Dr. Tobe Levin, Chair, Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD - Germany) rendered a most insightful talk on female genital mutilation (FGM) at WSRC on February 6, 2006. She spoke as representative of a registered charity whose officers have come to Germany primarily from Somalia. FGM, a complex custom not easily understood by outsiders, is rationalized in many ways. Mistakenly thought to be a religious prerequisite, it is practiced in conjunction with beliefs in family honor, to cement social inclusion, and even, in some cases, to enhance sexual pleasure. According to World Health Organization estimates, about 132 million girls have been subjected to FGM. Most live in African countries or in several practicing cultures in the Middle East and Asia. The present-day African diaspora has exported the tradition to Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Tobe mentions that ‘not only is FGM normal to those whose ethnicity mandates it as a condition of gender identity and group membership but the result is, where infibulation is concerned, beauty and cleanliness which in turn give the girls a sense of fulfillment, as they have longed for the “event”, that is, to change status and become “women”.’ Depending on the degree of mutilation, FGM can have several short and long term effects such as shock, hemorrhaging, severe uterus and vaginal infections, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, psychological damage and even death. The Inter-African Committee (IAC), an umbrella for 28 national groups, of which 26 are in Africa, voiced their strong concerns and explicitly opposed efforts of countries like the United States to substitute the so-called neutral terms "cutting" or "surgery" for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when addressing a broad Western audience including opinion- and policy-makers, in order to emphasize the medically unnecessary amputation or maiming of the female organs. For this reason, in 2003, Berhane Ras-Work, IAC president, launched International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day marked by awareness-raising activities on February 6 each year. FORWARD – Germany is an international non-governmental organization that promotes action to stop harmful traditional practices such as FGM and early and forced marriages, which violate the human rights of women and girls and adversely affect their health and well-being. The primary objective is elimination of FGM. It advocates remedial policies be adopted in those countries where harmful traditional practices (such as FGM) have a strongly negative impact on health, including child mortality and reproductive morbidity. Internationally, FORWARD's activities are primarily focused on programmes in Somalia and Ethiopia, working in partnership with local grassroots groups supporting African women's health and economic development. The organization therefore takes a holistic approach to combating FGM and urges changes in health care, education and economic development (income generation). FORWARD-Germany, for instance, continues its efforts to curb FGM with several concrete projects, among them a sponsorship program for Somali girls. School fees are paid in exchange for parental promises not to infibulate. It also sponsors a traveling exhibition of paintings by Nigerian artists devoted to raising awareness and sensitivity toward the topic. View some of the work by the artists at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42433998@N00/sets/72057594064975728/
For more information on FORWARD's efforts visit their website http://www.forwarduk.org.uk/germany/ .