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Second Middle East & Asia Conference on FGM shows that new strategies are needed

16.5.2014. By Stop FGM Middle East. On May 7th to 10th the Second Middle East & Asia Conference on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was held in Istanbul where activists and researchers from Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and India met as well as representatives from UNICEF Iraq, Orchid Project (England) and Terre des Femmes (Germany). It was the second such conference organized by the German-Iraqi NGOs WADI and the Dutch NGO Hivos.

 For the longest time FGM was regarded as an African problem, based on the African continent with some prevalence in neighboring countries like Yemen. This mantra was overcome only recently when WADI strated raising conscious, that FGM is also widespread in a Middle Eastern country like Iraq. In January 2012, the first conference on FGM in the Middle East was held in Beirut. In the last two years the STOP FGM Middle East Project by WADI and Hivos collected further evidence, that countries like Oman, Malaysia and Indonesia have a significant high prevalence rate of FGM. Therefore, this second conference widened the scope from the Middle East to South East Asia.
On the conference it became very clear, that the issue of FGM has to be tackled in the Middle East and Southeast Asia as well as its current core area in Africa. No nationwide studies have been undertaken in Indonesia and Malaysia, but local studies suggest, that prevalence could be between 80 or even 90%. This would mean that Indonesia alone with its world largest Muslim population has a potential of over 100 million victims and endangered girls, which are so far not counted when NGOs or the UN speak of 140 million victims worldwide.


In Oman more than 80% of women could be mutilated – Results of a two-week field trip

Stop FGM Middle East, 3.2.2014. By Hannah Wettig

Oman is not on the map of countries where female genital mutilation is practiced. Neither the United Nations nor international NGOs have taken notice of FGM in the Gulf region – except Yemen. Yet, there are quite a number of reports about its existence in Oman and in most other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, some old from the 1960s, others are medical studies about cysts and other complications.

Stop FGM Middle East picked Oman for a first field trip to the Gulf region because of its relatively liberal political climate and the government’s concern for women’s rights.

Several Omani bloggers and journalists have written about FGM. The Ministry of Health mentioned it as a matter of concern. It was certainly a good sign that the issue was discussed openly – even if seldom.

From the different reports it was hard to assess how widespread the phenomenon really was. Some articles estimated a prevalence of 20% to 30%. Several authors assumed that FGM was mainly practiced in the Southern governorate of Dhofar with some pockets in the mountainous area in the North where a “pricking”-type was practiced. We were skeptical: Other reports hinted that FGM might be much more widespread than these authors believed. (more…)

New study in Oman shows high prevalance of FGM all over the Country

By Stop FGM Middle East. 22.1.2014.

According to a new study from Oman, female genital mutilation constitutes a widespread phenomenon in Oman in all age groups, and among women from all regional and educational backgrounds. Out of 100 women questioned 78 stated to be “circumcised” (they were asekd if had undergone “khatana al banat”). The human rights activist and statistician Habiba Al Hinai conducted the study “Female Genital Mutilation in the Sultanate of Oman” in cooperation with Stop FGM Middle East for which she interviewed 100 female and 100 male participants in hospital waiting areas, shoppings malls and fast food restaurants in the capital Muscat.

64% of all female participants said FGM was still practiced in the family

The practice of female genital mutilation was long only considered prevalent in the Southern region of Dhofar with only small pockets in the North. Thus, it is most notable that the participants in this study originated from Northern regions with only two coming from Dhofar. The highest prevalence of FGM seems to exist in the regions Sharqiya North and South (18 out of 19), the Dakhiliya (11 out of 13) and the coastal Batina region (33 out of 38 questioned). Participants who originate from Muscat were less likely to be circumcised, but still more than half of the participants were affected. (more…)

Mufti of Oman: “We can’t describe it as a crime against women”

By Stop FGM Middle East. 21.1.2014.

The Omani human rights activist Habiba Al Hinai send the Mufti of Oman an inquiry about the stance of Islam towards FGM. The Mufti of Oman replied in a letter in early December 2013:

Circumcision  is allowed in Sunnah, and none of the old Ulama (religious legal scholars) have said it was “hated”, but they have disagreed if its a “must” or a preferable sunnah to do, or allowed to do. The confusion was based on different hadiths by the prophet, and whether to consider these  hadiths as true and correct. They (the hadith) never mount up that it is a must, and it was always mentioned in relation to male circumcisions.

