new law,” Huda Ali Abdullatef Alban, minister of human rights, told IRIN. “We hope this new law can be in place within the next four years,” he said .
FGM/C is a practice which includes the mutilation, scarring, partial or full removal of a woman’s genitals for non-medical reasons. It leads to a range of serious reproductive and other health problems, according to the WHO.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recently estimated that worldwide 120-140 million women have been subjected to the practice and three million girls continue to be at risk each year.
“The practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting. These perceptions can, and must, change,” said a joint UNFPA, UNICEF statement on 6 February, the international day against FGM.
A study of over 2,000 women in Yemen in 2001, carried out by the Ministry of Heath in coordination with the Women’s National Committee, found FGM/C particularly widespread in five coastal governorates.
Photo: Annasofie Flamand/IRIN
|Dr Huda Ali Abdullatef Alban, Minister of Human Rights in Yemen, hopes for a new law banning FGM/C within four years|
In Hodeidah, Hadhramaut and al-Maharah an average of over 96 percent of women had undergone FGM/C. In Aden it was 82 percent, and in al-Amanah 46 percent of women.
The waiting room in a Sanaa health clinic is full of women waiting to see a leading gynaecologist, Arwa Elrabee. The doctor has just seen a patient who has undergone FGM/C.
“She is married, but she does not want to have intercourse with her husband because of the pain,” she said. “In many cases the pain is physical, but often it is psychological.”
“I view it as a criminal attack on children,” said Elrabee. “Often people don’t use anaesthetic and they risk giving the girl both physical and psychological traumas.”
“Simply put, FGM/C is violence against girls,” said the YWU’s Ali. “There are laws against it in Yemen, but they are not adequate and they are not enforced.”
Meanwhile, the YWU argues the position of the government on FGM/C has “never been assertive” and allows for the custom to continue being carried out privately.
Ali and others acknowledge that ending FGM/C in Yemen will require changing society’s attitude towards women in a country which in 2009 was rated by the World Economic Forum as having the world’s largest gender disparity for a third consecutive year.
“At the heart of this problem is the lack of equality between men and women,” said Ali. “We are struggling for our rights in Yemen. Personally I am angry, but we need to take baby steps when it comes to changing Yemeni society.”