Sunday, June 29, 2014

Muslim Council of Britain denounces FGM

Ahead of "Cutting Season" and Girl Summit 2014, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) last week endorsed a landmark declaration making Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) unlawful and clarifying it is not supported by religious doctrine.

The UK’s most prominent Muslim organization on June 20 denounced FGM as contrary to Islam, adding that the traditional practice severely violates the human rights of women and girls.

The first Girl Summit, to be hosted by the UK and UNICEF on July 22, aims to mobilize domestic and international efforts to end FGM and child early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation.

Girls and women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential, but some are being prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as FGM and CEFM, which are illegal in the UK, says a statement on the UK government site.

The summit wants to secure new commitments from the private sector, faith leaders, other civil society organizations and governments.

Child, early and forced marriage occurs in every part of the world, affecting millions of girls every year. One in three girls in developing countries is married by the age of 18, and one in nine by the age of 15. Some are as young as eight.

Girls who marry young have babies while still children, putting them at risk of death or suffering for the rest of their lives. They are more likely to be poor and stay poor. In the UK, hundreds of girls risk being forced into marriage, violating their human rights. Forced marriage victims can suffer physical, psychological, emotional, financial and sexual abuse.

FGM removes a girl’s right to have control over her own body. Traditionally considered essential for marriage and inclusion in the community, it is an extreme and violent way in which girls and women are controlled and disempowered. It can result in a lifetime of pain, psychological problems and difficulty in childbirth. Current trends suggest at least 30 million girls will be at risk over the next decade -- with more than 20,000 at risk in the United Kingdom every year, the UK government website adds.

MCB declaration

The religious and community leaders that signed the historic declaration condemning FGM noted, however, there are still barriers to ending the practice in the UK.

The MCB is one of the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim umbrella organizations with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools.

The Church of England and the Muslim Women’s Network UK were two of 160 groups who supported the announcement denouncing FGM as a form of violence against women and a denial of women’s human rights not supported by religious doctrine. The groups will sign a joint declaration condemning FGM -- currently a criminal offense in the UK -- during the Girl Summit.

The MCB will launch a campaign by distributing leaflets in mosques and community centers in Britain to support ending the barbaric practice.

It said it was “not true” mutilation was a Muslim requirement noting that one of the “basic principles” of Islam was not to harm oneself or others.

The MCB said FGM was bringing Islam “into disrepute” and could cause severe pain, bleeding, problems in pregnancy and even death, as well leaving some victims with lasting psychological problems.

The new leaflet states: “FGM is not an Islamic requirement. There is no reference to it in the Holy Quran that states girls must be circumcised. Nor is there any authentic reference to this in the Sunnah, the sayings or traditions of our Prophet. FGM is bringing the religion of Islam into disrepute.”

The document also warns there is “an increasingly high risk of being prosecuted” for carrying out mutilation, which has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and that perpetrators face up to 14 years in prison.

The MCB announcement follows a Home Office summit on June 19 at which other religious organizations, including the Shia al-Khoei Foundation and the Muslim Women’s Network UK, announced their support for a government declaration against FGM to be published at the Girl Summit.

Harmful practice

Three million girls and women are subjected to FGM worldwide each year. That's 8000 girls per day.

FGM is a harmful practice that is recognized worldwide as a human rights violation. The practice of FGM violates:
  • Right to physical and mental integrity
  • Right to highest attainable standard of health
  • Right to be free from all forms of discrimination against women (including violence against women)
  • Right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • Rights of the child, and
  • In extreme cases, right to life
The European Parliament estimates 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering with the lifelong consequences of FGM. It still affects up to 140 million women and girls worldwide, with an estimated 20,000 girls at risk in the UK.

Increasingly as migration becomes more common, diaspora communities arriving to Western nations continue the practice. FGM prevalence is therefore rising among migrant residents of Norway, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States. Migrant families, often traveling with their young daughters in summer vacations to their native countries, have the procedure performed at grave risk of infection bleeding and death when non-clinicians perform this procedure. School holidays become “The Cutting Season.”

FGM tradition

Also known as female circumcision or simply as “cutting,” FGM/C involves removing all or part of the clitoris, the surrounding labia (the outer part of the vagina) and sometimes the sewing up of the vagina, leaving only a small opening for urine and menstrual blood.

There are no medical benefits to this tradition. It is carried out for cultural reasons, often because it demonstrates a girl's virginity on her wedding night.

It seems the practice predates Christianity and Islam. There is mention made of Egyptian mummies that display characteristics of FGM/C. The historian Herodotus claims that in the fifth century BC the Phoenicians, Hittites and Ethiopians practiced circumcision. It is also reported circumcision rites were practiced in tropical zones of Africa, in the Philippines, by certain tribes in the Upper Amazon, and in Australia by women of the Arunta tribe. It also occurred among the early Romans and Arabs.

Many different peoples and societies have followed the FGM/C practice. It cuts across ages, continents, religions and is performed by Muslims, Christians, Ethiopian Jews and Copts among others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to one of three types of female genital mutilation. Estimates based on the most recent prevalence data indicate that 91.5 million girls and women above the age of nine in Africa are currently living with the consequences of FGM. There are an estimated three million girls in Africa at risk of undergoing FGM every year.

WHO has identified four types of FGM/C:

Type 1: Excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or the entire clitoris.

Type 2: Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora.

Type 3: Excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation) -- sometimes referred to as pharaonic circumcision.

Type 4: Others, such as pricking, piercing or incising, stretching, burning of the clitoris, scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice, cutting of the vagina, introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten the opening.

The removal of, or damage to, healthy, normal genital tissue interferes with the natural functioning of the body and causes several immediate and long-term health consequences. For example, babies born to women who have undergone female genital mutilation suffer a higher rate of neonatal death; end in stillbirth or spontaneous abortion; and in a further 25%, the newborn has a low birth weight or serious infection, both of which are associated with an increased risk of perinatal death.

WHO says FGM/C is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. It also violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.

In Egypt, 94% of women arrange for their daughters to undergo this “medicalized” form of FGM/C, 76% in Yemen, 65% in Mauritania, 48% in Côte d’Ivoire, and 46% in Kenya. This approach may reduce some of the immediate consequences of the procedure -- such as pain and bleeding -- but, WHO and UNICEF point out, it also tends to obscure its human rights aspect and could hinder the development of long-term solutions for ending the practice.

How many more generations will it take to eradicate FGM/C? Is the magic word “education”? Is FGM/C a practice too deep-rooted to overcome? Maybe only time will tell…

In the meantime, you can take a stand with me against FGM/C and child and forced marriage by signing the pledge  to show your support in ending these harmful practices forever. Our voices will be heard at the Girl Summit.

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