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Laws or education? – the debate how to eliminate FGM

07. 08. 2013

The recent Unicef report on female genital mutilation (FGM) has sparked a debate about the best way to eliminate the practice. As Thomas Reuters reports some campaigners stress the necessity of law enforcement while others are set on the empowerment of women. No one denies that both are important but the emphasis to be put on each is disputed.

Comparing Unicef’s figures by country must indeed lead to questions why FGM in some places declines while it does not in others. While Unicef found a general decline of FGM in the surveyed region, there are steep differences between countries. Burkina Faso is a success story with a high prevalence of 90 percent, but only 9 percent of girls and women supporting the continuation of FGM today. Senegal, on the other hand, seems to be somewhat of a set back. With also high prevalence of 79 precent it could be counted as a success that only 18 percent of women aged 45-49 want FGM to continue. Yet, the next generation seems to be much of the same opinion with 16 percent of girls aged 15-19 in favor of it. If awareness campaigns were successful it could be expected that support drops from generation to generation.

Both countries have outlawed FGM in the 1990s and have seen large campaigns against FGM in the last decades. Why then is there so little change in attitudes between generations in Senegal? Some campaigners, such as Equality Now, point to the fact that Burkina Faso has seen strong law enforcement while Senegal hasn’t. An SOS hotline has been installed that allows the public to call if they know FGM is being performed. The police arrive immediately on the spot to arrest the perpetrators.

Yet, Tostan, a large non-governmental organization in charge of the Anti-FGM-campaigns in Senegal, defends its approach to eliminate FGM through the empowerment of women – teaching literacy, health and human rights.

WADI and the Stop FGM Mideast campaign stress that empowerment of women and law enforcement including all legal issues must go hand and hand. Particularly, in countries with a strong tradition of religious laws regulating people’s lifes, the state must take a decisive stand against female genital mutilation. Otherwise, any awareness campaign risks to be challenged by a local Imam or other cleric who might not be in accordance with higher religious authorities but is listened to in the absence of state.

The Bristish Guardian will have a live discussion on a related topic on August 8th: Live Q&A: finding strategies to end harmful behaviours and beliefs