Yemen: Eradicating FGM

Experts believe that eradicating female genital mutilation (FGM) in Yemen will be a long and arduous process. The United Nations Childrens fund (UNICEF), estimate that FGM is still practiced on approximately two million girls every year.
In Yemen, the most common reasons given for the practice are cleanliness and religious/cultural tradition. There is also a common belief that the practice serves to temper sexual urges.
Contrary to local perceptions, there is no doctrinal basis for the custom, either in Islam or Christianity. Nevertheless, it is often seen as a religiously ordained rite of passage for girls.

Common health consequences associated with FGM are haemorrhaging and infection. At least two local deaths in Yemen have been attributed to FGM in recent years. The state-run Yemen Demographic Mother and Child Health survey (YDMCH), conducted in 1999 and early 2000 in five governorates, concluded that FGM was performed on 97% of girls and women in the Hodeidah district; 96% in al-Mahrah and Hadramawt; 82% in Aden; and 45.5% in Sanaa. The survey further concluded that in 97% of the cases, the procedure was performed at home, usually by a traditional midwife or female relative.

Notably, the survey found that the decision to perform FGM is, in most cases, is made by the mother. Many government officials, along with local and international NGOs, however, disputed these figures. Several leading Yemeni officials said the practice only existed in African immigrant communities, or was relegated to the hot climates of the countrys southern coast.

Attempts to convince traditional Yemeni society that the practice is medically dangerous have had little success. The first public discussion of the practice in Yemen took place in 2001, at a seminar on womens health issues sponsored by the Ministry of Public Health and funded by the US-based McArthur Foundation. At that event, FGM was condemned by a broad spectrum of public officials. The Minister of Health labelled the practice as an act of violence against women. Despite public sensitivity on the issue, campaigns to eliminate the practice are being carried out across the country.

In a departure from the past, some of the largest public and private NGOs devoted to womens issues run public awareness campaigns on television, radio and in community gatherings to try to discourage the practice. The Girls Health Project, conducted by the Womens National Committee in Aden and the International Health and Development Associates (IHDA), for example, sponsored 12 local organizations to carry out awareness campaigns across the Aden governorate between 2001 and 2003. Projects sponsored by the programme, funded in part by the Dutch government, included seminars and educational materials on the issue, as well as workshops and media campaigns.

Al-Murisi noted that one of the Womens Unions most important activities was a series of workshops featuring local religious leaders who both oppose and support the practice. Aid workers say that merely achieving some public discussion of the issue is a measure of the progress that has been made.

Source: IRIN reported in Push Journal, 14.11.05.