Good news from Africa: Mauritania bans female circumcision
Mauritanian women have other problems to deal with as well,
including a literacy rate of just 43.4%
There’s finally some more good news in the struggle against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa: Just weeks after Uganda banned the procedure, the thirty-four member Forum for Islamic Thought in the West African nation of Mauritania has issued a statement outlawing it as well. After convening in the capital, Nouakchott, early last week, the Forum announced that FGM had no basis in Islam and "has been proven by experts to be detrimental, immediately or subsequently. Hence, such a practice, as is performed domestically, is hereby prohibited, on account of the harm it gives rise to." From now on, it said, Mauritanian clerics will denounce female circumcision in their mosques.
This step is long overdue, but all the more welcome. FGM rates vary in Mauritania, reaching up to seventy-two percent in some areas. It is performed for religious reasons and also out of a belief that it makes women more sexually attractive and fertile. The social pressure to conform is overwhelming. Mauritanians practice Type I and Type II FGM,* thus inflicting disease and both physical and emotional pain on their women. "Using religion to justify harm is nothing but systematic ideological terrorism,” one twenty-four year-old student told magharebia.com.
The new ban is the result of a grassroots movement among Mauritanian women and health professionals and steady pressure from Unesco and other NGOs. Will it have any effect? Sad to say, there is little reason to be optimistic. After all, many African governments have formally banned FGM, only for it to continue on as before. Nor is this the first such fatwa to be issued by Mauritanian clerics. The ruling provides neither enforcement nor sanctions. But supporters are hoping that this time, the collective reputation of thirty-four leading Muslim religious leaders will at least begin changing attitudes towards this barbaric practice, leading to a total, verifiable ban in the near future.
* Type I and type II FGM as classified by the World Health Organization.
1. Type I (commonly referred to as clitoridectomy)
Excision (removal) of the clitoral hood, with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.
2. Type II (commonly referred to as excision)
Excision (removal) of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practised form.