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Enlightenment national

FGM is not culture. FGM is torture

Every day, girls are genitally mutilated not only in Africa or Asia but also in Europe. This makes it all the more important for us to take action and spare girls this torture.
Calling FGM a traditional practice and justifying the act with it makes women around the world suffer every day. Waris Dirie got to the heart of the matter when she said: "FGM is not culture. FGM is torture".

The results from the study conducted in Austria in 2000 by the African Women's Organisation proved that FGM is also practised in Austria. In the following years, a number of projects were carried out to prevent and eliminate FGM in Austria. The former Minister for Women's Affairs and President of the National Council, Mag. Barbara Prammer, brought the FGM issue to the attention of the Austrian Parliament, which subsequently enacted a legal ban on FGM in Austria.

The African Women's Organization in Austria developed an FGM teaching kit within the framework of a two-year EU Daphne project with partner organisations in the Netherlands and Sweden, which was distributed in the EU countries, Africa and worldwide. Furthermore, the African Women's Organization established the first FGM counselling centre in Austria with the support of the City of Vienna, the MA 17-Municipal Department for Integration and Diversity, the MA 57 - Women's Service Vienna, the Vienna Programme for Women's Health and the Healthy Austria Fund. Now it is supported by the Federal Chancellery.

The goals of the National Action Plan in Austria are:

  1. The prevention and elimination of FGM in Austria
  2. The coordination of FGM activities and FGM projects in Austria and
  3. the networking and coordination of Austrian authorities involved in FGM with NGOs, migrant communities, religious communities and the media in order to implement projects for the prevention and elimination of FGM in Austria.

FGM in Austria today

Due to migration from countries practising FGM, older estimates suggest that 6,000 to 8,000 victims of FGM are also affected in Austria, one third of them in Vienna. The EU Institute for Gender Equality EIGE estimates that 12-18% of girls (735-1 083 girls) aged 0-18 years in Austria are at risk of female genital mutilation, out of a total population of 5,910 girls aged 0-18 years in 2019. Of these 5,910 girls with a migration background, 38% (2,243) are second generation. Girls at risk of FGM in Austria are predominantly from Egypt and Somalia. Smaller groups come from Ethiopia, Guinea, Iraq, Nigeria and Sudan. (EIGE 2021). See publication EIGE download here.



 From left to right: Marlene Parenzan President Business and Professional Women; Mag.a Barbara Prammer Austrian Parliament President; Kathy Koita President EU Anti-FGM Network; Dr.in Christa Pölzlbauer President Austrian Women Ring; Etenesh Hadi,s Coordinator African Women’s Organization

What can be changed for the better through education?

An alternative to FGM in Guinea-Bissau

"Sinim Mira Nassigue" means "we think of the future," and it also means avoiding female genital mutilation for a growing number of young women in Guinea-Bissau. The NGO of the same name offers alternative rites that can be used in traditional, rural areas.

A few years ago, committed women and men in Guinea-Bissau founded Sinim Mira Nassigue, despite very limited opportunities. In the meantime, they have opened centres in Buba, Gabú and Massabá, from where daily home visits are made to educate communities about the harmful consequences of female mutilation.

Mothers think they cannot marry off their daughters if they are not circumcised, says Maria Augusta Baldé, founder of the organisation. In some areas, it is held that uncircumcised women are not pure enough to prepare food.

To earn a living, Maria Augusta Baldé works at the Ministry of Health, but her free time belongs entirely to Sinim Mira Nassigue. The organisation cannot pay salaries, but the successes make the efforts worthwhile. Sinim Mira Nassigue organised a "fanado modelo" an alternative initiation rite for 35 girls. All the traditions of the ceremony had been followed and the girls had been accepted as pure at the end, but without being mutilated.

In an interview in the Berliner Zeitung, Maria Augusta Baldé had told how they invite the girls, the women who perform the circumcision and the drummers. "Then everything happens just like in the old initiation rites," she said. "But knives and blades are forbidden. We keep the cultural aspect and get rid of the brutal part."




Circumcision through words

Young Africans facing ritual female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM) can now be given hope thanks to pioneering work by an African grassroots group and PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), a Seattle, USA-based NGO.

The local grassroots group is called "Ntanira na Mugambo", which translates best as "circumcision through words". With the support of their community, these women have designed a new approach to initiation rites consisting of songs, education, celebrations and a week-long retreat.

The new "circumcision through words" ceremony, was first performed by a small group in 1996, later followed by a much larger ceremony for 50 young women and their families. In 1997, an even larger ceremony was held with 70 young women.

The new ceremony was developed in a series of workshops - supported by PATH - held by the congregations and women's groups. The groups designed a series of new documents consisting of poems, theatre scenes, songs, as well as information sheets. This new ceremony was held for the first time in Tharaka Nithi district in Kenya.

Subsequently, before the proper initiation ceremony, there was a "retreat week" which mimicked the traditional healing time after circumcision. During this week, the young women were accompanied by mentors who showed them manual skills that they could later use in their families. Other community trainers gave the young women lessons on STIs, relationships and reproductive anatomy.

This period ended with a colourful ceremony attended by many hundreds of people from the community. The festivities consisted of singing, dancing and theatre performances by the young women. The performances also conveyed messages such as "female circumcision is old-fashioned and has no place in modern life. Young women don't become mature through circumcision, they become mature through education."

First the young women distributed gifts, then they received them. They were given new clothes and together with the guests they ate as is usually eaten at circumcision ceremonies.

These positive examples show that it is possible to eradicate FGM! Only when FGM no longer exists will doctors in Austria no longer be confronted with this inhumane practice and African women and girls will be able to lead healthy and painless lives.