A GNA feature by James Amoh (Jnr)
Bolgatanga, July 15, GNA - Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a practice that has been criminalised and outlawed in Ghana with the enactment of the 1994 FGM Act, 484.
The act in part states that “whoever excises, infibulates or otherwise mutilates the whole or any part of the labia minora, labia majora and or the clitoris of another person commits an offense and shall be guilty of a second degree felony and liable on conviction to imprisonment of not less than three years”.
However, the practice still persist in the country as it is being perpetrated in parts of the Upper East Region and neighboring Togo and Burkina Faso albeit advocacies to nip it in the bud; a practice that leaves most rural women ridiculously disheartened after undergoing harmful life threatening procedures.
FGM is a social practice that primarily correlates with ethnic affiliation and cultural traditions and not with political boundaries. This means that in many of the countries where FGM is practiced, the practicing groups live in close proximity to non-practicing groups.
Universally, it is accepted that FGM is a cultural practice and not religious even though some cultures use religion to justify the practice.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, FGM violates the human rights and undermines the health and well-being of some three million girls each year.
More than 130 million girls and women in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated have undergone some forms of FGM-and the impact on their lives are enormous.
Research has shown that through strong government commitment, extensive outreach by NGOs and a general receptivity to abandoning the practice has led to a decline of the practice among the groups that practice it.
Reasons for the practice
Many are the reasons that have been given for the practice of FGM in most parts of the country. While others deem the practice as a religious obligation, many others are of the belief that the practice helps prevent genital diseases in women.
The practice is not only justified on moral grounds, it is also seen as hygienic because it prevents bad odour. Girls who undergo the practice are celebrated in most parts of Africa.
Aesthetically, a genitalia cut is considered to have a nicer appearance whereas others view infibulation as protection against rape.
For instance, some ethnic groups such as the “Bisa” ethnic group in the Pusiga District in the Upper East Region, belief that FGM leads to cleanliness, reduces the sexual sensitivity of girls and women and promotes fidelity among woman.
Others cultures belief that the practice increases fertility and prevent the death of first-born babies. Other common beliefs are that children born to uncircumcised women are ‘stubborn and troublesome’ and more likely to go blind if the mother’s clitoris touches the eyes during birth.
Violence against women
The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) declares violence against women as an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace.
DEVAW affirms that violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of those rights and freedoms.
The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) acknowledges that FGM violates, and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of the human rights of women and girls and is an irreparable, irreversible abuse.
CSW agrees that harmful traditional or customary practices, including FGM, constitute a serious threat to the health of women and girls, including their psychological, sexual and reproductive status, which could increase their vulnerability to HIV and may have adverse obstetric and prenatal outcomes as well as fatal consequences.
FGM Legal Framework in Ghana
Article 15 of the 1992 Constitution, states emphatically in sub section one and two that; (1) the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable. (2) no person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or retained, be subjected to; (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being
The constitution is the supreme law of the land, hence when tradition or custom contravenes the constitution, the constitution automatically reigns. Customs and traditions must therefore be professed within the remit of the 1992 Constitution.
Action Aid Ghana
ActionAid Ghana has over the years led the way in efforts to abandon the harmful practice of FGM in parts of northern Ghana with comprehensive sensitisation programmes.
According to James Kusi Boamah, Regional Programmes Manager of ActionAid Ghana, “the cross-border activities of perpetrators of FGM is alarming as most Ghanaian parents cross borders to Togo and Burkina Faso to let their children go through the practice. This is because the communities that patronise the practice are now aware that FGM is criminal in Ghana.”
As part of efforts to fight the practice, Mr Kusi Boamah indicated that ActionAid is collaborating with local NGOs in neighbouring countries to report Ghanaians who indulge in the practice to the police and other vigilant groups for the culprits to be prosecuted.
ActionAid Ghana, he said would be relying on its Community Based Anti-Violent Teams; community members trained by the police in domestic violence laws and arrest procedures, to monitor and report new cases.
Perhaps the time for action is now. It is time for the trickle to become a steady stream with stakeholders coordinating efforts needed to nip in the bud the antiquated practice of FGM, which has in recent times taken a cross border nature.
There should be a relook at the gremlins in the systems. The provisions in the 1992 Constitution and other international declarations that Ghana is signatory to and requiring the adequate protection of the rights of women should be strictly adhered to.
State agencies, particularly Ghana Health Service, Commission on Human Rights and Administration Justice, National Commission for Civic Education and Ghana Police Service should be adequately resourced to embark on education and sensitisation drives in communities where the practice is prevalent.
NGOs, civil society organisations and the media alike should intensify health and legal education on FGM in the affected communities to enable community members to appreciate the consequences of the practice.
Ultimately, there should be tripartite efforts with the formation of cross-border initiatives by Ghana, Burkina Faso and Togo to check the incidences of FGM practice.