Female genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire and its human rights issues
Mariane Monteiro da Costa
Côte d’Ivoire is a country in West Africa which is bordered by Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia. French is the country’s official language and its population is of approximately 24 million people. The country’s economy is extremely dependent on agriculture and related activities. Côte d’Ivoire is one of the most prosperous in West Africa, however, since 1999 its political history is very inconstant. In December of that year the country went through its first military coup, which was highly protested by the population and forced the people who took over the power to step aside. Then, in September 2002 members of Ivoirian military tried to make a coup, but it failed. This turned into a rebellion and after a civil war that lasted until 2011. (CIA, 2017).
Although this country seeks stability after the armed conflict that occurred until 2011, it suffers with diverse accusations of violations to human rights. According to the United Nations, human rights are “rights inherent to all human being, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status”. (UNITED NATIONS, 2018). Those rights are ruled by the International Law of Human Rights that establishes the government’s obligations to act in determined ways or to abstain from certain acts, in order to promote and protect the human rights and individual or group liberties. So, since 1945 several international treaties and other mechanisms started to have a legal and formal expression to those rights through international rules. (NAÇÕES UNIDAS, 2017).
In the year of 2017, according to the US State Department (2017), many violations of human rights happened in Côte d’Ivoire, once the country wasn’t capable of guaranteeing its citizens their rights. The most symbolic ones are “security force abuses, the abuse of prisoners and detainees and the government’s inability to enforce the rule of law”. (US STATE DEPARTMENT, 2017). One other important violation that occurs in this country is the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It is considered Female Genital Mutilation “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons”. In the societies which it is practiced, FGM is usually done in 5 to 10 year-old children and it has religious, cultural and ritualistic basis. It can be seen as a form of hygiene, of preserving women until marriage and as honor to the family. The ritual is made without any kind of anesthesia and with very basic tools, such as scissors, knives, pieces of glass or razors. (WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA, 1997, p.3).
It is known that between 100 and 140 million girls and women go through this procedure and almost 3 million die every year due to that. FGM is more recurrent in regions of Africa (28 countries in the West, East and Northeast of the continent), some Asian countries and in the Middle East. This is because in these areas, according to OHCHR et al, it is common to have the figure of men above of women’s. Also, this reality is highly supported by the communities, even by girls and women, because of the social pressure that is imposed on them, once it represents the passage to adulthood. In that sense, the practice is a social convention and it is hard to be abandoned without the whole community doing so. The perception that the social gains are bigger than the disadvantages makes FGM be perpetuated. (OHCHR et al, 2008). This procedure brings to women many health issues – physical and psychological – besides reinforcing the sex inequity.
People of all ethnic groups and religions practice Female Genital Mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire. The prevalence of FGM in the country in women aged 15-49 is 38.2%, which is a significant number even though this practice is far from new. Prevalence among Catholics from 15 to 49 years old is 17,9%, animists and those ‘without religion’ is 41,9% and among Muslins is 64,1%. (28 TOO MANY, 2018).
When we talk about the distribution of the issue in the country, the north-west and north are the two regions where the FGM has high ratings of almost 80% of prevalence in women aged 15 to 49 (as it is shown in the map above). As it is shown in the map, it gets clear that women who live in urban areas are less likely to undergo FGM than women who live in the rural areas of Côte d’Ivoire. (28 TOO MANY, 2018).
This is not a new situation, in fact FGM is a traditional practice in the country, but the political crisis and conflict that occurred in Côte d’Ivoire in the early 2000’s until 2011 made this subject be put aside. Although there are laws in the country that forbids it since 1998 (Law 98/757, 23.12.1998), they are almost never applied in practice. The possible penalties for noncompliance to this law are five or more years of imprisonment and fines that vary from 360,000 to 2 million CFA francs. If the practitioner is a doctor the punishment may double its value. During 2017, some cases concerning FGM were successfully prosecuted by the government, however it still is a serious problem in the country that is not given much attention. (US STATE DEPARTMENT, 2017; 28 TOO MANY, 2018).
It is known that FGM is a traditional and cultural practice in many countries, just like in Côte d’Ivoire. In that sense, it is defended that this proceeding represents a culture, and it’s a typical form of expressing the identity of a people and it should be maintained. On the other hand, we have this practice as a violation to Human Rights for several reasons. First, considering the age that women usually go through the proceeding they do not have any choice, but are coerced to do it. Besides, it is clearly a violation of liberty and security of women, and it can even threaten the right to live once many girls die during the practice. Finally, it compromises the right to physical integrity and the right to mental, reproductive and sexual health. (COUNTDOWN EUROPE, 2009).
Côte d’Ivoire as a member of the United Nations has signed the charter of this International Organization. In consequence, it has accepted by itself and recognizes the UN’s principles which include the promotion and respect to human rights. (PIOVESAN, 2013). However, those rights are not being promoted as they should in the country and one example of that is female genital mutilation. Although it is a cultural practice, the country has already recognized that FGM is a violation of women’s rights and there are laws to punish people who persist in the practice. What needs to be done now is to enforce those laws in a way it really makes people stop. Besides, one way of combating this is to launch campaigns to raise awareness to the population so they can understand by themselves the problems that this proceeding brings to women’s health. This can be done with the help of civil society, NGOs and International Organizations.
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WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA. Female genital mutilation: a joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA statement. Geneva, 1997, World Health Organization.