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Promoting Human Rights of Women through the Elimination of FGM  

By : - Simon Woldemichael

Monday, February 6th, was In­ternational Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. As part of the observance of the Day, posters (written in Arabic, Eng­lish and Tigrigna) were hanging on the streets of Asmara.

In Eritrea, Female Genital Mu­tilation (FGM) has long been identified as a harmful traditional practice that needs to be eradicated. The government has demonstrated its firm com­mitment to abolish this harmful practice by issuing legislation and conducing awareness raising campaigns.

In 2007, Proclamation No.158/2007 prohibiting the practice of FGM was pro­claimed by the govern­ment of Eritrea. The proclama­tion, which came into effect on 20 March 2007, makes it a criminal offence to perform FGM on another person in Er­itrea and sets out the associated penalties. The new Penal Code of Eritrea (2015) also states that “a person who exercises parental authority who for gain or in der­eliction of duty grossly neglects the children under his charge and abandons them without due care and attention or to moral or physical dangers” is punishable by article 327. Under Article 327 of the new Penal Code, which relates to the neglect of children and putting them in danger, the offence is punishable with one to six months imprisonment or a fine of 5,001–20,000 Nakfa.

The government is signatory to many international legal in­struments that protect human rights and prohibit discrimination against specific groups, in particular women and children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Con­vention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) were ratified and enforced in 1994 and 1995 respectively. CEDAW obliges states to “pursue by all appropri­ate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimina­tion against women.” It reaffirms  equality of human rights for women and men in society and in the family, and it urges mem­ber states to take action against the social causes of women’s in­equality. It further calls for the elimination of laws, stereotypes, practices and prejudices that im­pair women’s well-being.

Furthermore FGM is a practice that makes women vulnerable to adverse health effects. It is an offense in the eyes of modern acceptable standards of behavior articulated in conventions, national laws and proclamations. FGM and other harmful traditional practices are carried out mainly because of negative attitudes about girls and women. In Eritrea, both coloniza­tion and backwardness had given for the persistence of the harmful traditional practices detrimental to the health and status of women. It’s only after independence that the government of Eritrea chal­lenged the hazardous implications of such practices, which violate the rights to health, life, dignity and personal integrity of women. And the criminalization of FGM and the awareness raising cam­paigns have created a safe space, where women and girls comfort­ably and safely live, play, work, learn and participate.

Before independence FGM was carried out by Eritrean so­ciety as normal and acceptable practice. Usually it is performed on infants that are a few days or months old. The reasons for the practice are many, including, but not limited to, psychosexual rea­sons. By reducing or eliminating the sensitive tissue of the outer genitalia, particularly the clito­ris, it is widely believed that the sexual desire in females can be reduced. Lowering sexual desire, according to this belief, in turn increases the probability for girls to maintain their virginity before marriage. Religious institutions in Eritrea dismissed the spiritual excuses and demanded that ad­herents abandon the practice.

The abolition of FGM is par­ticularly important in view of the Sustainable Development Goals to achieve gender equality and empower all wom­en and girls. Er­itrea has made great prog­ress in ending harm­ful practices against wom­en and girls. Ac­cording to the figures released by the Socio-economic head of the National Union of Eritrean Women, the Union has made a lot of efforts to eliminate harmful traditional practices. The abolition of FGM is inevitable with a signifi­cant number of villages declaring FGM free.

FGM has mysterious origins and is based on absurd and vague reasons, but in any case it amounts to violence against women and children. The government of Er­itrea has taken important steps to eliminate it because it is clearly identified as gross and serious violation of the rights of women. Through sensitization and legis­lation, the government is working to bring about total elimination of the practice in Eritrea. The gov­ernment has been intensifying its efforts to protect and promote hu­man rights of women by fighting against FGM, child marriage and other harmful practices.

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