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HEALTH-SUDAN: Breaking The Barrier Of Circumcision In Islamic Marriage

Nhial Bol

KHARTOUM, Nov 13 1999 (IPS) - A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an uncircumcised Muslim girl to find a husband in Sudan.

All that is changing now. Last week Samia Hassan and Ahbal Omer al Hussien became the first Muslim women in Sudan to publicly get married without having to undergo circumcision.

“I’m impressed that two young university graduates have accepted to marry an uncircumcised girls,” says 18-year-old Mona who attended the ceremony.

“We consider this marriage a miracle because in the past no man would have accepted uncircumcised girl as a wife,” says Mona who has been circumcised.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a common practice in Sudan. UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates that 82 percent of Sudanese women have been circumcised.

“FGM is performed on girls between five and eight years of age. A highly institutionalised custom, FGM is considered not only essential by the majority of those who practice it but also a real part of women’s status, similar to the status acquired when one is married,” says Amna S. Badri of the Babiker Badri Scientific Association, a non-governmental organisation (ngo) which campaigns against the practice.

In a recent paper published by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Badri says: “FGM is viewed as a natural part of a woman’s life cycle which cannot be eliminated.”

In Sudan, the most common form of Female Genital Mutilation is Sunna, a practice which range from the removal of the foreskin of the clitoris to its complete excision.

Health workers say, in addition to being a traumatic and a painful experience for young girls, FGM leads to several serious health complications.

“The most common of these include infection and septicemia, which can result in death. Pain, urine retention, stress, and shock and damage to urethra or anus are also common health effects of FGM,” says Dr. Hamid el Bashir, the author of Women And The Agony of Culture: Strategies for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation In Sudan.

El Beshir says infectious and fatal diseases such as HIV and hepatitis can also be transmitted through group circumcision ceremonies or through the use of unclean instruments for the practice.

“Long term effects such as painful urination and urinary tract problems, bleeding, tetanus and many other infectious diseases are also common and can be fatal,” he says. “Prolonged labour causes serious damage to newborns, including brain damage and death.”

NGOS in Sudan, where Moslems make up 60 percent of the country’s 32 million population, have long campaigned against FMG. In 1946, a law was passed prohibiting FGM, but it was never enforced.

“What has been innovative in the Sudan is the advocacy approach. Women professionals have led the media campaign in universities, where they have changed the curriculum and trained women students,” says Badri.

This “women-to-women” approach has contributed to creating a critical mass of advocates across the Northeast African country. Several youth groups have also joined the effort through public talks and the dissemination of books and pamphlets on the subject.

As a result of these campaigns, Unicef analysis shows a decrease of 10 percent in the prevelance of FGM in the Sudan.

The elimination of FGM is identified among Unicef’s programme priorities for 1998-2000 in countries where the practice is prevelant.

In Sudan, through the Unicef supported Child Friendly Village Initiative, teachers and village volunteers have been effective in brining about behavioural change at household levels to this practice.

Pilot projects have been initiated by Unicef, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Sudanese National Committee on Traditional Practices (SNCTP), in two provinces of Khartoum state. The objective is to raise community awareness through training of cadres who will conduct community campaigns.

Traditional birth attendants, midwives, religious leaders, youth and community leaders are among the targeted groups.

Other Unicef activities include training and sensitisation of media professionals to disseminate information on FGM and other harmful traditional practices, a yearly plan of action for students of the school of midwifery in Khartoum state and formation of an FGM Task Force to lobby for legislation against FGM, consisting of key figures in government, ngos, educational institutions and UN agencies.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, FGM affects between 100-130 million girls and women and the numbers increase every year by around two million. It occurs primarily in 28 African countries with considerable cultural, social, ethnic and religious differences, not only across countries, but also between tribes and social groups within a given country.

“I recruited ten women to help spread the anti-circumcision message,” says Mama Allayiwa, a leading campaigner in the capital Khartoum. “Women should resist the practice because circumcision is harmful to health.”

Last year, a man took his wife and mother-in-law to court for circumcising his two daughters without his consent.

 
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HEALTH-SUDAN: Breaking The Barrier Of Circumcision In Islamic Marriage

Nhial Bol

KHARTOUM, Nov 9 1999 (IPS) - A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for an uncircumcised Muslim girl to find a husband in Sudan.
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