In Sudan, members of the sovereign council, many of whom are women, validated the ban on extinction, against pain from imprisonment. A breakthrough that must be accompanied by a change in traditions that are strongly rooted in certain areas of the country.
The practice of excision is still prevalent in Sudan, where, according to the UN, nearly nine out of ten women were affected by it in childhood. But since Friday, July 10, this genital mutilation, fatal in some cases, is punishable by three years in prison and a fine.
The Sudanese Sovereign Council, which ensures the democratic transition in the country since Omar el-Bashir’s fall into the elections held in 2020, has just validated a series of laws passed in April by the government criminalizing the excision.
The adopted text now considers “criminality” mutilation of the female genitals. It also allows authorities to close clinics or sites that practice cutting.
The law has changed … But not the traditions
If the most conservative circles believe that cutting preserves chastity, many religious leaders have spoken out. For UNICEF in Khartoum, criminalizing this practice is only the first step in a long process of socialization to imagine its disappearance.
“The law will certainly accelerate the reduction of practice, if implemented effectively by all stakeholders: law enforcement, healthcare professionals and members of the community, including parents. Will require intensive cooperation,” warns Tamador Khalid, child protection specialist at UNICEF in Sudan, contacted by France 24 .
“This practice is not just a violation of young women’s rights, but […] has serious consequences for physical and mental health, “insists Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Khartoum.
Excision has taken ground in 30 years
Human rights activists in Sudan say that during the past three decades the custom has spread to remote areas where it was not practiced before, especially in Sudan’s Nuba mountain, a conflict zone between the Khartoum government and rebel groups.
“As a result of the conflict, many ethnic groups that have been forced to relocate have been welcomed by communities that practice female genital mutilation. Nuba, Fellat and even fur have made efforts to be welcomed and accepted. And, as part of an acculturation process, they began to adopt female genital mutilation. as part of their new identity, ”states Tamador Khalid.
For UNICEF, the elimination of female genital mutilation is an important step towards promoting equal rights for men and women in the country. In Sudan, according to the international organization, 38% of young girls are still forced into marriage before the age of 18. “Child marriage is practiced by many groups in rural areas, more than in urban areas, which deprives them of the right to education, the opportunity to make choices and to make decisions,” laments Tamador Khalid.
Women in power, factor for progress
If the road is long, UNICEF in Sudan welcomes the changes caused by a new government coming to power after Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by the military coup that followed the popular uprising in 2019.
The presence of women in the Sudanese Sovereign Council, which validated the law against female circumcision, was undoubtedly a decisive factor. Although this law is the result of a long process of joint efforts by activists, the government, community organizations and NGOs since 2010. Six states in Sudan, including South Darfur, South Kordofan and South Kordofan North, had already passed laws against female genital mutilation.
Although 40% of women holding key political and leadership positions in Sudan have not yet been reached, “what is currently happening is very positive and very promising,” said Tamador Khalid.
Sudanese women played a leading role in the popular uprising that led to the fall of ex-dictator Omar el-Béchir in April 2019. The ex-autocrat, who, however, was in charge of the country for thirty years after a coup supported by Islamists had rejected in 2015 a bill against excision.