Even though its not an operation you must perform on women, we can’t describe it as a crime against women or as a violation of women’s rights. What is referred  to as FGM is not the practise that the Sunnah talked about. Circumcision is simple and clear to cut a piece of the clitoris without causing any damage, every thing that is not this shouldn’t be called circumcision.

Therefor what ever the WHO described as circumcision is not accurate as these are bad  practises of those unable to perform proper circumcision.

Therefore, circumcision is not allowed by sharia if it causes damages, this is a rule: to damage and no damager, and if it was medically proven by well trusted doctors that circumcising women will cause damage, it should be banned based on the no harm rule of the sharia.

Meeting a Circumciser: “Men suffer from it” – In Salalah facing up against FGM is almost impossible

By Stop FGM Mideast

Salalah 4.12.2013. The women at the Women’s Association call her Doctor Marzouka. With her sun glasses and gold rings on her fingers the 50 something year old lady has a modern air around her. Playing with her car keys she shows that she is an emancipated woman – women driving is not at all for granted in this conservative part of Oman. Doctor Mazouka works as a doctor’s help in a state hospital, at the side she cuts the clitoris of newborn girls.

Marzouka gets angry when talking about the "old way"

Marzouka gets angry when talking about the “old way”

“She is very smart. When she worked with the doctor in the surgery she watched closely what he does. This is how she learned,” explains Saida, who works since 15 years for the Salalah branch of the Women’s Association, the semi-official organization for women in Oman. The Association has arranged the meeting with the cutter.

Marzouka is proud of her skills. She stresses that she is trained and not a traditional cutter. “My mother did not do this. I trained myself in the hospital.”

Openly, she describes her job: “I use a clamp and then a knife.” She carries rubber gloves and two sprays, one anaestatic one disinfectant, in her bag. Her business runs well. She cuts two to seven girls a day, she says, making 15 riyals (30 Euros) each. Most costumers she meets in the hospital in the delivery ward. In Dhofar, the Southern province of Oman, girls are traditionally mutilated in the first two days of their lives. Marzouka also advertises her services on the internet and besides, everybody knows her in town – as the women of the association confirm. (more…)

Oman: Precise descriptions of FGM already in the 1960s

When Phillips lived in Oman people dressed like in this filmset in Mirbat. Even though an outsider and a man he seemed to have no difficulties to find out about FGM.

When Phillips lived in Oman people dressed like in this filmset in Mirbat. Even though an outsider and a man he seemed to have no difficulties to find out about FGM.

By Stop FGM Middle East

Salalah, 3.12.2013. In recent years there have merely been rumors that female genital mutilation is practiced in Oman. Some bloggers wrote about it. In UN publications, the country was mentioned occasionally in reference to FGM, but no one seemed to know more. Most people seemed to believe that it exists only in the Southern region of Dhofar bordering Yemen – and thus was a phenomenon connected to Yemeni culture.

Now, Wadi’s Stop FGM in the Middle East team is visiting the country on a fact finding mission. We are speaking with those people who reported on its existence, with journalists, potential actors and diplomats. Our findings are clear: FGM is practiced in all regions of Oman even though probably not by all ethnic and religious groups. It also varies in severity: While in Dhofar large parts of the female genitalia are supposedly cut the practice in the North seems less severe. We also heard several times that it exists in other gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia.

Internationally, the existence of FGM in the gulf regions was long denied. Yet, knowledge about FGM in Oman is not new at all. An archeologist and consultant to the Omani Sultan has reported on it already in the 1960s. Wendell Phillips writes in his book “Unknown Oman”: “Among the Qara (inhabitants of the mountains behind Salalah), radical clitoridectomy – or complete female circumcision (…) – is clumsily and brutally performed without ceremony at the birth of the female child. In the rest of Oman the little girl merely has the top of her clitoris, which is regarded as the prime center of sexual excitability, incised at the age of ten or soon after birth a bit of fine rock salt is placed on her clitoris which is then eliminated (rubbed away) by the insertion of a finger.” (p.174)

