NORWAY/EUROPE: Female 'Cut' Exported To Europe

Seven years after Kadra revealed that female genital mutilation is still alive among many migrant communities from Africa, the Norwegian government is having difficulties handling the issue, write Justo Casal and Linda May.

Norwegian-Somalian Kadra, who became famous in Norway for exposing an Imam’s support of female circumcision

Kadra, a young Somali girl, stirred controversy in Norway in 2000. She wore a hidden camera and microphone while speaking to an Imam who tried to convince her to get circumcised.

When the television station sought the Imam’s views on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), he stated something different. He did not know that during the official interview, the reporter had him on tape talking to Kadra.

The Imam told the reporter that he actively discouraged the practice and it no longer took place. The television station aired both conversations. Strong reactions followed.

At first, the Imam and his supporters tried to direct the focus towards the ethical issues of "tricking" someone by taping them without their knowledge.

This attempt drowned in the outrage that swept through Norway. Ethnic Norwegians were shocked to learn about the existence of FGM. Most of them had never even heard of it.

Since an Imam had recommended that Kadra be circumcised, immediately everyone assumed it was a requirement in Islam, a misconception that most Norwegians still hold.

The Somali community was placed under pressure following the exposure. Spokespersons for the community, all men, even tried some sort of damage control and the public discussion eventually died.

Once out of the public limelight, the real reactions commenced. Kadra’s life was threatened and she was forced to go into hiding.

Kadra was beaten by suspected Somalis

But as late as a few weeks ago, Kadra was beaten by suspected Somalis. She had thought it was safe to resume normal life and even partake in current public discussions.

Sadly, she has paid a high price for giving her voice to an issue she felt strongly about.

In the aftermath of Kadra’s experience, African women living in Norway who no longer wished to continue the practice hoped the sleeping law against FGM could be used to help them in their struggle.

A Gambian woman filed charges against her husband. She was shocked to realise that her young daughters had been circumcised during the holiday with their father to Gambia.

Doctors at The Ullevaal Hospital in Oslo confirmed that the girls were circumcised. In spite of this, the police dropped the case due to "lack of sufficient evidence".

The woman went into hiding after receiving death threats by outraged Gambian men. Seven years after Kadra revealed that FGM is still alive among many migrant communities that originate from Africa, the Norwegian government is having difficulties in trying to handle the issue.

Karita Bekkenmellem, Children and Equality minister, recently declared that the fight against FGM must be the "new mission".

The Norwegian media have had a field day the past month trying to expose sensational stories related to FGM. Girls born in Norway of African migrants are proven to be at risk because their parents take them to Africa during the school holidays in July and August. These girls are circumcised while abroad.

The only European country trying to deal with FGM

A girl circumcised a few weeks ago in East Pokot is proud to show off her new status through her customary dress and facial painting

Following these stories, the government has created an emergency strategy to be implemented immediately to save girls from the procedure.

The most extreme measures include denying passports and the right to travel outside the country when there is clear suspicion that a girl may be at risk.

In reality, this means denying all girls under the age of 18 with parents of Somali and Gambian heritage the right to leave the country.

Another heated debate is whether or not all girls, or at least girls of "high risk" backgrounds, regularly should undergo mandatory check-ups of the genitals. Many believe this would prevent the parents from circumcising their daughters, because they know it will be discovered.

Others claim that this is drastic and violates the rights of the children. They feel it is unnecessary to put ethnic Norwegian girls through such an ordeal, since it is highly unlikely that they have undergone the procedure.

However, by singling out girls of African heritage from cultures that traditionally practice FGM, many fear this will only lead to a stigmatisation. The outcome of this discussion is yet to be known.

Norway is by far the only European country trying to deal with FGM. Several countries have already passed laws against it.

French courts have convicted several parents

Last year, Sweden, tried and convicted two cases according to this law.

France has been the most offensive. Following the bleeding to death of small girls after circumcisions gone wrong in Paris, the government decided to do something actively to prevent this.

In an area with predominantly African migrants, check-ups were conducted to determine whether or not girls had been circumcised.

Over 500 girls had already undergone the procedure. Within a few years, the numbers of new cases reduced dramatically. Today, no new cases are registered.

However, these check-ups are only performed on girls up to the age of six. Whether or not circumcision is postponed until it can go undetected, the French authorities have no way of knowing.

Also, this is currently a test project that only includes certain areas. French courts have convicted several parents who have consented to the circumcision of their daughters, despite lack of a specific law against FGM.

Instead, the French legal system has declared that cases of FGM are acts of violence that can be tried according to existing French law.

In the UK, organisations such as RAINBO and FORWARD, that work on eradicating FGM, estimate that 6,000 British girls of African heritage are at risk every year. British authorities are also trying to assist in lowering these numbers.

The police have programmes among the African communities, trying to inform them that the practice is illegal.

Disgust and incomprehension

Most European countries are in one way or another trying to deal with the issue, but it is difficult to evaluate the success rate.

The main problem is that there are no equivalent customs in European cultures that can be compared to cutting away parts of human genitals.

Also, very few European men are circumcised, unless for medical reasons. Women are never circumcised. A common response upon hearing of such traditions is one of disgust and incomprehension. Most Europeans will, in fact, say that the custom is cruel and violent.

European countries have evolved in a liberal direction. Abortion is a right that has existed for decades in most countries, same sex marriages are performed, divorce rates are as high as 50 per cent, people living together and having children outside marriage is common and the number of single parent families is high.

Women have equal rights to men (at least in theory) and are just as common and as well paid as men in work places, including leadership in both businesses and in government.

European societies and authorities were initially unprepared to deal with cultural practices such as FGM. There seems to have been an unconscious underlying assumption that newcomers would automatically leave unwanted behaviour behind at the threshold.

They failed to foresee that when people migrate, it is only natural that they bring along their cultural traditions and customs.

SOURCE: The Standard

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DATE: 21/07/2007

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