A community trying to recover from the cut in Sudan

How men can play a vital role in protecting girls and women from FGM

Hadeel Agab
UNICEF/Sari Omer
05 December 2018

“We used to cut every girl in our community and we celebrate with public parties.”

Said Ahmed Mohammed Mohammed Ahmed Elbashir, one of the community leaders in Shireem Mima village in Bara locality, in North Kordofan state.

This is the sentence that immediately caught my attention, while Ahmed was sharing the story of how his community used to practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

FGM is the cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. Everyday 6,000 girls are subjected to the cut, nearly quarter of them are under 14 years. There are various forms of FGM that are classified by the World Health Organization; “clitoridectomy”, which involves the removal of the clitoral hood; “excision” is when the clitoris and the labia minora (inner vaginal lips) are removed, while “infibulation” involves the removal of all external genitalia and the narrowing of the vaginal entrance.

As he was talking, I got a sense of the immense guilt he still carries with him today.

He was one of many participants taking part in the Sudan Free of Female Genital Cutting (SFFGC) forum in El Obeid. Despite the difficulty Ahmed felt in putting his story of the community into words, he felt it necessary to continue because they are working hard to end FGM.

Ahmed, is also a facilitator with the Saleema initiative, part of the SFFGC programme which aims to end FGM in Sudan, to ensure every girl lives a healthy and natural life.

The forum was conducted in August 2018, as an opportunity for advocates and implementers to share challenges related to FGM in Sudan, knowledge and methods for changing attitudes and practices. The event was supported by UNICEF in collaboration with the government of Sudan, WHO, UNFPA and the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

“I contacted all the Sheikhs (religious leaders) in the village and succeeded in convincing some of them, while others stayed neutral,” said Ahmed. “We continued our efforts with families, midwives, doctors, and youth. Many public sessions and conversations were conducted.”

It is proven that the harmful procedure causes serious and lifelong physical and psychological damage, such as complications in pregnancy and childbirth, severe bleeding, pain and shock, and urination and menstrual obstruction — which can sometimes lead to death.

Ensaf Elsadig Eltom, a trained midwife from North Kordofan state, is trying to raise more awareness on such complications and how FGM can dangerously affect women specifically during labour.

“I personally encountered many problems while supporting mothers in delivering their babies, I can see how they deeply suffer during the operation, and they couldn’t describe how painful it was,” said Ensaf.

During the training, participants learned how to better communicate and deliver the message to the rest of the community.

Shreem Mima, has a population of 1121. One of its biggest challenges is the low number of youth who can help advocate against FGM; the majority of girls in the community are not enrolled in schools, while the boys travel for work.

Ahmed encourages more investment in his community because FGM is still widely practiced.

“One of the saddest stories I remember was when a family who came from another village, brought their 9-month-old sick daughter to Shireem Mima hospital, they stayed for 3 days to follow-up with the nurses,” Ahmed said. “One day before they left, the nurse found out that the girl was cut, she directly informed the authorities about the case and they intervened. But, the girl passed away a few days later.”

Every day, FGM touches a substantial number of girls and women in Sudan. The prevalence rate in the country is 87 percent for women between 15–49, and 31 percent for girls between the age of 0–14.