Importance of cultural and family connections

Due to it’s clandestine nature, cross-border FGM raises questions about the existence of the networks supporting it.

Evidence from Burkina Faso and neighboring countries suggests that officials, at the governmental level and in the border areas, family and cultural ties between communities on both sides of the border favor the crossborder practice of excision. (GRIGED, 2008)

For example, in the border localities between Burkina Faso and Niger the role of family ties appears to be an anchor in the practice of cross-border FGM. The Peuhl communities of Tera (Nigerian side) and those of Falagountou (Burkina Faso side) are linked by kinship supported by endogamous marriages. Respect for cultural norms including FGM is important and excision becomes a family affair: all members of a same family are united in order to contribute to it’s realization, regardless of their place of residence. In other words, parental bonds serve as both a foundation and a cover for cross-border practice. Similar situations can be found in Makalondi (Niger) and Kantchari (Burkina Faso) inhabited by the Gourmantch community on both sides of the border. (GRIGED, 2008)

“It exists because they have family on the other side but they consult the fetishes before. Afterwards, they pretend to travel to see the family on the other side…People practice excision in hiding. The initiatory rites are no longer visible.” Focus group young kantchari, Burkina Faso border with Niger. (GRIGED, 2008)

Reconsidering the notion of ‘border’ to think more in terms of community

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

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 …

The geographic divisions created by colonizers gave different nationalities to people who were similar 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

Some members further questioned the point of focusing on “Artificial borders” and emphasized the importance of focusing on ethnic communities instead:

“Since the reports prove that FGM is a social norm and it’s 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 statutory, of course, but couldn’t we think more holistically? I know it’s complicated, because the main donors think along state and territorial lines.

In any case, the decline in prevalence in the different countries is always linked to specific communities. It is also the reluctance of certain communities which maintains high percentages of FGM in different countries.” College Professor, Guinea

“Cross border work on FGM is needed, especially in countries that have the same communities across two sides of the border; for example Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia each have a strong Somali community (if in one country for example the strategy is no FGM among this community and in the next it is  the promotion of what is purported to be ‘Islamic’- we have been through this- the community will cross borders to reach the country that condones the cut; and the same goes if one country outlaws the practice and the other has not done so yet etc). Kenya and Ethiopia share the Oromo communities, Tanzania and Kenya share the Maasai and Kuria etc… so the focus is on the communities and not just borders. Once, we were concerned about refugees taking girls to villages on the outskirts of the Dadaab camps because a lot of work on FGM abandonment was happening in the camps but nothing in those villages.

Where communities share borders, their engagement in both countries is paramount. Some of the examples I picked are of 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 Sheikh, Social worker, Kenya

“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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