Female circumcision? Not in Eritrea

The government bans female genital mutilation.

Published April 10, 2007 4:19PM (EDT)

Here's some good news for everyone who's concerned about the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (i.e., cutting and/or removing the clitoris and other vaginal tissue): The government of Eritrea has just outlawed the practice, according to IRIN Africa.

A government proclamation put out last week makes it a crime to perform female genital cutting (FGM), provide the tools for it or even fail to notify the government of intended plans to perform FGM. Penalties range from a fine of several hundred dollars to 10 years in prison. According to IRIN, the government banned the practice because "it was painful and put women at risk of life-threatening health problems" -- in addition, you know, to the psychological trauma of having part of your genitals removed.

This is obviously a much-needed step in the right direction in a country where the FGM rate may be as high as 94 percent, according to the National Union of Eritrean Women. The same organization says that village councils are coming up with their own local laws to discourage the practice -- another good sign, especially since women can't do much to stop their own FGM: According to a 2002 government survey referenced by Reuters, 62 percent of circumcised Eritrean women had the procedure performed before their first birthday.

Unfortunately, there's only so much that laws can do, particularly since that same government survey found that fewer than 1 percent of circumcisions in Eritrea were performed by trained medical professionals. But still, I'm happy to hear that Eritrea has joined the ranks of the (at least) 16 African countries that have banned female genital mutilation.

Luul Ghebreab, president of the National Union of Eritrean Women, gave this tempered, yet optimistic, perspective to Reuters:

"'FGM is a deep-rooted culture and it needs a persistent, continuous effort [to halt it],'" she's quoted as saying. "'We do not believe [this ban] will automatically eradicate circumcision, but surely it will play a role.'"

Here's hoping.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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