Sudan criminalises female genital mutilation

Sophia Kypriotis celebrates Sudan's criminalisation of the scarring process, whilst reminding us of the progress to be made.

Sophia Kypriotis
13th May 2020
Sudan’s criminalisation of female genital mutilation (FGM) is momentous for the country’s girls and women. The new law is a landmark for women’s rights, stating that anyone carrying out FGM could face imprisonment for up to three years and a fine under an amendment to Sudan’s criminal code. 

Sudan has an extremely high rate of FGM, with almost 9 in 10 Sudanese women between age 15 and 49 having been cut according to the UN. Some states in the country had already banned the practise, but the new law passed last week has made FGM illegal across the whole country. 

The majority of the mutilation has been infibulation, which involves the cutting, removal of part or all of external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening. FGM is not only an incredibly painful process when carried out, but it can result in extensive future problems, such as urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues and pain during sex. 

Types of FGM:

  • Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris
  • Excision: removal of the clitoris and inner labia (lips), with or without the outer labia
  • Infibulation: cutting, removal of part or all of external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening
  • Any other type of intentional damage to the female genitalia (burning, scraping, piercing)

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry expressed that the change in the law reflects the government’s commitment to international human rights agreements. The current government came into power last year, after dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir was pushed out. Under the new leadership, women are leading five of the government’s ministries. Additionally, the Bashir-era laws, which dictated what women could wear or study, have been repealed. 

“Africa cannot prosper unless it takes care of girls and women. They are showing this government has teeth.”

Nimco Ali from Five Foundation who campaign against FGM globally

Nasr al-Din Mufreh, minister for religious affairs, recently attended a ceremony to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. “It is a practice that time, place, history and science have shown to be outdated,” he said, adding that Islam provided no justification for the practise. 

Law alone cannot eliminate the FGM. Due to the deep extent that practise is ingrained in Sudanese culture, it is expected that it will take some time before it is completely eradicated. The law should be paired with raising awareness in communities of how damaging and dangerous FGM is, as well as offering support to women and girls who have undergone cutting. Sudan’s criminalisation of the practise follows Egypt’s in 2008. However, only earlier this year, a 12-year-old Egyptian girl died during an FGM operation at a private clinic in southern Egypt; she hadn't been given any anaesthetic.

Salma Ismail, a spokeswoman in Khartoum for the United Nations Children’s Fund said: “This is not just about legal reforms,” adding, “There’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that society will accept this.”

The UN have estimated that at least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM across 31 countries, with 27 of them being in Africa. A recent report from March has suggested the figure could be significantly greater as FGM occurs in more than 90 countries, many of which have not collected data. Sudan’s criminalisation of FGM is undeniably a positive step for women's rights and should be celebrated, but we mustn’t lose sight that there is still much progress to be made. 

Featured image: Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

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