The BBC recently ran a profile of Amna Badri, a campaigner against female genital mutilation who herself was a victim of the practice at the age of six in Sudan.
Badri describes her own experience when she and her sister, then only five, were circumcised. Badri and her sister underwent the mildest form of female circumcision in which a part of the clitoris is removed. She describes how she and her sister were teased by other girls who had undergone what is called phoronic circumcision — the clitoris is completely removed and the outer lips of the vagina are sown shut so that only a small area for urination and menstruation is left open.
Badri told the BBC that friends who underwent phoronic circumcision experienced many health problems in later years, as can be imagined, but that for the most part they still supported the procedure,
They had complications starting from when they started their periods. They had a lot of pain because the blood can’t easily get out, also a lot of them had continual abscesses. The most complicated situation is childbirth because they have to be cut open and then they insist on being re-circumcised, stitched up again.
Badri left Sudan to become a political refugee, with her family, in Great Britain in 1997. The BBC reports that she now works with organizations to help women who have been circumcised take advantage of health services, as well as efforts to convince women in Great Britain — where FGM is illegal — not to take their young daughters back to Sudan for the procedure.
Circumcision: One woman’s story. Cindi John, The BBC, February 18, 2001.
In a recent column for the Village Voice, Nat Hentoff urged the incoming Bush administration to take seriously the long standing reports coming from Sudan of the use of rape and sexual slavery as a weapon of war by the government there.
Ever since it achieved independence, Sudan has seen almost constant civil war. The war falls along geographical and religious divides with the Muslim majority in northern Sudan squaring off against the Christian and animist majority in the south. The government of General Omar Hassan al-Bashir is overtly Muslim, but faces numerous rebel movements in the south.
It has long been known that al-Bashir’s government tolerates the enslavement of Christians and animists, and several American organizations have caused a great deal of controversy by raising money to buy the freedom of slaves in Sudan.
Hentoff writes about recent Christian Solidarity international report that the government’s Popular Defence Forces “systematically gang-raped and enslaved black African women and girls during and after slave raids on villages in southern Sudan…”
Hentoff quotes CSI’s John Eibener saying,
It is the custom for PDF troops to gang-rape enslaved women and girls, and execute those who cannot walk quickly during the forced marches to the north. Once in the north, the slaves are divided amongst their masters and are routinely subjected to beatings, sexual abuse, work without pay, and forced conversions, according to successive United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
Allegations of just such atrocities focused the world’s attention on the conflict in Kosovo, but at least in the United States there has been very little about the ongoing use of slavery and rape by combatant’s in Sudan’s civil war (and a lot of the stories that do make the mainstream media focus on the controversy over Christian efforts to buy Sudanese slaves their freedom).
Gang rape in Sudan. The Village Voice, February 7-13, 2001.
Police in Khartoum, Sudan, used tear gas and batons to break up a demonstration by dozens of women. The women were protesting a recent decree by Khartoum’s governor banning women from working in public places such as restaurants and hotels.
According to Ghazi Suleiman, a lawyer who heads the National Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy, the women were peacefully protesting the ban when police attacked the marchers. “The police attacked the women with tear gas and batons, just five minutes after the protest started,” Suleiman told Reuters.
The ban by the governor was temporarily suspended by a Sudanese court after several women filed complaints against the edict.
Three women hurt, 26 arrested in Sudan demonstration. Reuters, September 12, 2000.
Apparently there’s some sort of competition going on between Sudan and Afghanistan over which nation can be the most extreme in its restriction on women.
The Taleban had begun to loosen up restrictions on women before tightening down again last month with broad restrictions on working women, including shutting down small business run by widows. Sudan decided to try to keep pace by banning women from working in any part of Khartoum, the capitol, where they might come into contact with men.
Police have already begun making the rounds ensuring that no woman is working in gas stations, hotels, restaurants and other public places. According to Khartoum Governor Mazjoub al-Khalifa, the ban is actually good for women. The BBC reports al-Khalifa said:
This is to honor women, uphold their lofty status and put them in the appropriate place that respects the values and observes the tradition of our nation.
Anger at Khartoum ban. The BBC, September 6, 2000.