In Sudan, the “excruciating pain” of circumcision, soon out-of-the-law

Au Soudan, la «douleur atroce» de l'excision bientôt hors-la-loi

KHARTOUM | decades after its excision, Hakam Ibrahim still remembers the “excruciating pain” feels like, as a child, at the time of his circumcision, an ancient practice that is still widespread in Sudan, where she is now being punished by the law.

Today at the age of forty years, she mentions the songs and the “youyous” of the women of her neighbourhood of Khartoum the night before this act of mutilation.

At the age of seven years, the Sudanese recalls will then be found in white dress in a small room to undergo the operation which involves removal of all or part of the external genital organs for non-medical purposes.

“They put me on a bed and I felt an excruciating pain throughout the body,” she said to AFP, adding: “it lasted a whole week”.

Several decades have passed, and after unsuccessful attempts, a revolution, the Sudan is leading to a criminalization of female circumcision: an amendment to the penal Code, which makes their authors liable to three years imprisonment and fines, has been approved by the government. It is now awaiting promulgation.

The measure comes one year after the fall of the regime of Omar el-Bashir, under pressure from the street. Anything but a coincidence, then, that the ex-autocrat, at the head of the country for 30 years after a coup supported by islamists, had rejected a draft law against female genital cutting by 2015.

The sudanese women themselves have played a leading role in this revolt, which resulted, after the fall of Bashir in April 2019, on the formation of a government of transition to a civilian power the following summer.

“Grand pas”

Even before its enactment, the amendment has already been welcomed by the organisations for the defence of the rights of the person, who have tirelessly advocated for this cause for decades.

“This is a big step for the sudanese women,” said to the AFP Zeinab Badreddin, an activist.

“This practice is not only a violation of the rights of young women, she (…) has serious consequences for the physical and mental health,” says Abdullah Fadil, a Unicef representative in Khartoum.

In Sudan, female genital cutting, which can be fatal in some cases, is still seen as a “rite of passage” –nearly nine out of 10 women have suffered, according to the united Nations. This is also the case in a number of significant countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in particular in rural areas.

And the criminalization of the practice is only one step in a long process of societal to its disappearance, as evidenced by the situation in Egypt nearby.

In the most populous country in the arab world, female circumcision is prohibited by law since 2008, and sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years in prison. But, according to a Unicef study of 2016, 90 % of adolescent girls and women of 15 to 49 years have been circumcised.

“Need for awareness”

In Sudan, according to the defenders of women’s rights, female genital mutilation has even regained over the last three decades of the lands where it had ceased to be practiced, such as including the mountains of Nubia (north).

If the the more conservative circles believe that it preserves chastity, and a number of religious leaders have spoken out against.

“Penalize the excision is not contrary to the religion. There are no texts (religious) that allow the circumcision of women,” stresses Sherine Abu Bakr, an activist of 28 years.

“It is a practice that must still be fought in favor of the changes that have occurred in the country,” she adds, in allusion to the dismantling of the islamist party al-Bashir.

After the removal of the dictator by the army, the transitional authorities are attempting to reform a country facing a myriad of economic and social challenges.

“If we are happy to the amendment, the law alone is not enough” sums up, for its part, Manal Abdel Halim, of “Salima”, a local initiative in the fight against fgm. “We are always in need of more awareness campaigns.”

According to Ms. Badreddin, the sentences imposed by justice should include members of the family forming pressure in favour of the transaction.

“I hope that the amendments will help people to realize that they should keep their girls in good physical condition, in the state, as to their birth,” pleaded Mrs. Ibrahim.

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