What can be done to tackle Cross Border FGM

At a national level Tighten national legislations around cross-border FGM and so that those who participate in any action that results in women and girls being moved between countries to be cut are punished. In this way, Felister Gitonga, project officer at Equality Now, Kenya has emphasized that: “The implementation of the Prohibition of FGM Act (2011) in Kenya has also contributed to an increase in cross border FGM. The law criminalizes cross border FGM under Article 21. Collaboration between community-based organisations, community policing agents and law enforcement agencies has intensified the enforcement of the law in Kenya with the authorities being very alert during the cutting season. Therefore community members opt to take children to Tanzania where the authorities are not very vigilant.”

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Working with Iranian and Iraqi Kurds

A member from WADI shared a special case on how Iraqi activists are penetrating Iran and pushing for an end to FGM. “We have a special cross border situation between Iraq and Iran, whereby on both sides of the border Kurds are affected (in the South the Arabs are also affected, but we don’t work there). It is especially difficult because there are no big donors who will fund projects in Iran. That having been said, Iran would not accept to have internationals working there or even a local NGO connected to internationals. The one positive thing is that Iraqi Kurdish television is very popular in Iran. So Iranian Kurds see our clips against FGM, talk shows etc. This launched the discussion in Iran before we started with cross border work. Today we were able to get some cross border work going. First, we invited Iranian activists and researchers to regional meetings. Since then, there has been an ongoing exchange between the Kurds in Iraq and Iran via conferences and workshops on how to combat FGM. One Iranian researcher was even invited to speak in the Iraqi Kurdish parliament. A psychologist from Iran comes t give trainings in Iraq, in order to teach our social workers about couple therapy for FGM victims. When the Iraqis or the Iranians have developed new material they make it available for use in both countries.

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The situation in specific countries

Five countries, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somalia, account for almost a quarter of the 200 million women and girls worldwide who have undergone FGM (an estimated 48.5 million). While the prevalence of FGM among women aged 15–49 is 21% in Kenya, 98% in Somalia, 65% in Ethiopia, 10 % in Tanzania and only 0,3% in Uganda, a recent report by UNFPA Kenya note that communities across borders often have a higher prevalence (1). In the five countries, five different ethnic groups reside in more than one country (the Kikuyu, Kuria, Maasai, Pokot and Somalis). They share traditions and cultures, including the practice of FGM. A 2019 UNFPA report highlights the differences in the practice across and within countries in Eastern Africa, particularly with regards to the age of cutting. The report also outlines similarities in practice shared by ethnic groups across borders.

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Lessons learnt from the discussion

What to retain of members’ contributions? 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 conducted across borders. Stop thinking in terms of borders and States only in order to begin thinking in terms of communities who live and share cultures and traditions which go beyond borders. People crossing borders do not perceive themselves as “foreigners” in the country they visit. Thus, increased cooperation and collaboration is needed between countries who house the same communities.

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Preliminary results of Josephine Wouango’s report

Josephine Wouango, anthropologist, has shared her knowledge and the first conclusions drawn from her research on cross-border FGM between Burkina Faso and Mali. Josephine Wouango is a lecturer at the University of Liège, Belgium, and a qualitative research expert supporting various organisations. She is currently assisting the Belgian Development Agency (ENABEL) as an expert on their West African bilateral cooperation programs on gender equality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and contributing the anthropological lens to help them better understand the contexts and the needs of their target population.

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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.

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Legal situations facilitating cross-border FGM

Avoiding the law Female Genital Mutilation remains an entrenched cultural and religious driven act in practicing communities. While global efforts have been made to curb this issue evidence suggests that families, cutters and practitioners still find ‘creative ways’ to uphold the practice. In some countries where FGM has become illegal, the practice has both been pushed underground and across borders to avoid prosecution. The movement of families and traditional practitioners across national borders for the purpose of FGM is a complex challenge for the campaign to end the practice, and women and girls living in border communities can be particularly vulnerable. (1; 2)

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Socio-economic subordination and FGM

Studies have revealed that the socio-economic subordination of women conditions the perpetuation of the practice of FGM (1), and that the more women exercise control over their lives, the more convinced they are that it is necessary to end the practice (2). Aditionally, the practice of female genital mutilation is believed to be linked to factors such as urban or rural residence, economic status and education (3).

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Strengths and good practices of anti-FGM laws
Lady justice. Statue of Justice in library. Legal and law background concept

Strengths and good practices of anti-FGM laws

The very existence of the law produces effects that go beyond the mere application of sanctions and the prosecution of those practising FGM. It serves as a deterrent and therefore protects girls at risk of undergoing FGM both from the practice itself and - in some cases - from the stigma associated with not being excised.

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Issues & critiques linked to anti-FGM laws
Lady justice. Statue of Justice in library. Legal and law background concept

Issues & critiques linked to anti-FGM laws

Criticisms of legal measures to combat FGM vary depending on the context in the country of implementation and the prevalence rate. Despite criminalization in many African countries, the prevalence of FGM remains high. Legal measures have not yet led to a sufficient decline in the practice in many countries. This is in part because FGM is a deeply rooted, culturally entrenched practice and therefore change is slow. However, critics also argue that laws are not always implemented, that they are not always adequate and that there are several problems with implementation. 28 Too Many estimate that only 2 of the 22 countries with anti-FGM legislation meet all the criteria they consider necessary to ensure satisfactory prevention and protection. (1, 2)

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