Experts warn of difficulties ending female cutting in Sudan

FAN Editor

Sudan has criminalized the act of female genital mutilation, a historic move in a country where the United Nations says 9 out of 10 women between the ages of 15 to 49 have been subjected to the practice. But some activists warn the practice could be hard to eradicate in a country where it is so entrenched in the culture. 

Under the law that was passed earlier in April, any offenders will serve a punishable sentence of up to three years in prison according to The New York Times. According to the U.N. report, Sudan is one of the world’s most-affected nations. 

The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as involving “the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry has welcomed the Sudanese government’s decision, saying in a statement the government “affirmed its confidence in the competence of the Sudanese institutions, its ability and professionalism to protect women, respect them and to enhance their rights in general and in particular the health and social rights. The statement stressed that the issuance of the decision represents an important positive development, and it comes in implementation of the provisions of the constitutional document, Chapter (14) for the Rights and Freedoms, in commitment of the Sudan to the international agreements related to the protection of human rights, especially the women child’s rights.”

However, since the practice has been a significant part of the Sudanese culture, experts and activists claim that the law is not enough to eradicate FGM entirely.

Insaf Abbas of BBC News called it a “momentous day” for Sudanese women, but she said “many are treating it with caution for fear that FGM could be driven underground.”

“Although I know how widespread the practice is in Sudan, it’s also very taboo,” Abbas said. “I’ve never spoken to female relatives about FGM, and I don’t even know which of them have gone through it. Maybe that will change with this news. I’m hoping that if anything, it shakes the taboo and gets more women and girls in Sudan talking about FGM.”

“Sudan has one of the highest prevalence rates of Female Genital Mutilation globally. Equality Now welcomes the Sudanese government’s stated political commitment to protect the health and social rights of women and girls in Sudan by criminalizing FGM, and we look forward to seeing the State putting their words into action by ensuring effective enforcement of the law,” Africa Office Director of Equality Now, Faiza Jama Mohamed told CBS News via email.

“Women in Sudan played a leading role in the protests that led to the overthrow of [former President Omar] al-Bashir’s autocratic rule in the spring of 2019,” Mohamed continued. “At the forefront of demonstrations were demands for an end to the pervasive gender discrimination enforced by the regime. Protesters took huge personal risks by going onto the streets to call for greater women’s rights and it is heartening to see their struggle now bearing fruits. By taking this step, Sudan will adhere to the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women and fulfill the commitment it made at the UN Human Rights Council during its last UPR.”

Mohamed urges that communities and law enforcement officials in Sudan who still believe in this draconian practice may not uphold the law and many cases may still go unreported. 

“New legislation outlawing FGM should be accompanied by positive community engagement, awareness raising on the dangers of this harmful practice, and support for women and girls who have been cut or are at risk. In addition, authorities need to collect and circulate reliable data, and providing adequate funding to eliminate this harmful practice once and for all. Sudan’s new law against FGM will be particularly beneficial to girls who have not been cut. Reinfibulation should also be outlawed to protect all women and girls who already were cut,” said Mohamed.

World leaders have taken a pledge to eradicate FGM entirely by 2030. 

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