Women's rights: the war wages on

Women’s rights: the war wages on!

You might be wondering why I am writing about this. Well, this week, I have had an amazing opportunity. I have been conducting research (in French!) on female genital mutilation for an expert brought in from France. The expert, who has worked in many parts of Africa, is currently developing a manual on the administration of justice pertaining to sexual violence and violence against women. She asked me to research the topic and decide whether it would be worth developing the procedural treatment of FMG in her manual. Judging by my rant below, you can guess that my recommendation was a resounding yes!

As the ink from the decision in Sebellius v. Hobby Lobby dries, I realize that the battle for women’s rights is one that takes different forms in different places. In the United States, women are fighting for their right to choose to have a child. Here, in Africa, the right to be free from female genital mutilation is one of many basic rights being fought for.  Female genital mutilation is a practice, traditional in some cultures, of partially or totally removing the external genitalia of girls and young women for non-medical reasons. [1] It was officially outlawed in Cote d’Ivoire in December of 1998. [2]

After attending the event held by the International Rescue Committee (see my last blog!), I became more interested in the subject and began to speak to some of the women closest to me here about it. One of my friends here described to me some of the issues female genital mutilation poses in her village and throughout West Africa.

She explained that during her childhood in the village, young girls would be taken by their mothers to an exciseuse who would perform the ceremony. Excision was considered a sort of rite of passage. She was very fortunate. When it came time for her to be excised, her mother refused and sent her to live in the city. She recounted remembering several young girls in the village who had passed away from this painful procedure.

The primary issue with excision is that it is cultural. Although outlawed, a United Nations survey estimates that 36% of the female population in Cote d’Ivoire has been excised. [3] The Ivorian government has partnered with local non-profits to inform citizens of the legal ramifications of excisions including fines and long jail sentences. However, this number is not likely to budge easily.

Excision has been imbedded in the Ivorian culture. As the Mulabi Report points out, with the prevalence of cellular phones, woman and doctors who perform the procedure are now much more accessible. From a cultural and traditional standpoint, although the procedure has no medical value it is seen as a necessity for young women.

So what does this all mean?

It means that women’s rights in countries where excision is performed are affronting a new era of battle. As small victories are being won around the world, many battles wage on. Specifically, in Cote d’Ivoire, this battle is being met with hope as women are standing up for themselves and banding together. However, much like the war  for women’s rights in America, the war for women’s rights in Africa is far from over.

[1] https://www.google.ci/?gws_rd=cr,ssl&ei=cce7U-7LIvGw7AbAuoGwCQ#q=female+genital+mutilation+definition

[2] http://www.mulabi.org/

[3] Id.