Phillips who lived on and off in Oman during the 1950s and 60s also analyses the social consequences of the practice: “If the truth were told a high percentage of Arab wives are among the world most embittered and frigid, while the Arab male is among the world’s unhappiest husbands. In his supreme effort to insure martial fidelity the Omani husband in numerous instances has equipped himself with up to four unresponsive ice cold mates whose genital organs have been deliberately mutilated by having the clitoris cut out along with its foreskin and in extreme cases the sanguinary ablation of the labia minora as well, thus eliminating in most instances all female pleasure and sensation during sexual intercourse and, to the self-centered male, any possible desire in his females to indulge in extra marital relations.” (p. 136)

Phillips analyses clearly a consequence long ignored in the discourse about FGM. The practice was always adressed as a medical problem. Only in recent years, sexual and social aspects came into focus, e.g. a Saudi study examines the connection of sexual dysfunction and FGM. The first thing one journalist asked us here in Oman concerned the connection of divorces and marital problems.

Our contacts here are convinced that FGM could be eliminated within few years in Oman if only a campaign was initiated. Education level is high and people are generally responsive to government campaigns, we heard.

It could be asked why international organizations have so long ignored Oman and other gulf countries when evidence was so clear and success through a campaign seems quite possible.

Field Trip to Oman: FGM is acknowledged but everyone is afraid to tackle it

Shopping in Muscat

The Sultan modernized the country but values traditions: The dishdascha is obligatory in government jobs

by Stop FGM Middle East

30.11.2013, Muscat. The activist Habiba Al Hinai has asked women in shopping malls and clinics about female genital mutilation. 78 percent reported to be circumcised – more than even the most FGM-critical Omani bloggers estimated (“Linoleum Surfer” assumed 20 percent victims). What is even more surprising about Al-Hinai’s ad-hoc-study: The women interviewed come from all regions in Oman: Muscat, the Batina, the Dakhiliya, the Sharqia. Only 2 came from Dhofar. So far, most people believed that FGM was mainly practiced in the Southern province of Dhofar.

A team of Wadi’s and Hivos’ Stop FGM Middle East campaign is currently in Oman, talking with local actors about these findings, their own assesment and ideas how to campaign against female genital mutilation.

The account of the blogger “Omani Princess” in Muscat supports Al Hinai’s finding. She tells us that it is practiced by her in-laws. They come from the mountains near Muscat, the Dakhiliya. “It is done with a hot needle”, she has heard. Her husband knows that in some cases a nail clipper is used.

At the Omani Women’s Association the women are surprised. “No, it’s not a problem here in Muscat and not in the mountains,” insists Nashia Al Kharusi, the president of the local Muscat branch. She has long heard of the practice in Dhofar and thinks the Ministry of Health should do something to stop it. “Maybe some do it in the North because they are influenced by the Emirates?” she ponders.

That FGM is practiced widely in the Emirates is well known in Oman. Also the Omani Princess tells us about it. She is well connected with other women in the region and since she believes that FGM is a crime she has talked with them about it. She can tell us: It is practiced in Bahrain, in Kuwait and also in Jordan.

But the “Omani Princess” doesn’t know how to overcome the social taboo surrounding the topic. “Unthinkable to write about it in an Arabic newspaper, only the English ones can publish articles on it.” This is also the opinion of a journalist from the Muscat Daily we meet.

Habiba Al Hinai explains to us why only the official Women’s Association can initiate a campaign. “There are no independent NGOs, you won’t get a license and you won’t be allowed to work.” She must know. As one of the main protagonists of the small Omani spring she has tried to found several groups with others, among them the Omani Human Rights’ organization.

Yet, the women at the Women Association don’t seem too confident. Al Kharusi has been trying to get an appointment at the Ministry of Health to talk about FGM. “They must do something, because in Oman things have to be official.” She is certain that FGM could be eliminated within few years “because if something comes from the government, people follow.” This may well be true. Sultan Qaboos is a popular monarch for he integrated all ethnic and religious groups, modernized the country and improved the status of women to such an extend that the Thomas Reuters Foundation recently rated Oman as the second best Arab country for women.

Even the activist Habiba says: “If it wasn’t for the Sultan we would still live imprisoned. These people (the religious) would lock us in the house not allowing us to work or even go out.”