‘The Devil’s Share’: FGM In Mauritania and Senegal

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Mauritania and Senegal are continuing efforts to halt the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in their two countries. The practice is widespread in both countries, especially in remote and rural areas, where it is believed to be "the devil’s share" of a woman’s body where the devil hides, causing a woman to be overcome with lust. Only its removal is believed to be able to preserve purity and “keep the girl from female sexual urges” ensuring fidelity to her husband when he is away from home.

Al-Quds al-Arabiya spoke to a girl who was circumcised in Mauritania who told the story of her pain. As reported: “She will never forget the sharp razor that she saw in the hands of the woman who performed the circumcision, and she will never forget seeing the razor covered in the blood from her vagina. The pain that accompanied this procedure is planted into her soul forever.”

Anti-FGM activist Houdi Sin also spoke to Al-Quds al-Arabiya about the struggles in persuading communities to give up the practice. She said that “whoever wants to get married when he sends his mother to ask the hand of the girl, she must make sure (confirming directly if necessary) that the fiancé has been circumcised due to the fear that she will act licentiously when her husband is out of town because of her strong urges.”

Awareness campaigns against FGM run by NGOs and the government typically fall on deaf ears. The practice continues in secret. Particularly in rural areas, many people believe that the practice of circumcision is a religious requirement.

This is despite fatwas issued by local Islamic scholars condemning FGM. In January 2010, a fatwa banning the practice was issued by leading Islamic scholars at the Forum for Islamic Thought and Cultural Dialogue. The Secretary General of the Forum said, “Our reasoning went like this: Are there texts in the Koran that clearly require this practice? No. On the contrary, Islam is clearly against any act that would have negative repercussions for health. Today Mauritanian doctors unanimously declare [FGM/C] threatens health; therefore it is against Islam.”

Activists have accused scholars in the past of not doing enough to end FGM and of failing to promote and disseminate fatwas such as this one when they are made.

Female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting or female circumcision, includes all procedures involving partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There are four main types ranging in severity.It is generally practiced on girls between the ages of four and 12 and affects 3.6 million girls a year worldwide. 

Although a third less girls are being cut compared to the numbers 30 years ago, according to a recent report by UNICEF, the actual number of victims is projected to grow over the next 20 years due to population growth.

Currently, seven girls have their genitals mutilated per minute.

Groups such as the Senegal based NGO Tostan are working across Senegal and Mauritania to end FGM, working closely with communities and religious leaders and helping communities come together to give up the practice. In late August, they hosted a conference in a small border town in northern Senegal, bringing together members of communities which had elected to abandon FGM, and where they could share their experiences of doing so.

The Senegalese government is aiming to persuade all its communities to abandon the practice by 2017. If it succeeds it will be the first country in the world to entirely give up female genital mutilation.

According to a 2011 survey reported by the Population Reference Bureau found that an average of 69.4% of the women in Mauritania aged 15-49 had undergone FGM. Another 2001 survey 25.7% of women in the same age bracket in Senegal had undergone the practice.

According to the Arabic paper Al-Quds al-Arabiya, “the Ministry of Social and Family Affairs in Mauritania is working to implement a whole strategy the purpose of which is to raise awareness in the society especially in the more neglected areas in the villages and in the periphery where the circumcision is considered to be a religious tradition and a social custom.” This campaign, centered on four districts where the practice is extremely widespread, has so far included some 272,000 women.

For more information see our factsheet: Female Genital Mutliation (FGM)

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