Too often, the first message a girl receives about her body is that it is imperfect, too fat or too thin, too dark or too freckled. But for some girls, the message is that, to be accepted by the wider community, their bodies must be cut, altered and even reshaped through a practice known as female genital mutilation (FGM). The practice involves any partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genitals for non-medical reasons. FGM can result in urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues and pain during sex.
Genital mutilation is practiced in at least 27 African countries, as well as parts of Asia and the Middle East. Other than Sudan and Egypt, it is most prevalent in Ethiopia, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Djibouti and Senegal, according to the United Nations Population Fund. In these places, the act is supported by both men and women, usually without question and the reasons for this ritual are often rooted in gender inequality.
The United Nations estimates that nearly nine in 10 Sudanese women have been subjected to the most invasive form of the practice.
In Sudan, one of the many arcane countries where FGM is practiced, 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone some form of mutilation, according to the UN. There has been a global trend towards banning the practice as more awareness is driven. Earlier this week, Sudan’s new government outlawed the practice of female genital mutilation, a move hailed as a major victory by women’s rights campaigners in a country where the often dangerous practice is widespread. Anyone in the country who performs female genital mutilation will face a possible three-year prison term and a fine under an amendment to Sudan’s criminal code.
“The law will help protect girls from this barbaric practice and enable them to live in dignity,” said Salma Ismail, a spokeswoman in Khartoum for the United Nations Children’s Fund. “And it will help mothers who didn’t want to cut their girls, but felt they had no choice, to say ‘no.’”
Although a major step, the new law does not necessarily mean an end to the practise. “Sudan may face challenges in enforcing legislation. People who still believe in the practice might not report cases or act to stop FGM,”– Faiza Mohamed, the Africa regional director for Equality Now.