Sudanese women’s struggle to eliminate harmful practices.

Plan Parent Chall. 1995;(2):17-8, 21-2.

Sudanese women’s struggle to eliminate harmful practices.

Hassan A.


PIP: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is widely accepted in the Sudan regardless of educational level. Findings from the 1989-90 Sudan Demographic and Health Survey indicate that a large majority of both men and women approved of the procedure. 73% of men preferred the less harmful “Sunna” type, and 18% preferred infibulation. 4% preferred an intermediate type. Another study found that all the polygynous men with both types of wives preferred non-excised or “Sunna” circumcised women as more sexually responsive and participatory. FGM is part of a continuation of a patriarchal repression of female sexuality. The belief is held among African societies that excision of the clitoris protects a woman from her sexuality by keeping her from temptation, suspicion, and disgrace. FGM occurs mainly in societies that have an absolute and clear requisite of female chastity for marriage. The Islamic view is ambivalent and variable by geographic region. Some physicians defend FGM on “scientific” grounds. The general principle of Islamic education as stated by Shiekh Mahmoud Shaltout of Cairo is that neither “Sunna” nor excision of the clitoris is mandatory. FGM is celebrated as a rite of passage. The practice is disappearing due to education and eradication campaigns. Although unexcised women are considered unclean, the FGM procedure actually interferes with menstruation and escape of urine and results in discomfort and infection. An obstacle to stopping FGM is the fee paid to traditional birth attendants, nurses, and midwives, whose self-interest is to defend the practice. Groups working to eradicate the practice include the Inter-African Committee (since 1984) and the Sudan National Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices (since 1985). Campaigns involve education and promotion of alternative employment for birth attendants and midwives. An impact assessment in Sudan in 1994 found that FGM is now publicly discussed, the influence of elders is declining, and the practice is viewed among the most educated as anti-modern. There is a trend toward use of the less harmful “Sunna” method or else a new “false circumcision,” where only plaster is placed around the clitoris.

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