FGM and maternal health in Sierra Leone AIUK must join fight in Africa

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) reports that parliamentarians from all over Africa are pushing for a continent-wide ban on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and are calling on the UN to pass a General Assembly resolution appealing for a global FGMban, as it violates human rights. 

 

As the procedure is often performed on girls under the age of 16, it is also very much a children’s rights issue.  Widespread practice of FGM correlates in many African countries with high maternal mortality rates, as such ‘cutting’ obviously causes scarring, deformities, and complications during childbirth. 

 

Your blogger is still wondering why Amnesty International UK won't mention this massive issue in their official maternal mortality work within the Demand Dignity campaign.

 

The IPPF news piece says that parliamentarians from all over Africa are pushing for a continent-wide ban on the practice.  Among the 17 states that have already banned FGM are Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal and Uganda.  Morissanda Kouyaté, representative of the NGO Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, says that there is by no means agreement yet: “There is a lot of disparity here. Some countries have passed laws, others have none; and some have laws that are not applied.”

 

MP Chris Baryomunsi from Western Uganda warned that governments should not underestimate the amount of time it would take to change people’s minds. 

 

“People have to want the law, or else you can’t enforce it,” he said.

 

(Baryomunsi has been advocating against FGM since 1990 – when some local authorities were even trying to pass laws to make FGM mandatory.)

 

“Some governments are fully engaged and ready for change, but others, like Sierra Leone, which has high prevalence rates, will take years to shift,” he says.  [Sierra Leone!  This is a major stronghold of the maternal mortality campaign!  Have we missed a trick in Demand Dignity?  Isn’t encouraging normal people to enforce merciful laws just exactly what we activists do?]

 

It is also acknowledged that Africa needs a lot of international help on this issue.  There must be cross-border and international legislation as well as strong national laws against the practice:  In Togo, where FGM was banned in 1998, girls actually travel (or are taken) to Benin, Ghana and Burkina Faso to undergo FGM, avoiding the law of their own country.

 

Amnesty International has been campaigning on the issue of maternal mortality within the Demand Dignity campaign. We have just had the good news that Sierra Leone will now provide free healthcare for mothers and children under five.  Will such free healthcare stretch to the essential advice that FGM is one of the things causing so many maternal deaths?

 

Free healthcare in Sierra Leone will be provided to pregnant women, new mothers, and children under the age of five.  This is welcomed by AIUK; it is obviously excellent news.

 

However, this could actually end up leaving out the most vulnerable – those that were cut at 12 or 13 and subsequently lost their lives during childbirth. 

 

Will healthcare professionals in Sierra Leone be able to tell a cut and scarred pregnant woman that she is just as likely to die as live when she gives birth?  Upon their doctors declaring ‘It’s a girl!’ will proud surviving mothers be warned that subjecting their girl to FGM may mean breaking the law, or worse?  Will they heed those warnings?  Are surviving mothers likely to see no problem with cutting, given that it didn’t kill them? 

 

Amnesty International UK should acknowledge that FGM is a major issue affecting maternal mortality, and help parliamentarians such as Chris Baryomunsi in their pan-African struggle.  If we’re going to fight death in childbirth in Sierra Leone, FGM must be tackled also.   And judging from the timelines involved, we really have to start now.

 

Amnesty Ireland has joined with other NGOs to form the End FGM campaign.  Visit http://www.endfgm.eu/en/

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