Activists welcome the criminalisation of those carrying out FGM (female genital mutilation) but warn it will take time to completely remove this practice.
According to the United Nations’ statistics, 87% of Sudanese women have undergone FGM, a practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons.
Yet, a step forward has been taken, as Sudan is setting to outlaw female genital mutilation, a significant change very welcomed by campaigners.
The new law established on 22 April by the council of ministers still needs to be passed by members of the sovereign council, which was created following the exile of former dictator Omar al-Bashir.
However, from now on, anyone found carrying out FGM will face up to three years in prison as declared by the Sudanese authorities.
Amira Azhary, from the National Council for Child Welfare and a campaigner for the Saleema initiative, which campaigns for an end to the practice, affirmed: “We expect that the law will be passed by the sovereign council and if that will be the case, it will be an expression of the political will in this country.”
Data reports that Sudan has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world. Girls are generally cut between the ages of five and 14.
Protesters demonstrate against female genital mutilation. image credit CNN
However, because the practice is deep-rooted in the Sudanese culture, activists expect it will take a long time to be eradicated.
“There is so much work that still needs to be done. This is a start, a promising start,” said Fatma Naib, communication officer of the UN children’s agency, Unicef, in Sudan.
“The crucial step will be to make sure there are penalties for those who perform the cut on their girls.”
Even if some states in the country have already banned FGM a few years ago, however, attempts to ban it nationally were not yet successful under Bashir.
“Sudanese women along with the Egyptians and Somalis have been leading the fight against FGM,” said Nimco Ali, a leading anti-FGM activist who heads up the Five Foundation, a global partnership to end the practice.
“Sudanese women have always wanted to end FGM. Sudan took the same path as Egypt politically – and that means women can also lead and be part of the transitional government,” reinforced Nimco Ali.
The UK’s international development secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan wrote on Twitter: “In our unstable world, it is fantastic to see the new government in #Sudan outlawing female genital mutilation. There is no place for #FGM in the 21st century.”
Baroness Sugg, the UK’s special envoy for girls’ education, also tweeted: “This is a fundamental step towards a world where every girl is protected.”
The UN established that 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in 31 countries – 27 of which are in Africa.
However, a report released in March claimed the number could be much higher as the practice is carried out in more than 90 countries, many of which do not collect data.
World leaders have pledged to eliminate FGM by 2030, but let’s hope the world will achieve this goal as soon as possible.