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«FGM Eng (2).doc LANDINFO – 10. DESEMBER 2008 1 The Country of Origin Information Centre (Landinfo) is an independent body that collects and ...»

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Female genital mutilation in Sudan

and Somalia

FGM Eng (2).doc


The Country of Origin Information Centre (Landinfo) is an independent body that

collects and analyses information on current human rights situations and issues in

foreign countries. It provides the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration

(Utlendingsdirektoratet – UDI), Norway’s Immigration Appeals Board

(Utlendingsnemnda – UNE) and the Norwegian Ministry of Labour and Social

Inclusion (Arbeids- og inkluderingsdepartementet – AID) with the information they need to perform their functions.

The reports produced by Landinfo are based on information from both public and non-public sources. The information is collected and analysed in accordance with source criticism standards. When, for whatever reason, a source does not wish to be named in a public report, the name is kept confidential.

Landinfo’s reports are not intended to suggest what Norwegian immigration authorities should do in individual cases; nor do they express official Norwegian views on the issues and countries analysed in them.

© Landinfo 2008 The material in this report is covered by copyright law. Any reproduction or publication of this report or any extract thereof other than as permitted by current Norwegian copyright law requires the explicit written consent of Landinfo.

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Landinfo Country of Origin Information Centre Storgata 33A P.O. Box 8108 Dep NO-0032 Oslo Norway Tel: +47 23 30 94 70 Fax: +47 23 30 90 00 E-mail: mail@landinfo.no Website: www.landinfo.no FGM Eng (2).doc LANDINFO – 10. DESEMBER 2008 2


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is very common in Somalia and Sudan. More than 90 percent of girls in Somalia and in Northern Sudan are subjected to the most severe form, i.e. infibulation. Factors such as religion, tradition and sexuality are used to explain and justify the practice of genital mutilation. While awareness campaigns and other efforts towards its eradication encourage changes to the practice, these have come about only at a very slow pace. Although women are accountable for upholding the practice, men carry a great responsibility. In societies where socio- economic security is provided for women primarily through the institution of marriage, the requirement that women must be virgins to be considered eligible for marriage contributes to a continuation of the practice of FGM.


Kjønnslemlestelse av kvinner er svært utbredt i både Somalia og Sudan. Over 90 prosent av alle jenter i Somalia utsettes for den mest omfattende formen, det vil si infibulering, og i Nord-Sudan er andelen tilsvarende. Denne praksisen begrunnes med religion, tradisjon og seksualmoral, og på tross av opplysningsvirksomhet og holdningskampanjer skjer endringer svært langsomt. Praksisen er først og fremst et kvinneanliggende, men menn bærer et betydelig ansvar. Krav om at kvinnen skal være jomfru for å være en akseptabel ekteskapskandidat i samfunn hvor ekteskapet er det sosiale og økonomiske sikkerhetsnettet for kvinner, bidrar i sterk grad til at praksisen opprettholdes.

–  –  –

1. Introduction

2. Genital mutilation in Sudan

2.1 Incidence rate and types of mutilation

2.2 Justifying genital mutilation in Sudan

2.2.1 Genital mutilation – who decides?

2.3 When is genital mutilation performed?

2.4 Reinfibulation

2.5 Who performs genital mutilation?

2.6 Attitudes towards genital mutilation

2.7 Protection against genital mutilation

2.7.1 Legislation against genital mutilation

2.7.2 Enforcement of legislation

2.7.3 Social sanctions against uncircumcised women and/or parents?

2.8 Threats against activists

3. Female genital mutilation in Somalia

3.1 Incidence rate and types of mutilation

3.2 Justifying genital mutilation in Somalia

3.3 When is genital mutilation performed?

3.4 Reinfibulation

3.5 Who performs genital mutilation?

3.6 Attitudes towards genital mutilation

3.7 Protection against genital mutilation

3.7.1 Legislation against genital mutilation

3.7.2 Social sanctions against uncircumcised women and/or parents?

4. References

FGM Eng (2).doc LANDINFO – 10. DESEMBER 2008 4

1. INTRODUCTION The Norwegian term kjønnslemlestelse (genital mutilation) used in this report is normally referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) in English. This terminology is incorporated into Norwegian laws, and applied by the World Health Organisation and various human rights organisations.

