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Updated May 5, 2020

Sudan’s transitional government has amended the country’s penal code to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which now carries a three-year prison sentence and a fine. Although hailed as a major step forward by Sudanese and international women’s rights campaigners, a simple change of the law will not be enough to completely end the practice.

 

Part of the challenge of ending female genital mutilation is that it is intertwined with rites of passage.

 

Vview of the United Nations headquarters
The flag of the United Nations, with its white emblem on a light-blue field, flies in front of the UN headquarters in New York.

 

The United Nations defines FGM as the deliberate removal or alteration of a woman’s genitals for non-medical purposes, and regards it as a human rights violation. Besides Sudan, FGM is practiced in at least twenty-seven other African countries, mostly in the Horn of Africa but also in Nigeria and Senegal. Part of the challenge of ending FGM is that it is intertwined with rites of passage.

In Egypt, despite a 2008 amendment outlawing the practice, a 2013 UNICEF report estimated that at least 27.2 million women and girls had undergone FGM, the highest on the African continent.

 

Women were at the forefront of street protests and civil disobedience.

 

Still, attitudes are changing in Sudan and turning against FGM. Much of this stems from the revolution that led to the removal of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, a revolution where women were at the forefront of street protests and civil disobedience.

Women currently head five ministries in Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s cabinet, which indicates that the new government is serious about supporting gender parity and advancing feminist causes.

 

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