Small faces may look up at me equally quizzically as I visit a maternity hospital in Sudan. But from these first moments, the path for a girl is mapped out differently from that for a boy.
And that has included the very control that the girl child may have over her own body. She does not decide. She must remain pure. Not to do so is regarded as a great dishonour to her and her family. But the way that purity is to be secured and established is to cut her body.
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is practised by many communities and ethnic groups across Sudan, often on girls aged around 5. In popular Arabic language, it is called ‘tahur’, meaning purity and cleanliness. Uncut women are generally viewed as impure and unmarriageable.
According to official figures from 2007, 89% of women and girls in Sudan aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C, one of the highest rates in the world. Estimates made during 2013 suggest that this figure may have fallen by 3% to 86%, but the data is scarce.
If they have indeed fallen, this is in large part due to a pioneering approach in Sudan, supported by DFID, called ‘Saleema’. This is a unique initiative combining innovative communication techniques with a large scale dialogue about changing social norms around uncut girls.
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