However, it is important to note that women affected by genital mutilation do not uniformly regard it as mutilation, and may react negatively to being referred to as "damaged” (Almroth 2005; lecture by Barre, March 2008). In dialogue with these women it is important to avoid further stigmatization. Applying what we perceive as appropriate or correct terminology can easily create additional barriers detrimental to the fight against FGM. Using the term circumcision in such contexts is therefore the most appropriate (lecture by Barre, March 2008).

Genital mutilation is a collective term for the variety of procedures in which the external female genitals are removed completely or partly, or other lasting damage is inflicted.1 The procedure is mainly carried out by so-called excisors or circumcisers with no medical qualifications. Girls who do not experience chronic pain, serious bleeding or blood poisoning after the procedure often suffer complications during pregnancy, experience great pain during sexual intercourse, and suffer other gynaecological problems and traumas later in life. It is of course difficult for young girls to understand that their closest family allow this to be inflicted upon them. The tradition is upheld for fear that the child will not be accepted for marriage and that she will be ostracised, which can have serious social consequences. Genital mutilation is also a manner in which men exercise control over women’s sexual lives. There are a number of other predisposing factors for genital mutilation, as outlined in Landinfo's 2007 report called "Kvinnelig kjønnslemlestelse i VestAfrika" (Female genital mutilation in West Africa) (Landinfo 2007).

1 In 1997, the World Health Organisation (WHO) classified four categories of genital mutilation, type V follows

on CEF (Landinfo 2007):

I. Clitoridectomy: Partial or complete removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

II. Clitoridectomy: Partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.

III. Infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Before the woman can have sexual intercourse, the vaginal orifice must be expanded, and before birth the vaginal orifice must be completely opened. This form is also referred to as pharaonic.

Resealing after birth is known as reinfibulation.

IV. Other types of genital mutilation: Most other forms of genital mutilation are grouped into type IV. This relates to pricking, piercing and incising; burning or cauterising all or parts of the clitoris and the surrounding area; scraping in the area surrounding the vaginal orifice (known as angurya cuts); cutting the vagina (gishiri cuts); placing corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to create bleeding for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it; and other procedures that cause damage to the sexual organs.

V. Symbolic genital mutilation: Pricks or small cuts in the clitoris in order to induce drops of blood, where the purpose is symbolic as opposed to creating lasting harm to the genitals (Landinfo 2007).

–  –  –


Research into the phenomena of genital mutilation in Sudan has a long tradition (Almroth 2005). Sudanese doctors have been involved in research and study efforts since the 1960s, but it was not until the 1970s that anti-FGM activities gathered strength. Towards the end of the 1970s, both the Sudan Family Planning Association and the Sudan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology adopted recommendations with a view to abolishing genital mutilation. In the wake of this, several voluntary organisations were established. Currently there is a number of government and voluntary organisations working towards the elimination of FGM. But despite these long term efforts, genital mutilation continues to be widespread in Sudan. Whereas a few positive changes have been observed, these relate primarily to a transition from infibulation to clitoridectomy (Almroth et al. 2001), and not eradication.


