Eritrea bans female genital mutilation

Here’s a glimmer of hope from Eritrea—and how does it square the widespread reports that the Eritrean regime is backing the Islamist insurgents in Somalia? An April 8 report on SomaliNet states: “The Eritrean government has with immediate effect banned female circumcision; a brief statement posted on the Eritrean government website on Thursday said anyone who requests, takes part in or promotes the practice faces a fine or jail sentence.”

According to the report, the March 31 decree states: “Female circumcision is a procedure that seriously endangers the health of women, causes them considerable pain and suffering besides threatening their lives.”

Female circumcision, also called female genital mutilation (FGM), is widespread in the Horn of Africa and involves cutting off the clitoris and other parts of the female genitalia. Up to 140 million women and girls worldwide are estimated to have suffered FGM, and the World Health Organization estimates that another three million are subjected to the practice each year.

Luul Ghereab, president of the National Union of Eritrean Women, told Reuters Africa: “FGM is a deep-rooted culture and it needs a persistent continuous effort (to halt it). We do not believe (this ban) will automatically eradicate circumcision, but it surely will play a role.”

While reports are sketchy, the law seems to be a decree issued by President Isaias Afwerki, not part of legislation passed by Eritrea’s National Assembly.

Unfortunately, reaction both within the region and in the Eritrean diaspora has not been entirely favorable. An editorial on Garowe Online, a news service based in Somalia’s autonomous region of Puntland, calls the ban “arbitrary” and hails FGM as a “deeply rooted cultural heritage.” The New Jersey-based Eritrea Daily writes that health concerns are outdated thanks to “medicalization” of the procedure. It dismisses concerns about women’s rights as “subjective”—and the term FGM as “abusive.”

See our last posts on Eritrea and the struggle for the Horn, and the struggle within Islam.