Idah Nabateregga of Terre des Femmes: FGM stalks you a whole life

by Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik, edited by William Hanna. My interview with Idah Nabateregga — FGM Advisor at Terre des Femmes — raises concerns about FGM which denigrates women and girls in all societies around the globe because what
damages women, destroys the whole social balance. Female Genital Mutilation
prosecutes and harms the victims throughout
We wholeheartedly oppose this deleterious “shadow”-ritual and I
would like to thank Idah for her support and detailed answers.   

FGM is child abuse and women
rights violation whose abolition is urgently necessary!

Milena Rampoldi: What do women rights mean to you?
Idah Nabateregga: Women
rights are human rights. They mean equal, self-determined and free life for all
women and girls all over the world! At the foundation of the United Nations in
1945, the principle of gender equality was recognised by the community of
nations. The General Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 contains the principle
of non-discrimination because of gender. 1979 the General Assembly of the
United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW). Under article 1 discrimination is defined
as “… any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which
has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment
or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of
equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the
political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

MR: What does FGM mean and why must this brutal practice be opposed all
over the world?

IN: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures pursuing the
objective of partially or completely removing or harming female genitals for
cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. There are four forms of FGM:
Type I (clitoridectomy):
partial or complete removal of externally visible part of the clitoris and/or
the clitoral hood. 
Type II (excision): type I
and additional removal of the internal labia minora with or without cutting the
labia majora.
Type III (infibulation):
narrowing of the vaginal opening with the formation of a covering closure, by
cutting and sewing one with another the internal and/or external lips of the
Type IV (other): all other
practices like stinging, burning or searing of genitals.
FGM is a fundamental violation
of human rights. It is a sensitive matter deeply rooted in the tradition
and culture of the respective society. Depending on the community, FGM can be
justified in different ways. Sometimes it concerns the safeguarding of
virginity and the fidelity towards the husband; improving marriage opportunities
for circumcised girls; and hygiene concepts combined with (spiritual) pureness
ideals and religious prescriptions are mentioned as arguments for the
circumcision. However, the Holy Scripts like Quran and Bible do not mention
FGM. The justifications are often based on ignorance about female autonomy and
patriarchal structures.
Towards involved people, you should talk about “
female circumcision” – the term FGM should stress the
severity and irreversibility of the intervention be used for informative

MR: Why
does this practice have to be abolished all over the world?

IN: FGM is a human rights violation against women and children (girls) and
frequently concerns minor children (between 0 and 14 years). The decision as to
whether or not to circumcise a girl is often taken by the parents. In most of
the cases, the intervention occurs without the consent of the child. FGM often
causes lifelong physical, mental, and sexual injuries. The direct consequences
of FGM include enormous pain and blood loss which could cause a
life-threatening shock. If more than one girl is circumcised with the same
instrument, additional illnesses and infections like HIV or hepatitis can be
transmitted. Frequently, chronic pain and infections and incontinence and
sexual disturbances are a durable consequence of genital mutilation. The
infibulation can also cause an enormous pain during urination, menstruation and
sexual intercourse and represents a very high risk for mother and child during
birth. Another possible physical consequence is sterility which in many African
regions represents a reason to divorce a woman. In addition, there are
psychological problems like traumas, depressions, sleep and eating disorders.
Since FGM is often understood as ritual to get an adult woman the girls
involved are often victims of premature and forced marriage as well. This makes
it difficult to them to go on with their studies to get a good education. For
all these reasons, FGM is something we have to struggle against all over the

MR: How does the phenomenon look like geographically? How is the
situation in Europe?

IN: According to UNICEF estimates, approximately 200 million women are victims
of this phenomenon. According to WHO, 3 million of girls per year are victims
of FGM. FGM is not only practised in 29 African countries, but also in Arabian
and Asian countries. FGM is practised in the countries mentioned above by some
ethnic groups. Therefore, the diffusion is not determined by national borders,
but according to ethnic groups. FGM is also not limited to the members of a
certain religion. In the regions where FGM is traditionally widespread, are
Muslims, Christian, partially Jews and members of other religions.

     Because of migration, FGM
is also increasingly practised in countries in which it did not exist
originally, like the European countries (for example Germany, France, Great
Britain), the USA, Canada, and Australia. In the EU, more than 500.000 are
involved and 180.000 girls and women are endangered. Also in Germany FGM is a
problem because by migration more involved people come to the country. Now in
Germany there are 35.000 involved and approximately 6000 endangered women

MR: Why is FGM still a taboo and is not fought enough at the political

IN: Today, FGM is not a taboo anymore. It is treated very often. This change
depends from awareness-raising measures of different kind. In almost all the
countries of diffusion of FGM,  FGM is prohibited by law. Many countries
have signed and ratified agreements like the Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter
on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)
and the Istanbul Convention to end FGM. Laws are prevention measures, but do
not suffice as the following reasons show:
• Political approaches are often connected with criminalisation. This often
causes the secrecy surrounding the practice.
• Some politicians in African countries do not want to deal with the matter
because it is part of their culture.
• Other politicians are afraid of losing their election campaign because of
Therefore, it often happens that many laws against FGM are not implemented even
if they were passed.
• Some political approaches like laws or human rights are considered as “Western
influence” towards African culture and are therefore criticised.
• Radical movements within the religions mobilise people to engage for the
conservation of the practice. This development means a challenge.
• The social and cultural anchoring and the religious interpretation of the
practice are in opposition to its official refusal. Legal prohibitions are
often just fragmentarily implemented or not applied at all.
For these reasons, laws must be accompanied by national information campaigns
and local initiatives. Approaches like information, awareness-raising, dialogue
on the direct level of the target groups (for example cultural and religious
leaders, women, men), FGM as study theme in integration courses and generation
dialogues within communities must be strengthened. Overcoming FGM needs time
and long-term engagement on a local, regional, and national level.

MR: Which projects do you implement and which are the best strategies to
end FGM according to your experience?

IN: TERRE DES FEMMES has been active for 30 years and besides other main
subjects (like violence in the name of honour, forced marriage, domestic and
sexualised violence and women trafficking) it fights FGM. Our vision is based
on equality, self-determination and freedom for women and girls all over the
world. TDF implements different strategies to achieve this goal. The most
efficient strategies are the ones in which communities are actively involved in
the solution finding and at the same time support community empowerment.
Collaboration with communities: In the projects designed and coordinated by
co-financed by the EU, we encourage diaspora communities from countries with a
high prevalence rate of the practice to end FGM. The objective is to train and
strengthen multiplicators, the so-called CHANGE agents within the involved
communities. The CHANGE agents sensitise their own communities by contributing
to end FGM. At TDF, we combine our lobby and public relations work with
community activities in order to represent the voices of the communities and to
develop common strategies for sustainable behaviour changes.

Web-based platform for professional groups: As German partner organisation of
the EU-financed project “United to END FGM”, TDF is creating a multilingual
online knowledge platform with different partner organisation. The platform
aims at professional groups who get in touch with involved and endangered girls
and women. From September 2017, this platform will be online free-of-charge.

The TDF Department for FGM
support employees of authorities and institutions with informative material and
consultancy about FGM. Upon request, we also offer training courses for
different professional groups.