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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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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The issue of Consent in anti-FGM laws
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The issue of Consent in anti-FGM laws

In Africa, many anti-FGM laws imply that if consent is given by a woman or girl, FGM is not a criminal offence (because she has “chosen” to be cut). (1, 2) On the contrary, in most European countries, as well as in Australia, it is the fact that: Whether or not a girl or woman has consented to FGM does not affect the legal status of the act. Nevertheless, in some European countries, consent may reduce the severity of the penalty. (3)

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Absence of law: the case of Mali (2019)
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Absence of law: the case of Mali (2019)

In Mali, one of the 6 African countries that currently have no law prohibiting FGM, work is being organized in order to produce a preparatory document for the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Court of Justice and to feed into a lawsuit against the State of Mali. For more information, we recommend an article from Mali 24 on “Abandoning the practice of FGM: Towards the questioning of Mali before the ECOWAS Court” from which we have taken some excerpts:

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An efficient law without trials: Iraqi Kurdistan
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An efficient law without trials: Iraqi Kurdistan

During the discussion, members questioned the relevance of considering trials and convictions as evidence of the success of a law and as a useful tool to improve the effectiveness of the law. Hannah Wettig, working for Wadi in northern Iraq, shared her observations of the discussions on FGM laws and questioned the emphasis on prosecution. She began with the example of a German law whose effectiveness cannot be questioned by the mere lack of legal action.

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Dear partners, AIDOS is cooperating with UNFPA Egypt in the organisation of a training on « Storytelling on FGM in Egypt », with the aim of contributing to end FGM in Egypt and in diaspora communities through the use of media. The activity is part of the « Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to Tackle FGM » project, supported by the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change.