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Sudan finally bans female genital mutilation in a landmark win for women's rights

According to United Nations data, about 88 percent of Sudan's female population between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone some form of the barbaric practice.

Sudan finally bans female genital mutilation in a landmark win for women's rights
Cover Image Source: A Sudanese woman is taking part in a protest against the military junta on April 26, 2019 in Khartoum, Sudan. (Photo by Fredrik Lerneryd/Getty Images)

Editor's note: We are re-sharing some of the best moments and most important stories of 2020. Although it was a difficult year for nearly all of us, there were also shining moments of light and signs of hope. This was one of them.

Last week ushered in a new era for Sudanese women and girls with the country's new government finally criminalizing the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). The historic move is being hailed a landmark win for women's rights campaigners who've long condemned the often dangerous practice that's deeply entrenched in the nation's culture. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) welcomed the new law and vowed to help enforce the amendment by raising awareness among different groups across the country including midwives, health providers, parents, and youth. According to United Nations data, about 88 percent of Sudan's female population between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM.



Under the new law approved last week by Sudan's transitional government, those found guilty of performing female genital mutilation in the country now face a possible three-year prison term and a fine reports The New York Times. The World Health Organization defines FGM—sometimes called female circumcision—as involving "the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths."



"This practice is not only a violation of every girl child's rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl's physical and mental health," said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF representative in Sudan. "This is why governments and communities alike must take immediate action to put an end to this practice." In a statement provided to CNN, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry revealed that the move falls under the government's commitment to international human rights agreements. The country's current transitional government came to power just last year following the ouster of longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir.


"No doubt this article will contribute in addressing one of the most dangerous social practices, which constitutes a clear violation against women and a crime against women's rights," the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said in the statement. Calling the move "an advanced step in order to terminate this predominant socially-rooted trend," the ministry added that it "trusts the competence of the designated Sudanese authorities and their capacity and professionalism protecting and respecting women and enhancing their rights at a general level and particularly their health and social rights."


"This is a massive step for Sudan and its new government. Africa cannot prosper unless it takes care of girls and women. They are showing this government has teeth," said Nimco Ali of the Five Foundation, an organization that campaigns for the end of genital mutilation globally. Salma Ismail—a spokeswoman in Khartoum for the UNICEF—expressed similar sentiments, stating that the recent amendment to Sudan’s criminal code will "help protect girls from this barbaric practice and enable them to live in dignity. And it will help mothers who didn’t want to cut their girls, but felt they had no choice, to say 'no.' Now, there are consequences."


However, experts believe the law alone won't be enough to completely eradicate FGM. "New legislation outlawing FGM should be accompanied by positive community engagement, awareness-raising on the dangers of this harmful practice, and support for women and girls who have been cut or are at risk," Faiza Jama Mohamed—Africa Office Director of Equality Now—told CBS News. "In addition, authorities need to collect and circulate reliable data, and providing adequate funding to eliminate this harmful practice once and for all. Sudan's new law against FGM will be particularly beneficial to girls who have not been cut. Reinfibulation should also be outlawed to protect all women and girls who already were cut."


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