Bloggers tackle the issue of FGM
The Sultanat of Oman, even though an absolute monarchy, can be counted among the more liberal countries in the Gulf. Unlike in other oil-rich Gulf States, a small civil society has emerged testing its limits. During the Arab Spring demonstraters were asking for more political freedom. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that activists and bloggers have already tackled the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Most reports come from the Southern province of Dhofar, where FGM type 2 is practiced, a complete excision of the clitoris and labia minora. The Blogger Susan Al Shari writes: „Almost all girls over the age of about 15 in Salalah have been circumcised. I thought the practice had died down over the past decade and was no longer prevalent in Salalah but evidently I am mistaken.“
Salalah is the provincial capital of Dhofar – a city just as wealthy and developed as the state’s capital Muscat, with multiplex cinemas, five-star hotels and one of the largest seaports in the Middle East. The country side of Dhofar is known for its nature attractions and a tourist destination. Yet, it is also the most conservative region in Oman. Susan al Shari writes: “As many of you know, Dhofar is a region where working and driving is still taboo for many women. It is a region where marriages are arranged, female genital mutilation is widely practiced, polygamy is almost normal and where most women go nowhere without a chaperone and a face veil showing only the eyes. Things are changing rapidly but Dhofar remains the most conservative region in Oman for women.”
With a population of more than 200 000 inhabitants Dhofar is the second largest governorate after Muscat. Only 2,5 million people live in the Sultanate total.
The government of Oman is aware of the existence of FGM and has taken some efforts in the right direction. Hospitals have been banned to carry out the operation. The Health Ministry’s ‘Five-Year Health Plan: 2006-2010‘ announced to study the prevalence of FGM in Oman and design programs for community awareness. In 2005, the ministry targeted 2010 for having baseline data on female circumcision in the sultanate.
So far, only small-scale studies hint to a possibly wide-spread prevalence. A study on attitudes of adolescence conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2001 showed that 80 percent of females support female circumcision. Another regional study showed that the percentage of circumcised Omani female children (less than 3 years) was 100 percent in some willayats (communities) (both quoted in the ‘Five-Year Health Plan: 2006-2010‘ on page 6). While some communities practice FGM, others have never heard of it. Estimates assume that 20 percent of Omani women are affected.
The Ministry also planned to implement an Information Education and Communication (IEC) Plan on the complications of female circumcision by 2010. Apparently, the government did not reach these goals. However, it has published information on the topic in newspapers.
Since hospitals are banned from circumcising girls, FGM is only carried out in traditional ways. Susan Al Shari describes an elderly woman with a frankincense burner who roams the maternity wards of hospitals offering her service to mothers of newborn girls. After the clitoris is cut off, the area is burned with the frankincense burner to ensure that all nerves are dead.
After journalists and bloggers had spoken out against the practice, the US Embassy in Muscat held a discussion last year for women interested in the topic. The event marked the ninth observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (Zero Tolerance Day) on February 6, 2011. “I started studying about FGM and came to learn that the practice is more prevalent in Oman than I had realized,” said Christine Harper, political officer at the US Embassy, who initiated the event.
While most bloggers only mention Dhofar, Harper points to the prevalence of type four FGM in the North, which only involves the pricking of the clitoris but can also lead to health complications such as haemorrhaging.
Field Trip to Oman November/December 2013:
Kate Ginn: The Deepest Cut, Y-Magazine, Feb. 5, 2014
Little Awareness about FGM in Oman, Desertflower, April 25, 2012
Save the Clitoris!, The Linoleum Surver, June 10, 2011
Susan Al Shahri: Female Genital Mutilation in Dhofar: The Woman With the Frankincense Burner, June 7, 2011
The Seventh Five-Year Plan For Health Development – 2006-2010, Part IV: Promiting Women and Child Health, Ministry of Health Sultanate of Oman
Dear Omani women, female circumcision is Not a sunnah, How to live like an Omani princess, Feb. 24, 2011