afrol News, 26 May - Djibouti, a country where almost 100 percent of women are subjected to the illegal and harmful practice of genital mutilation, has mounted on a major program to combat the tradition. The government, several religious leaders and UN agencies are joining forces.
The Djiboutian office of the humanitarian organisation Caritas this month announced the new initiative. Caritas Djibouti will collaborate with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the government on a gender sensitivity campaign addressing especially female genital mutilation (FGM).
The government has adopted the Caritas initiative as part of its own gender programme addressing maternity risks. Genital mutilation is known to increase female mortality in general, but especially maternal mortality. The government's support to Caritas' programme has been seen as vital.
FGM has been prohibited in Djibouti since 1995, and the Penal Code states that "violence causing genital mutilation" is punishable by 5 years' imprisonment and a fine of over US$ 5,650 (1 million DF). However, the government has yet to convict anyone under this statute.
Djibouti is further known as a destination for African emigrants to Europe and North America, wanting to implement the mutilation on their daughters. As this fact has gotten known over the past two years, international pressure on the Djiboutian government to implement its anti-FGM legislation has increased, something analysts believe to have influenced the government to support campaigns against the practice.
Even some imams reportedly have thrown their lot to the new campaign against FGM, headed by the Catholic Church's humanitarian agency Caritas. FGM is not mentioned in the Holy Qura'n, and is therefore not a Muslim practice, although the tradition is more widespread in Muslim countries than others. A problem in Djibouti, as in many other African nations where the practice is widespread, is that it is believed to be a part of Islam, something most Muslim intellectuals strongly deny.
Caritas Djibouti says its new campaign aims at demonstrating to Djiboutians what kind of harms are caused by genital mutilation. Caritas especially mentions "cysts, fistulas, injuries of the urethra and birth complications." Infibulation, the most extensive and dangerous form of FGM, is widely practiced in Djibouti, leaving a high mortality rate on young girls.
In Djibouti, FGM traditionally is performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 10, and an estimated 98 percent of Djiboutian women have undergone the practice. According to UN estimates, the rate of girls undergoing FGM, especially infibulation, has been slightly dropping over the last years, although no statistics are available.
This possible positive trend is attributed to the information work of several organisation, but in particular of the Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD). In 1988 the UNFD began an educational campaign against infibulation, which has had only a limited impact on the prevalence of this custom. Some health workers in the capital (Djibouti) however have reported a precipitous drop in the number of hospitalisations related to FGM.
The new Djiboutian anti-FGM campaign is headed by Giorgio Bertin, president of Caritas Somalia. Msgr Giorgio Bertin on 4 April was nominated Bishop of Djibouti by Pope John Paul II. An Italian Franciscan, Bertin served as parish priest of the cathedral in Mogadishu from 1978-1983 and later has served in Caritas.