Taking a stand

Sudanese villagers who ‘eradicated’ FGM provide a national blueprint for success

Zainab, 7, and her sister will not be subjected to FGM thanks to the efforts of their granparents, Ahmed and Khadija Mohamed. (YouTube/BBC News)

In Sudan, a country where an estimated nine in 10 girls are subjected to female genital mutilation, one small village about three hours south of Khartoum has bucked by the trend by banning the practice outright — and more places are starting to follow. Speaking to BBC News, village elder Ahmed Mohamed recalled the moment 35 years prior when his family became the first in the village to take a stand on the practice. In Sudan, female genital mutilation is even more brutal and damaging to women than it is in other areas of the world, as tradition dictates that all external female genitalia be removed and part of the labia sewn shut.

“There are many reasons why it’s wrong. Women died during operations. It can cause women not to have sexual desires. Our religion does not allow it. Therefore we decided not to do it. My wife was under huge pressure to do it, but thankfully she refused,” Mohamed told BBC senior Africa correspondent Anne Soy.

His wife, Khadija Mohamed, said that neighbors initially tried to retaliate against her by threatening suitors for her daughters and telling them that they were uncircumcised. But over time, and with help from local religious leaders, she slowly managed to convince the rest of the village of the harm caused to women by the practice. Thanks to their efforts, she said, no more girls in the village will ever be subjected to the cut.

The Sudanese government has sought to replicate the family’s success at eradicating FGM on a larger scale. With support from U.K. aid, the government has begun a program to teach local preachers to speak out against the practice as a violation of Islamic precepts that bar deliberately causing harm to others. In another village, local leaders are performing outreach by putting on plays for women that raise awareness about the health consequences of FGM and encourage them to help end the practice themselves — starting in their own homes.

One former FGM practitioner, midwife Amira Abdulrahman, told Soy that she had lost count of the number of the girls she had cut — her own daughters and granddaughters among them — but that she had come to realize that the practice was fundamentally evil.

“I ask those girls to forgive me. I made a big mistake,” she said. “I hope God can forgive me too. The children saw me as if I was the angel of death. If I could speak to them, I would ask for forgiveness.”

Watch Soy’s report for BBC News below.

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