This was a really interesting discussion. Members enriched the debate with perspectives and examples of Cross Border FGM in their communities. From the discussions, we concluded that Cross Border FGM seems to have become a widespread issue in several regions.

The main ideas emitted by the members during the discussion on Cross-border FGMs:

  • Reconsider and question the notion of border. Several members emphasized that many borders in Africa are “artificial”, divisions inherited from colonization, which helps explain why the practice is done across borders. 

  • Stop thinking in terms of borders and States only, on order to begin thinking in terms of communities who live and share culture and traditions going beyond borders. People crossing borders don’t perceive themselves as “strangers” in the country they go to. Thus, increased cooperation and collaboration is needed between countries who house the same communities.

  • Introducing border controls are not seen as an efficient or ethical solution to fight Cross-border FGM.

  • Consider law’s enforcement and efficiency of controls rather than the existence or not of legislation.

  • Don’t forget diasporas and migration flows which make the notion of borders less pertinent in terms of FGM as some communities practice it in their host country where it is illegal.

  • Acknowledge and support local activists in communities, especially in countries where activists are strongly repressed.

A common issue raised during the discussion was that the enforcement of laws in various countries has pushed the practice of FGM underground in several communities. Members showed that the prevalence rate of Cross Border FGM was higher in communities where the same people sharing the same culture lived across country borders.  Cross Border FGM is most likely to happen in countries with no or fragile Anti FGM laws as people travel into communities where they can escape prosecution.

Some of the members emphasized the importance of reconsidering the notion of border questioning the old division inherited from colonization and also taking into consideration diasporas and migratory flows.

“I do not think that « identifying people traveling to practice FGM » is the solution to a cross-border phenomenon. When a phenomenon is cross-border, it is preferable to think of campaigns which go beyond the artificial borders inherited from colonization. Otherwise, I don’t see how you can stop a Siguiri malinke who goes to Mali, a little Peul from Guinea to Senegal or a Kissian from Guéckédou to Kouendou in Sierra-Leone”
College Profesor, Guinea

Members also argued that the practice of FGM by diaspora communities must be considered as cross-border FGM, although they do not practice in neighboring countries.

I think we should also include Europe and the USA where there is no longer a federal law banning FGM. The very broad Dawoodi Bohras diaspora, which also has the particularity of having FGM practiced by members of the community (notably health professionals), does not return « to the country » either. Which explains why they practice in Mayotte, Madagascar or New York …

From our point of view, we must not limit ourselves to the West African sub-Saharan continent. Or reflect from the old empires. The geographic division made by the colonizers gave different nationalities to similar people in terms of language as well as in terms of traditional practices.

Another example is the Indonesians or Malaysians who practice female cutting in Australia. Although in their countries the law does not condemn FGM, they still practice it in a country where the law condemns it”
Sociologist, France

When members where asked whether identifying people who travel to practice FGM, at the border, is the solution to eradicating Cross Border FGM, most members disagreed. Instead, they argued, authorities and activists need to employ other measures to tackle the issue.

“Will we not create a sentiment of « infantilization » when we want to question people on their reasons of travelling inside their own countries? 

Should we believe in the capacity of people to self assert, through reinforcing their capacity to make decisions – Or count on controls (and fear) of persons who have the right to travel freely? »
Social worker, Belgium.

« Persons who cross a border do not feel like foreigners on the other side, they go to see their parents, their family that live in « the other country ». This person will not say that she is going to do a practice that is illegal in her/his country, they go because it is a practice prepared by their community [on the other side of the border].”

Educator, Senegal

“I think its very vital and important to do a screening on young girls crossing the « red zone »…the security personnel should cross examine the girls and the guardians on who is crossing the boarders and for what visit …”

Activist, Kenya

Some members further questioned the interest on focusing on « Artificial borders » and emphasized the importance of focusing on ethnic communities instead:

« Since the reports prove that excision is a social norm and its practice is linked to communities and not to artificial territories, I still cannot understand why projects and programs promoting the abandonment of excision do not focus on communities instead of states.

Laws are state, of course, but couldn’t we think more holistically? I know it’s complicated, because the main donors think of states and territoriallogic.
In any case, the decline in prevalence in the different countries is always linked to particular communities. It is also the reluctance of certain communities which maintains high percentages of excision in different countries. »
College Profesor, Guinea

“Cross border work on FGM is needed especially in countries that have the same communities across the borders in each country; for example Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia each have a population of the Somali community (if in one country for example the strategy is no FGM among this community and in the next is promotion what is purported to be ‘Islamic cut’- we have been through this- the community will cross borders to that country that condones the cut; same for say if one country outlaws and the next has not etc). Kenya and Ethiopia share the Oromo communities also. Tanzania and Kenya share the Maasai and Kuria etc. so the focus is on the communities and not just borders. One time we had concern on how the refugees were taking girls to villages in the outskirts of the Dadaab camps all because a lot of work on FGM abandonment was happening in the camps and nothing in those villages.

Where communities share borders, their engagement in both countries is paramount. Some of the examples I picked above are nomadic people who do not care about those artificial borders and they will just cross to get their daughters cut just like they will cross to get water and pasture for their livestock”
Maryam Abdikadir SheikhSocial worker, Kenya

A member from Wadi shared information on the opportunities of cross-border collaborations between Kurdish Iran and Iraq.

“We have a special cross border situation between Iraq and Iran, where on both sides of the border Kurds are affected [by the practice] (in the South also Arabs, but we don’t work there). It is especially difficult because there are no big donors who will fund projects in Iran. At the same time, Iran would not accept internationals to work there or even a local NGO to be connected to internationals.

Favorable is that Iraq Kurdish television is very popular in Iran. So Iranian Kurds see our clips against FGM, talk shows etc. This started a discussion in Iran before we started with cross border work.

By now, we were able to get some cross border work going. First, we invited Iranian activists and researchers to regional meetings. Since then, there is an exchange between Kurds in Iraq and Iran with conferences and workshops about how to fights FGM. One Iranian researcher was even invited to speak in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament. A psychologist from Iran comes for trainings to Iraq to teach our social workers about couple therapy for FGM victims. When the Iraqis or the Iranians have developed new material they exchange this and thereby it can often be used in both countries.

We have not heard of women/girls crossing the border to get FGM done. This might happen also across the regional border towards central Iraq: FGM is only prohibited in Kurdistan, not in the other Iraqi regions.

We know that polygamy happens cross border: Because polygamy is prohibited in Kurdistan, men go to central Iraq to get their second wife registered there. Legally, this is a difficult situation because it is one country, just with very different laws on women’s protection.

Activists have been pushing for laws in Iran and central Iraq to get FGM prohibited, but this is difficult – and in Iran even dangerous and can land you in prison. So, we focus more on the grassroot approach”

Activist working at the border Iran-Irak

Members both stressed the need for community education and of working towards girls’ and women’s empowerment:

“We must make sure that girls get to go to school so that they can make informed decisions on their own and educate them girls and women on FGM by introduction of age appropriate topics in learning institutions. Economic empowerment of women is key to enable them to be independent and not rely on men or traditional beliefs for their livelihood.”

Joycelyn Mwangi, from the Gender Rights NetworkKenya

« The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation » is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM » project, supported by the « UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM ».
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.

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