6 February:  International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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The Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR) today, 6 February, affirms its condemnation of the violation of the human rights of girls and young women in Oman. In 2012 the UN General Assembly designated 6 February as an International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), with the aim of ending the practice of FGM, or cutting, also referred to as “female circumcision”, in all parts of the world by 2030.

FGM reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and is a form of violence against girls and women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and as such constitutes a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity; the right to be free from torture and from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and the right to life, in instances when the procedure results in death.[1]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the term “female genital mutilation” refers to any procedure that involves partial or total removal or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, including piercing, incision or cauterisation. Around 200 million girls and women have undergone this gross violation of their human rights, mostly between infancy and the age of 15, in roughly 30 countries.[2]

FGM, which is usually carried out by local circumcisers, is seen as a gross violation of human rights because of the extreme medical risks to victims, and the fact that it deprives women of the enjoyment of their basic sexual rights.

Immediate complications of FGM can include acute haemorrhage, severe pain, genital tissue swelling, urinary problems, bacterial infections such as tetanus, wound healing problems, shock, and even death.[3] Long-term complications can include scarring, vaginal problems like cysts and inflammation, menstrual problems, sexual and psychological problems, sterility, complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.[4]

Worryingly, Oman is one of the countries where FGM is widely practised, according to a report by human rights NGO Equality Now. It said studies among women in Al-Dakhiliya Governorate and Muscat found that 95.5% and 78% respectively of the participants had undergone FGM.[5]

Although Omani law explicitly outlaws “female genital mutilation (circumcision)” and mandates a prison term of between six months and three years as punishment for those involved,[6] the law alone has not stopped relatives and local circumcisers from continuing to subject girls to these procedures. This may because of the government’s ambivalence on the issue: while the law says FGM is a criminal offence, the Grand Mufti of Oman, Sheikh Ahmad al-Khalili – a government official with huge influence among a large segment of Oman’s conservative society – declares that “although it [circumcision] is not obligatory for females, there is nevertheless some good in it”. The Grand Mufti’s comment clearly encourages people to violate girls’ rights and ruin their future psychological, sexual and physical health.[7]

The Omani Centre for Human Rights calls on the government, in the exercise of its legal and religious authority, to desist from violating the rights of girls and women and act seriously and urgently to stop all forms of violence against females, above all genital mutilation, by immediately carrying out the following measures:

  • keep tight controls on its religious discourse to ensure that it is critical of FGM, instead of encouraging it and using pulpits and media platforms to promote it, on the grounds that some segments of society are misguided and unaware of the devastating health and psychological consequences;
  • make the legal penalties tougher for everyone involved in FGM – relatives, circumcisers and anyone encouraging the practice;
  • raise awareness of the damage to health done by FGM, and the legal penalties, and include this in school curricula right from the early stages of education;
  • make sure girls know what to do if they have undergone FGM or are afraid that this is going to happen;
  • provide a hotline staffed by people trained to deal with the abuses women suffer, including undergoing, or the likelihood of undergoing, FGM; and
  • provide health and emotional support for girls and women who have undergone FGM, and if necessary help them recover from trauma, depression, diminished self-esteem, anxiety and health complications.

[1] World Health Organisation (WHO), 21 January 2022. Female genital mutilation https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/female-genital-mutilation

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Equality Now, March 2020. FGM/C in the Middle East region https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/equalitynow/pages/2318/attachments/original/1584134248/FGM-C_in_the_Middle_East_Region.pdf?1584134248

[6] WAF News Agency, 18 August 2019. (In Arabic.) Child Law criminalises female circumcision https://wafoman.com/2019/08/18/%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%AD%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B7%D9%81%D9%84-%D8%AA%D8%AC%D8%B1%D9%91%D9%85-%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AB-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B3/

[7] YouTube, 20 September 2013. (In Arabic.) Sheikh Ahmed al-Khalili on female circumcision https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUzO-HHUfnQ

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