A law passed in November 2008 prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM) in the state of Southern Kordofan is unique in Sudan.
But for it to translate into genuine abolition, deep seated attitudes and misinformation will have to be overcome.
More than two-thirds of women in the state have undergone FGM, according to a 2006 household survey conducted by the Ministry of Health. “All my daughters have been circumcised,” Asia Abdalla Jibril, a tea-seller, said in Kadugli, the state capital.
“The clitoris is dirty. If you undergo FGM you become clean,” Jibril said. In Sudan, the Arabic word “tahur,” which means purity, is often used for FGM. “If a baby is sick, FGM helps,” added Jibril.
“Women affected by genital mutilation do not uniformly regard it as mutilation, and may react negatively to being referred to as ‘damaged’,” according to a report on FGM in Sudan and Somalia compiled by Norway’s Country of Origin Information Centre in December 2008.
This is despite the fact, the report stated, that “the procedure is mainly carried out by so-called excisors or circumcisers with no medical qualifications. “
Common FGM types in the state — and elsewhere in Sudan — are the Pharaonic and Sunna forms.
The former, also known as infibulation, involves the total removal of all external sex organs before the vagina is sewn up, leaving a small opening for the passing of menstrual blood, while the Sunna type is less extensive.
Nevetheless, FGM causes complications during pregnancy, pain during sexual intercourse, and other gynaeocological problems and traumas later in life.
Although she know FGM is now banned, Jibril said she believed some form is still necessary. “The Pharaonic one was bad but the Sunna type is better,” she said.
“It is mainly the ‘grandmothers’ who still want FGM,” said Wahid Eldeen Abed Elrahim, director of the National Council for Child Welfare, a non-governmental organisation working to monitor and encourage implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. More educated men are being convinced that they should protect their children.
Elrahim said that it had taken 18 months of advocacy and awareness-creation before the mainly male-dominated legislative council in the state passed the FGM Law.
Under the new legislation, the penalty for an FGM offence will be 10 years’ imprisonment and compensation to the family if it caused the death of the victim.
The attempt, assisting in the procedure and abetment will be penalised with two-year jail terms.
Those propagating FGM and operating places where it is committed will also be punished and repeat offenders imprisoned for life.
In addition, information about protection against FGM will be issued at the birth of every girl and incorporated into school curricula.
A national strategy was launched in Sudan in 2008, with the aim of total abolition and zero tolerance within 10 years. Elrahim said there was a long way to go.
The Al Fula area in the east is one where the practice is particularly prevalent. “We are focusing on ensuring that the high-profile areas are aware of the FGM Act and of the punishment for engaging in the practice,” said Huda Gamar Hussien, a social worker.
“The passing of the law will, however, not change behaviour overnight,” said Hussien. “Right now we are seeing movement from the Pharaonic type to Sunna, then maybe later to no FGM at all.”