Protecting Fatima from female genital mutilation
"My wife and I will do everything in our power to keep our daughters safe from getting circumcised."
Nine-year old Fatima (not her real name), from Al Sunut village, West Kordofan State, is caught between two worlds. The world of her parents, where she is protected from female genital mutilation, and that of her community, which is unfriendly to her being uncircumcised. The decision by Fatima’s family to keep her uncircumcised comes with a price, including social rejection. Today her peers refer to her as a ‘Ghalfa,’ a Sudanese word for an uncircumcised girl. ‘Ghalfa’ also means unclean, promiscuous, and even a prostitute.
During playtime at school, Fatima’s curious classmates meddle in her privacy inquiring when she would be circumcised. “It's the most embarrassing and difficult moment for me in school," Fatima said. "Most of the time, I pretend not to hear them," she explained, as tears streamed down her chin.
"I don't like it when people refer to me as a ‘Ghalfa’, and I wish I didn't live among them,"
Although legislation in Sudan criminalizes female genital mutilation, the harmful practice remains common and primarily done secretly.
Determined and committed to protect Fatima
To protect Fatima, her family has relocated to Hai-Alnazir, where they live among the Hausa tribe. The Hausa, who originated in Nigeria, do not practice female circumcision. More than ever, Fatima’s parents are determined to protect their daughters from female genital mutilation, regardless of the pressure from other family members, friends, and communities.
Fatima’s father, Meraiseel, who witnessed the tragic death of his cousin following complications from FGM confirms that circumcision of their daughters will not happen under their watch. "My wife and I will do everything in our power to keep our daughters safe from getting circumcised," he said, as his wife nodded in agreement. "We have witnessed and felt the negative consequences of FGM in our communities, and it is our responsibility as parents and citizens to educate our people about this harmful practice," he continued.
Fatima’s mother, Hanadi, is well respected in her community and a member of the Al Sunut Child Protection Network. She has benefitted from several UNICEF-supported child protection trainings including those on FGM through the ‘Saleema’ initiative thanks to funding from the United Kingdom (UK) Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Canadian Government. The knowledge and information acquired have greatly changed her perception on female circumcision and today, she is determined to protect not only her daughters but all girls in her community against traditional harmful practices.
However, as a member of the Child Protection Network, it will take more than her efforts to bring about the desired change in her community—the abandonment of female genital mutilation. "I understand and feel Fatima’s difficulties with her peers and the community because she is not circumcised. But, as parents, we are only doing what is right and in her best interest," she said.
Hanadi also participates in focus group discussions with local authorities, religious leaders, women, and men educating them on the benefits of abandoning the practice, the negative effects and addressing misconceptions. She will leave no stone unturned.
The efforts of the CP committee are backed up by locality leadership. The Deputy Executive Director of the Al Sunut locality, Mr. Abu Bakr Alsiddig noted - "As a government and community, we cannot do it alone. We need our partners to support us with programmes that enhance the knowledge of our communities on these harmful traditional practices,” before calling for increased partnerships in the fight against FGM. "We also need to engage more with our girls, youth, women, and men to raise awareness about the dangers of the practice and the call for total abandonment," he added.
The request from leaders and communities, including Fatima and her family, fits into the ‘Saleema Initiative’ that UNICEF and its partners support and implement in Sudan. With increased community demand to implement the ‘Saleema Initiative’ including related bylaws and legislations to end female genital mutilation in Sudan, children like Fatima will be able to enjoy their basic human rights no matter where they live.