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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
by Fran P. Hosken


The number of mutilated women and girls in Africa and the Middle East is increasing steadily due to population growth, according to the latest estimates published by WIN NEWS. But internationally financed population, health and safe motherhood programs ignore Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and have failed to implement effective preventive education.

The mutilation most often performed is Clitoridectomy or Excision - cutting off, without anesthetic, the clitoris and most of the external genitalia. This is practiced in a broad area from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Coast. The most dangerous operation, Infibulation or Pharaonic Circumcision, is customary in Sudan, Somalia, Northern Kenya, parts of Ethiopia and all along the Red Sea Coasts as well as in West Africa in parts of Mali and adjoining areas. After the clitoris is excised and all external genitalia are carved away, the bleeding raw edges of the large lips are held together by thorns or other fastening devices - until a scar forms to close the entrance to the vagina. The legs of the little girl are tied together for several weeks until the wound heals; a tiny opening is created by inserting a splinter of wood - to allow urination. Thus virginity - which is considered especially important by Moslem men - can be proven before the bride price is paid to the father.

These dangerous operations result in permanent health damage: hemorrhage and shock, which may be fatal; many infections including tetanus, scarring which obstructs normal childbirth and may result in death of both mother and baby; infertility due to infections. The operations are performed on children only a few days old up to puberty - depending on the ethnic groups. They cause urinary and menstrual problems, frigidity, painful intercourse and obstructed labor: the highest childbirth mortality is recorded in areas where FGM is practiced.

FGM has been cited by WHO (World Health Organization) as a major public health problem. At the WHO Seminar in Khartoum on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (1979), the nine African and Middle Eastern countries which participated formulated four ground-breaking recommendations for abolishing FGM, urging that health education and health training programs should be organized. Fran P. Hosken, who was temporary advisor on FGM to the WHO Seminar documents in The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females case histories from most African countries where FGM is practiced, including the South of the Arab Peninsula. In Malaysia and Indonesia a less drastic operation is performed by some Moslem population groups.

In 1984 at a conference in Dakar to follow up on the WHO Seminar, the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children was organized by African Women to prevent and eradicate FGM. The IAC, a private organization with offices in Addis Ababa and Geneva, now has affiliates in more than 24 African countries and sponsors many activities as well as education programs to stop FGM. Recently FGM has been prohibited in Kenya by President arap Moi, and by leaders of many West African countries - but no preventive actions followed, except in Burkina Faso which started a national campaign in 1988.

The Universal Childbirth Picture Book/CBPB - with Additions to prevent Excision and Infibulation were developed in support of the WHO seminar recommendations by Women's International Network. The CBPBs in English, French and Arabic are distributed all over Africa. Recently a Somali translation was published. More than 70,000 of these graphic teaching materials have been distributed in Africa to explain reproduction in pictures regardless of language or literacy. WIN NEWS, a quarterly journal, has covered women and development around the world since 1975, regularly publishes information and news about FGM. Fran P. Hosken, the editor and publisher, is encouraging open discussion of FGM and urges more support for African women working for eradication of FGM. She is available for interviews and has lectured at conferences worldwide.

As reported in WIN NEWS, immigrants from Africa/Middle East continue to perform the mutilations on their daughters in Europe, North America or wherever they go; in France several little girls from West Africa died as a result of mutilations done in Paris. In England, special legislation was passed to prohibit FGM and education programs were publicly funded. Most European countries have taken steps to prevent FGM which is classified as criminal child abuse in most of the world and cited as a human rights violation. In Canada, FGM is prohibited under child abuse laws. In 1993 special legislation to prohibit FGM in the US was introduced in Congress.

Women's International Network is distributing free CBPBs to local Community and Women's Groups, Clinics, Midwifery Schools and Training Programs all over Africa to all who are willing to work for the eradication of FGM. This successful grass roots program, which is regularly reported in WIN NEWS, urgently needs sponsors and support. Contributions to WIN are tax-deductible in the USA.

WIN NEWS/Fran P. Hosken, editor, 187 Grant St., Lexington, MA 02420-2126, USA. Tel: (781) 862-9431, E-mail [email protected]


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