"Economic Impact of Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan"

How Female Genital Mutilation Hurts Women and Society


Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the most controversial rites of passage in Sudan. Here, Sudanese student Ola Faisal Hassan gives background on FGM, shares interviews with women who have been affected by FGM, and explains how it relates to the economy.

A girl from East of Sudan Agrandir >
Teenagers from West of Sudan Agrandir >
Deduction of a life Agrandir >
Trauma of a young girl Agrandir >
In the middle Ages, Arabs named the area that is present-day Sudan "Bilad al-Sudan," or "land of the black people." The north is primarily Arab Muslims, whereas the south is largely black African, and not Muslim. There is strong animosity between the two groups and each has its own culture and traditions. While there is more than one group in the south, their common dislike for the northern Arabs has proved a uniting force among these groups.

Sudan has a population of 33.5 million. Fifty-two percent of the population is black and 39 percent are Arab. Six percent are Beja, 2 percent are foreign, and the remaining 1 percent is composed of other ethnicities. There are more than fifty different tribes. These include the Jamala and the Nubians in the north; the Beja in the Red Sea Hills; and several Nilotic peoples in the south, including the Azande, Dinka, Nuer, and Shilluk. Despite a devastating civil war and a number of natural disasters, the population has an average growth rate of 3 percent. There is also a steady rural-urban migration.

Sudan has 597 ethnicities that speak over 400 different languages and dialects split into two major ethnic groups: Sudanese Arabs of the largely Muslim Northern Sudan versus the largely Christian and animist Nilote Southern Sudan of the south.[These two groups consist of hundreds of smaller ethnic and tribal divisions, and in the latter case, language groups.

What is FGM?

Most writers seem to agree on the definition of female genital mutilation (FGM), infibulations, excision, or clitoridectomy, which is called Khafd (reduction) in classic Arabic and is more popularly known in the Sudan by the term Tahara (purification). It is the ablation of the clitoris, which partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia, varying from removal of the prepuce of the clitoris, the labia minoria, and the labia majora. The total dissection of the labia minoria and the internal part of the labia majora leaves a small opening. The two sides of the vulva are stitched together with catgut, sutures or thorns, thus obliterating the vaginal opening, except for a very small part, just enough to allow the exit of urine and menstrual blood.
FGM was declared illegal in Sudan in 1941, but the practice has continued with little interruption.
Successive national surveys between 1979 and 1983 recorded that 96% of women have undergone FGM. In 1991, this percentage dropped to 89%. And now, in 2009, the UNICEF World Report on Children shows a drop of only 7.3%. This gradual shift in public attitudes toward FGM has been due in large part to efforts led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Babikir Badri Scientific Studies Association on Women Studies (BBSAWS) in coordination with many other autonomous organizations and individuals. It is worth noting that BBSAWS was the first local NGO to shoulder the struggle against FGM in Sudan.
*The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities;

•Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice.
•FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
•FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behavior, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido, and thereby is further believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed, the fear of pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage "illicit" sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
•FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and "beautiful" after removal of body parts that are considered "male" or "unclean".
•Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
•Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
•Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
•In most societies, FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
•In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighboring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.
•In some societies, FGM is being practiced by new groups when they move into areas where the local population practices FGM.

*I have conducted several peer investigations among females subjected to FGM and non circumcised ones.
I have selected two salient cases representing each of the above said two categories;

(FGM victim):

"The hard lesson"

Mona is a middle aged housewife, circumcised and a mother of a non-circumcised girl.
I've taken the vital decision not to subject my daughter to the horrific FGM I've gone through. I have suffered the physiological and psychological effects of the FGM before my marriage during the delivery of my daughter .My abnormal delivery have incurred a lot of cost for hiring a gynecologist and the check into a private clinic to avoid any health consequences.
The worst result was that my daughter was bicep by the doctor because of the circumcision of my genitals leading to a catastrophically physical result in my newly born daughter her right hand was almost paralyzed due to the hard pulling of her.
This has resulted in extremely high financial expenses during the following years in trying to cure her feeble right hand, we have tried physiotherapy. We even had to travel abroad seeking cure of her hand which represented an added cost for our family. Her handicap case has even cost her a lot of psychological problems especially during her primary study which I'm afraid negatively affect her educational future. Thus, it would represent a loss of effective and productive element of human resources in my society.

(Non-FGM victim):

"Joyful Life"

Nada is a newly university graduate working as an accountant in a bank and was recently married. She was mostly fortunate not to experience the horrific FGM process. She attributed this to the fact that her parents are educated and enlightened persons.
Because the majority of females in our community were circumcised at the age of seven I have felt like a freak among them and sometimes persecuted.
However, when I grow up to become a teenager I was totally content and resolved to the odd situation I thought I was in. I had a normal menstruation without any pain or infections which the circumcised girls were susceptible to. This normal feminine physiological life proved to be an asset for me when I started my work in career. My female colleagues at work had to take sick leaves for several days each month because of the menstruation period which reflected negatively on their attendance and thus job evaluation and therefore they were subject to non-promotion, demotion or in some cases redundancy.

Finally i would conclude that Circumcision is a burden on families in our society as well as on the health Service system by the state. Such females consume a considerable share of budgets for government hospitals in treating side effects caused by the FGM for unmarried females and special maternity care (post natal).
Women and girls are the back bone human resource in the traditional agriculture in the rural societies in my vast country ( one million square miles ) ,there fore the side effects of the FGM and the health deterioration that follows in most case impedes economic growth of these areas.


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Commentaires (3)


Ola, your story really surprised me. I never thought that so many women were exposed to FGM, but nice to hear that the number is falling. Thank you for putting focus on this scary subject.

Dana Maralason
Dana Maralason
Etats Unis

Ola, thank you for bringing to light a rather unsavory subject. I am happy to hear that the numbers of women going through FGM are declining and find it surprising that they are still so high. Would you say most women are forced into this? Do some welcome it? How do you personally feel about the practice as a tradition and custom of your culture?

I am especially struck by the fact that Nada felt like a "freak" and was "persecuted" for not being circumcised. This shows the power of the majority to impose what is considered normal. Ola shows very clearly how this practice injures women, yet, as it seemed as though everyone else had it done, Nada felt like the one who was not normal. I think that Dana's question is important in asking whether or not these young girls are forced into the practice. However, if you were 7 years old, FGM were widely practiced and you would feel like a "freak" if you did not undergo the procedure, i think you would be more open to the idea, however unimaginable that may seem. It is because of this that these stories are so important to share, highlighting that not all that is widespread and so-called normal is necessarily desirable.