Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen’s Cultural Landscape

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a hidden yet persisting reality in Yemen, deeply rooted within its cultural heritage. Indeed, collecting precise statistics on FGM prevalence is challenging due to its secretive nature. However, a 2013 UNICEF report revealed that about 19% of Yemeni women aged 15-49 have undergone FGM, with rural areas being more affected due to cultural norms. New UNFPA data points out an even more alarming picture, with 22.6% of women and girls aged 15 to 49 reportedly subjected to FGM. In some regions, this prevalence reaches as high as 63%. This revelation highlights the urgent need to address FGM within Yemen’s communities.

Yemen has laws theoretically prohibiting FGM, yet enforcement remains a challenge. FGM in Yemen is deeply rooted in tradition and is often seen as a cultural milestone for women, thus cultural beliefs about purity, modesty, and marriageability fuel the practice and perpetuate FGM across generations. The Penal Code criminalizes “mutilating female genitals” under Article 248, with penalties ranging from imprisonment to fines. However, legal loopholes, including provisions allowing for consent from guardians, and the lack of effective implementation hinder accountability. Moreover, the ongoing civil war since 2015 has severely disrupted all efforts to combat FGM, with limited resources available for UNFPA and UNICEF initiatives like the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation. While FGM has been included in recent government strategies, details of actions are not publicly available.. Urgent needs include training health professionals, providing support for survivors.

Despite being condemned by international bodies and religious leaders, FGM persists due to cultural and social factors. A BMC Public Health study found a high prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen, with 81.3% of women aged 15-49 having undergone the practice. It found that mothers who had undergone FGM were significantly more likely to subject their daughters to the same practice. This alarming trend underscores the intergenerational perpetuation of the practice within families, where daughters are often subjected to the same harmful practice endured by their mothers and grandmothers. Indeed, FGM, often perceived as a rite of passage or a cultural tradition, entails various procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and involves severe physical and psychological harm on its victims. Immediate health risks include excruciating pain, bleeding, infections, and long-term complications such as urinary problems, menstrual issues and childbirth complications. Moreover, FGM violates fundamental human rights, depriving women and girls of autonomy over their bodies and perpetuating gender inequality.

To effectively tackle FGM in Yemen, a multi-dimensional approach is required. This entails comprehensive education and awareness programs aimed at dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding FGM, empowering communities to advocate for change, and strengthening legislative measures to enforce protection and support for survivors. Collaboration between government bodies, civil society organizations, religious leaders and international stakeholders is essential in driving forward this agenda and safeguarding the rights and well-being of Yemen’s women and girls.