FGM/C in Sudan

     According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of now, 140 million girls and women are living with the consequences of the cultural practice termed female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The WHO defines FGM/C as the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious, or other non-therapeutic reasons.” It is usually carried out on girls ranging from a few days old to 15 years old. It is most prominent in Africa where an estimated 92 million girls, 10 years of age and older have been subjected to FGM/C. It is not only practiced in 28 African countries, but also in the Middle and South East Asia. (1)
      In most countries, including Sudan, where FGM/C is performed it is viewed as a way to protect the woman’s virginity, and to discourage “female promiscuity” thus ultimately preserving and protecting the family’s reputation or honor. Some other cultural reasons are aimed towards promoting femininity. For example, if the clitoris is not removed via FGM/C t is believed that it will grow longer between the legs to resemble a penis. Therefore, by removing the clitoris which is viewed as a feature of masculinity the woman is ultimately achieving femininity; this is also why this procedure is viewed as a rite of passage into womanhood for the women in these cultures. Many of the pro FGM/C groups have stated that there are also religious regions backing this procedure, but as of now one common statement from the religious leaders in Sudan has still not been attained. (1)

      Some of the attempts of advocacy for the women who suffer physically and psychologically have come from NGOS or other national organizations. Some of the different advocacy efforts have involved “the combination of health-based approach and behavioral change strategies; including peer education, use of positive deviants, and community conversation” (1). After evaluation of the success of the different approaches taken to reduce FGM/C, one of the most successful approaches seemed to be introducing alternative rights of passages, while the least successful approach was the traditional medicalization of FGM/C. (1)
      One major national attempt to end FGM/C came from the National Council of Child Welfare (NCCW) which included the coordination of different groups at a local level such as Sudanese Network for Abolition of FGM/C (SUNAF) which is made up of NGOs and academic institutions, line ministries, and legal experts. One of the major successes of this advocacy movement was the passing of the Child Act Bill in 2009 which includes an article to make FGM/C illegal based on health and social reasons. So far in Sudan, this law has been ratified in the State of South Kordofan in 2008 and in Gadaref State in 2009(1).
      Not everyone views this procedure as an unnecessary act of torture both physically and socially. Some people really do feel this is an act of empowerment of woman, a launch into her femininity. One of these individuals is an anthropologist from Sierra Leonean, Dr. Ahmadu, who actually underwent this cultural procedure herself. She aims to break down the surrounding negative perceptions about FGM/C by sharing her own experience. As illustrated in one of her articles, Dr. Ahmadu feels that countries of the West look at this African cultural practice with an ethnocentric point of view. She also demonstrates how in the U.S. state of California women are choosing to undergo a similar type of procedure as a form plastic surgery to enhance the physical appearance of the vagina (2). Which brings forward some critical anthropological questions. Why is this procedure viewed as inhumane in some countries, but not in others?” Is it really only  a matter of cultural perception?

( 1.) Bedri, Nafisa M. “Ending FGM/C through Evidence Based Advocacy in Sudan .” (March 2012). http://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/Jordan_Mar2012/Presentations/Panel 3/Panel 3_6_paper_Sudan_Ending FGM.pdf (accessed).

(2.) Ahmadu, Fuambai. “Rites and Wrongs: An Insider/Outsider Reflects on Power and Excision.” African Holocaust. (2000). http://www.africanholocaust.net/fgm.html (accessed).

3 thoughts on “FGM/C in Sudan

  1. From this summary, I think that Dr. Ahmadu used the experiential approach as well as the critical approach. She uses her own narrative and experience as well as others to make sense of this cultural practice (experiential approach). She also criticizes the western view of FGM/C. She argues that westerns do similar procedures although they have a negative view of FGM/C (critical approach). She’s attempting to change people perspectives around the ethics of this practice.
    In this instance I think anthropology made readers see the other side of this cultural practice, one that they are not exposed to. In this way they gain a better understanding of the health issue and may even change their mind that this may not be a problem. Dr. Ahmadu relates this practice to western readers by using the example of woman in the U.S doing similar procedures. Anthropology has given us a different understanding of this issue because without an anthropologic perspective it may have been looked on ethnocentrically, we don’t understand it so it’s wrong. On the reverse it may help us better understand why this practice occurs and even how to improve the practice to help eliminate health problems relating to FGM/C.

  2. Based on your post, I think that Dr. Ahmadu used through the experiential, critical, and ethnomedical approaches in studying and presenting FGM in Sudan. By going through the process herself, she is able to share her personal experience and relate to the ways in which FGM is a meaningful cultural rite in certain cultures. While most of the world regards this practice as horrifying, she has a unique perspective of understanding why girls and young women would consent to it as a rite of womanhood. Through this, she also motivates other anthropologists to embrace a critical approach when studying FGM. When Western researchers and human rights activists follow their natural instincts to see FGM as an inhumane ritual, they are making an ethnocentric assumption about something unfamiliar to their own culture. For example, the very fact that we refer to the rite as “mutilation” reveals our emotionally-charged view of it; whereas the cultures that actually practice FGM most likely use a term with a less violent connotation. Dr. Ahmadu has also used the ethnomedical approach by comparing FGM with cosmetic surgery in the U.S. that removes or reconstructs the female genitalia. That the two similar practices would be regarded so differently illuminates how plastic surgery fits into the realm of biomedicine because it is performed in regulated facilities by authorized practitioners, under an officiated consent by the patient. A roughly equivalent FGM procedure is seen very differently as a violent cultural rite, with no biomedical justification. The fact that most cosmetic surgeries have no biomedical reason is forgotten within the context of our society.

    Applying anthropology to this problem is helping devise the most effective solution to reducing the practice of FGM. I think understanding the cultural basis for the ritual is essential to trying to convince the people of this area to end one of paramount practices of their society. For instance, anthropologists have discovered that introducing alternative rites of passage is a much more successful approach than medicalizing FGM.

  3. The anthropologist that Katlyn discussed; Dr. Ahmadu, spent a great deal of time in Sudan studying “female genital mutilation” with an experiential approach. She conducted research on why many of the Sudanese were rejecting Western influences in their cultural practices. She personally spoke with people there to try to understand how they make their decisions. Dr. Ahmandu was very correct that westerners do similar procedure such as male circumcision. I think it is very interesting that we do not refer to that as mutilation while we do so of foreign practices. Dr. Ahmandu’s study of female genital mutilation attempted to understand it without the common ethnocentric repulsion most westerners feel. Dr. Ahmadu is addressing the situation by educating women in Sudan about the practice and its consequences. In this course we learned a whole lot about how cultural values affect our body and health and that they may need to be altered for the betterment of ourselves. Some times they change in the wrong direction. An example is that recent Mexican immigrants have much better health than Americans and Mexicans living here for over 5 years. After 5 years in the United States Mexican-Americans have far worse health than Americans and recent immigrants.

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