The new Sudanese government has banned the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), a move hailed as a major victory by women’s rights activists in a country where the often dangerous practice is widespread. According to the UN, nearly 9 out of 10 Sudanese women have undergone partial or total removal of the external female genital organs. This often leads to life-threatening health or sexual problems.
In a statement, the Sudanese foreign ministry said the move was “a significant positive development“. He considers that the addition to the criminal law of the article is an implementation of chapter 14 on rights and freedoms of the Constitutional Declaration, signed by the Transitional Military Council then in place and the Opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) in August 2019.
From now on, anyone who performs female genital mutilation is sentenced to three years in prison and a fine under an amendment to the Criminal Code of Sudan established by the country’s transitional government, which came to power last year after the dismissal of dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
“This is a huge step for Sudan and its new government. Africa can only prosper if it takes care of girls and women. They show that this government has teeth.”said Nimco Ali of the Five foundation, an organization that campaigns to end female genital mutilation around the world.
“The law will help protect girls from this barbaric practice and allow them to live in dignity. And it will help mothers who did not want to maim their daughters but felt that they had no choice but to say ‘no'”said Salma Ismail, Khartoum spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund.
The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that full implementation of this law requires effort and close coordination with all partners, in particular community groups and civil society organizations. He also revealed that he was looking for international partners wishing to help with this subject. Indeed, According to experts, this law is not enough to put an end to female circumcision which is rooted in cultural and religious beliefs. This practice is considered a pillar of tradition and marriage. It is supported by women as by men. “It is not just about legal reform. There is a lot of work to do for society to accept it.”warned Salma Ismail.
In Egypt, for example, excision has been prohibited since 2008 and a law was put in place in 2016 exposing doctors and parents to prison terms of up to seven years for performing the operation and up to 15 years if it results in disability or death. Nevertheless, prosecutions are rare and female genital mutilation continues with 70% of Egyptian women aged 15 to 49 having undergone excision. Last February, a girl just 12 years old died of genital mutilation without anesthesia. Incarcerated for a few days, the gynecologist responsible for the operation was released by the justice system.
Genital mutilation is practiced in at least 27 African countries, as well as in parts of Asia and the Middle East. According to traditional beliefs, the removal of a girl’s external genitals guarantees the honor of the family and her marriage prospects. However, mutilation can lead to infections but also infertility or complications during childbirth. It considerably decreases the sexual pleasure of women. This practice was one of the reasons why researchers from the Thomas Reuters Foundation have ranked Sudan among the worst countries for women’s rights.
However, opinions about female genital mutilation have changed in recent years in the country. In June 2015, legal experts demanded the formulation of a national law prohibiting female genital mutilation in all states of Sudan. Recently, Nasr al-Din Mufreh, the Minister of Religious Affairs, assured that it was a “a practice whose time, place, history and science have proven to be outdated “ and that it had no justification in Islam. He then declared that he supported the militants’ objective of eliminating the practice in his country by 2030.