GUINEA-BISSAU: Two thousand girls a year suffer genital mutilation
bissau, 27 August 2007 (IRIN) - The annual female genital mutilation season in Guinea-Bissau begins when schools close for the winter holidays from July to September. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that each year the parents of around 2,000 girls send them to "fanatecas" to be ritually circumcised.
Sinim Mira Nassiquê - 'We are thinking of the future' in Mandinka - a non-governmental organisation, brought fanatecas and activists together this month to discuss the health hazards of genital mutilation.
The meeting confirmed that while culture was a hurdle, simple economics also drove the custom. "They tell us to abandon the practice. We are willing to do that, but what are we going to receive to make up for our loss of work? This is our profession, how can we make a living?" protested Nhima Corobó, one of the oldest fanatecas in the capital, Bissau.
Maria Domingas Gomes, president of Sinim Mira Nassiquê, acknowledged the difficulty of persuading the fanatecas to stop. "Our objective is to demonstrate to the fanatecas that genital mutilation is harmful to the woman's health and can lead her to contract various illnesses, like AIDS," she said.
Sinim Mira Nassiquê has explored alternative approaches, in which girls go through the initiation rituals, but are not cut. However, pressure from fanatecas and some local leaders meant the approach failed to gain traction.
Guinea-Bissau's Muslim ethnic groups comprise 46 percent of the population and all of them practice genital mutilation: among the Fula, the procedure consists of excising the clitoris and the labia; the Beafada and the Mandigo remove only the clitoris.
The workshop in Bissau coincided with a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which drew international specialists to discuss ways of eradicating the practice worldwide.
At the meeting the UNICEF and the UN Population Fund, which works to improve quality of life in developing countries, launched a US$44 million initiative to reduce female genital mutilation by 40 percent in the next nine years, and to end it in one generation in 16 high-prevalence African countries.
The programme will rely on partnerships with governments, religious leaders, health professionals, the media and civil society.
According to the World Health Organisation, between 100 million and 140 million women and girls globally have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation.
Out of 54 African countries, 30 have communities that practice the ritual, and although 13 countries have laws banning female genital mutilation, Guinea-Bissau is not one of them.
That could be about to change. In the past year the government has resuscitated a bill that would prohibit mutilation, with penalties of imprisonment, developed in 2001 by the Institute of the Woman and the Child, in partnership with human rights organisations, but it has yet to be passed into law.