West Africa: Actions Against Female Genital Mutilation
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 1:15 PM

27 January 2010


Thirty-four Muslim scholars and imams (Muslim religious leaders) in Mauritania signed a fatwa (religious decree) on 12 January 2010 that forbids the centuries-old tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM, which is practiced in some African and the Middle Eastern countries, involves cutting off part or all of a girl’s clitoris and labia, and sometimes involves narrowing the vaginal opening. This practice is extremely detrimental to the health of women and girls, as it leads to an array of painful and even life-threatening problems, such as: prolonged bleeding, urinary incontinence (inability to control urination) and severe complications during childbirth.   


Though a fatwa is generally only considered binding for followers of a particular imam, the new decree is a major influence in making the health threats of FGM clear to women in a region where FGM is still highly regarded as an obligatory religious practice. Many women are afraid that without participating in FGM (or without subjugating their daughters to such practices), they will be “unclean” and their prayers will go unheard. Consequently, about seventy-two percent of women in Mauritania have participated in FGM and an approximated three million girls and women have undergone FGM in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.


Further action against female genital mutilation is apparent in Niger, where the implementation of a 2003 ban has recently imposed fines and jail sentences of eight months upon mothers for involving their daughters in female genital mutilation practices. Particularly in Niger, FGM is commonly related to the issue of forced and early marriage, since almost sixty percent of Nigerien women are married between the ages of fifteen and nineteen.


Human rights activists now wait to see if similar bans on female genital mutilation will emerge in Africa and the Middle East. 


Compiled from: George Fominyen, Mauritanian Muslim imams initiate rare ban on female circumcision, AlertNet.org (21 January 2010); Laurent Prieur and Abdoulaye Massalatchi, W.African genital cutters face fatwa, jail, AlertNet.org (22 January 2010).