It is estimated that 89 percent of North Sudanese women between the ages of 15-49 have been subjected to genital mutilation (Unicef 2000; SNCTP 2000). A demographic and health survey conducted among 5 860 women in Sudan between 1996 and 2000 by Save the Children in Sweden and the Sudan National Committee on Traditional Practices (SNCTP) showed that 91 percent of the rural female population and 89 percent of the urban female population had been subjected to genital mutilation.2 According to the coordinator for the Sudanese network against genital mutilation, Dr. Nahid Jabrallah, a national strategy against genital mutilation has been drawn up. Starting in 2008, the ten-year strategy seeks full elimination and a zero-incidence rate by 2018 (interview May 2008).3 It is mainly infibulation (khifad firuni is the Sudanese-Arabic term) that is performed, and an estimated 74 percent of Sudanese women are infibulated. This entails partial or complete removal of all external sexual organs, and surgical closure 2 Household Health Survey (1999) estimated an incidence rate of 69.4%. Other estimates show significant variation, and serve as reminder that figures and statistics are often used as tools for political ends.

3 The network against genital mutilation encompasses 44 organisations that fight against genital mutilation.

Nahid Jabrallah also represents the centre for children and women studies and is technical adviser for UNICEF projects related to genital mutilation and sexual assaults.

FGM Eng (2).doc LANDINFO – 10. DESEMBER 2008 6 of the vaginal orifice (Unicef 2000; SNCTP 2000). Approximately 22 percent of the female population is subjected to a less extensive procedure called “sunna” (gata albazr is the Sudanese-Arabic term), while an estimated 2 percent are subjected to procedures in which elements from both the two aforementioned procedures are applied (Unicef 2000).

Religious affiliation is one of the factors determining which type of genital mutilation is to be performed. According to Unicef (2000), infibulation is most common among Muslim women (83 percent compared to 27 percent of Christians).

Sunna is mainly practised by Christians (46 percent).

The incidence rate has remained constant for a number of years, apparently unaffected by information campaigns or other efforts to raise awareness about postoperative complications (Berggren et al. 2006; Almroth 2005).

Bearing in mind variations caused by religious or ethnic affiliation, the practice of genital mutilation – previously used mainly by (Arab) women in North Sudan and in particular in the Nile valley north of Khartoum – has spread to other Sudanese ethnic groups with no prior tradition for genital mutilation. This has in part been caused by the cultural influence spread by prestigious segments of the population (Berggren et al. 2006). South Sudanese migrants and refugees in North Sudan have, for instance, started practising genital mutilation, and the custom has gradually spread to various ethnic groups in the western and southern parts of the country. Coordinator for the network against genital mutilation, Nahid Jabrallah, confirmed this development when meeting with Landinfo in May 2008.4 Migrants and internally displaced persons from South Sudan living in the north adopt a number of other northern cultural traits such as dress, skin discolouration etc. However, marriages between women from the south and northern Sudanese had only minor influence on genital mutilation practices, according to Jabrallah. Such marriages are uncommon due to racism among the north Sudanese (and primarily the Arabs of the Nile Valley).

The estimated incidence rate in Darfur is approximately 65 percent, while East Sudan averages at 87 percent (Unicef 2000).5 However, there are no estimates available for South Sudan. In a meeting with Landinfo in May 2008, the local representative for MSF Belgium informed that small-scale surveys on the topic of genital mutilation were currently being conducted in groups from South Sudan. Few results were available as per yet.

4 Dr Jabrallah also stated in the meeting with Landinfo in May 2008 that a number of Sudanese girls residing abroad are sent to Sudan to undergo genital mutilation. She also referred to examples of Sudanese people living in other Arab countries bringing persons that can perform genital mutilation to the country of residence.

5 According to MSF Belgium, the prevalence of type III in Red Sea State was approximately 85%. MSF focuses particularly on the Beja groups in Red Sea State. The Beja normally perform genital mutilation during the first year of a girl’s life. In the lower social stratum the practice is almost universal, but even here there is a tendency to shift from type III towards type I. While MSF is witnessing a change in attitudes through the project they are running to combat genital mutilation in Red Sea State, changes primarily entail transition from type III to type I (interview May 2008).

FGM Eng (2).doc LANDINFO – 10. DESEMBER 2008 7 Figure 1, source: Unicef


According to researchers and observers, marriage and sexuality are key reasons for

the practice of genital mutilation:

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