Sudan has criminalized the act of female genital mutilation (FGM), a historic move for the country where the dangerous practice is widespread.
According to the United Nations, nine out of 10 women between the ages of 15 to 49 have been subjected to FGM, which involves the removal of female genitalia. After decades of being absent for Sudan’s legislation, since 1983, FGM was finally criminalized in the country on April 30, 2020 (after a previous attempt in 2016). From Khartoum, Sudanese writer Rozan Ahmed shares her experience.
“While figures suggest that an average of nine in 10 Sudanese girls have suffered FGM this isn’t true of my particular generation, and that’s because of the tremendous efforts made by women on the ground. These are women who for years have advocated and battled against this tradition – one that invaded the Sudanese psyche fairly recently, compared to our vast history.
One of those women at the forefront of the movement is my mother’s cousin, Dr. Nawal Nour. Her brilliant work against FGM, including the development of reversal procedures, has brought her global recognition, and deserved respect.
While this new outlaw has been a huge victory for women’s rights campaigners in the country, Sudanese women are by no means strangers to power, success, or even being worshipped as leaders of their land. In fact, some of the world’s first queens – Kandaka, as we say – who won wars as dedicated wives and protectors of their people, were Sudanese. The first female judge across Africa and Arabia was Sudanese. We also saw the first female football referee, policewoman, parliamentarian, and more.
Tyrannical regimes over the past 50 years not only managed to debilitate women’s rights, but human rights in general, and across the board. Torture and death was usually the ending for anyone who chose to go against a dictatorial iron fist. Regimes depleted, divided and destroyed so much of Sudan’s glory.
Nevertheless, a defiant resistance was never far away.
During Sudan’s latest revolution, and every revolution against oppressive rule, women – alongside the men of their nation – were forever at the frontline. Every time. Triumph after triumph.
This is how I was raised, by every female member of my family – to stand up for what I believe in and take pride in my contribution. It’s in our DNA, and while many of us as Sudanese women have endured unfathomable trauma, poverty, FGM, war and so much more to the affect of our standing, I truly and deeply believe that it remains.
It is important to understand that FGM, much like domestic abuse against women globally, is extremely private. Silently embedded and inarguably placed into societal customs, and that’s what we must target at this point.
Laws and customs are two very different things, but oftentimes can be equally powerful in terms of abiding, and believing. As much as this is another triumph for Sudanese women – and all women who live in societies that view FGM as a general ‘norm’ – the real work is in changing ideas. Not only of the parents who demand it, but the doctors who administer it, the extended family that agree to it, and the community that believe in it.
It’s an eco-system of thinking that no law (or outlaw) can change in a day. Our incredible women’s rights campaigners, doctors and civil society leaders know of this reality very, very well. Shifting rules is immediate. Shifting culture, takes time.
There are very real dangers to this custom, and that must be fully understood. There’s absolutely no need for this custom, and that must be better understood. This custom is now punishable by law, and through continued education and considerate awareness, that too will be widely understood…”
Born in West London to Sudanese parents, Rozan Ahmed spent a few of her formative years in the Middle East before becoming a refugee due to the war in Kuwait. After completing her education in the UK, graduating from Greenwich University, she’s become an active voice for women, arts & culture across varied media channels, including MTV, Radio 1, BBC News and more.