This Week in the World of Conflict… December 6th-12th, 2011.

  • Global Witness announced that it had left the Kimberley Process, an international diamond regulatory group, because it refused to address links between diamonds, violence and tyranny. Even if these certification schemes manage to address problems at mines, in many cases, the materials must pass roadblocks and pay “taxes” that directly line the pockets of warlords.
  • The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) have launched an online training portal for justice professionals who deal with cases involving child victims and child witnesses of crime. The portal is open to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, social workers, health sector workers, lawyers and informal justice providers.
  • The UN refugee chief called upon the international community to assume its shared duty to protect and assist millions of forcibly displaced and stateless people around the world during a two-day forum organized by the UN HCR. More than three quarters of a million people became new refugees in 2011, with global forced displacement figures at a 15 year high at the end of 2010.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted the importance of regional organizations to detect potential crises early and to mobilize coordinated international response. Ban called upon these regional organizations to share burdens, strengthen responses and reinforce joint messages.
  • The research analyst group Maplecroft has released its Human Rights Risk Index for 2012 and concluded that over 48% of the 197 assessed nations are at an “extreme” or “high” risk of human rights violations and that there has been a steady trend of deteriorating human rights situation.
  • On Thursday, Uppsala Conflict Data Program released new additions to its datasets detailing violence in Africa between 1989 and 2010 at the level of individual event of violence. They also released new data on external support in internal armed conflicts for the time period 1975-2009.
  • A discussion about the need to protect health care workers in war zone has some suggesting that a special protection force be set up to safeguard healthcare in war zones and that those who perpetrate attacks on health workers be brought before the ICC. The Red Cross estimates that there have been more than 650 attacks on medical staff and patients in 16 conflicts since 2008, in blatant contravention of international laws.
  • The UN High Commission for Human Rights said that human rights went viral in 2011 as people around the world used social media to protest against abuses on Human Rights Day. The IIGG program released its Public Opinion on Global Issues that showed a dramatic international consensus backing fundamental human rights such as free elections with universal suffrage; the right to demonstrate peacefully and express opinions freely; media freedom from government censorship; equal treatment of people—irrespective of religion, gender, race or ethnicity; and government responsibility to provide citizens with basic food, healthcare and education.
  • The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa ended on Sunday with a wishy-washy agreement that all countries would work towards legally binding targets for reducing carbon emissions. The EU hailed the new deal as a “historic breakthrough”, while critics wanted it was not enough to slow global warming.
  • The forth UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum began on Sunday in Doha, Qatar, with more than 2,000 participants who will discuss how to improve relations across cultures, combat prejudice and build lasting peace. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged members to combat extremism and promote tolerance during his opening remarks.
  • International leaders met in the Hague for a two-day conference on Internet freedom sponsored by Google and the Dutch government this week. About two dozen nations called upon the adoption of a declaration of freedoms in cyberspace at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference, but the proposal has no chance of being adopted because the organization acts only on consensus.
  • The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence wrapped up on Friday. The 16 days is an international campaign that started in 1991 to symbolically link violence against women and human rights and to emphasize that such violence is a violation of human rights.
  • The Nobel Peace Award ceremony took place on Saturday. Among the winners were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman.
  • A new manual to support self-training and teaching of qualitative research methods was launched by the Evidence for Action research consortium. The manual is intended for those conducting short-term training in qualitative research methods for applied health.
  • The UN General Assembly is considering designating October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child. The organization Plan International pushed for the designation in order to highlight the unique challenges and issues faced by girls in “developing” countries.

The Practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Kenya’s Meru Society

Written by Heather Wilhelm

After briefly reading about the prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the Meru tribe of Kenya while updating our website’s Media Watch section, I decided to do some further research on the history of FGM/C amongst Meru women, and what is being done to change these barbaric traditions.

The tradition of FGM/C in the Meru society dates back to an ancient myth in which all healthy men of the village were sent off to fight enemy tribes, but upon their return from war, found their women impregnated by the weaker men who had been left behind.  The myth continues that from this day forward, women were forced to endure the removal of their clitorises to deplete their sexual desires in the hopes that they would remain faithful to their warrior husbands.  This practice of FGM/C has been carried forward into present Meru society despite the fact that these procedures have been illegal since 2001 under the Children’s Act.  The Act specifically states:

No person shall subject a child to female circumcision, early marriage or other cultural rites, customs or traditional practices that are likely to negatively affect the child’s life, health, social welfare, dignity or physical or psychological development. (Kenya 2001, Sec. 14)

In an effort to change and modernize Meru society, elders of the tribe have begun to run an Alternative Rites-of-Passage (ARP) program that promotes both knowledge of cultural traditions of the Meru, as well as modern values.

These ARP programs have been taught in several Meru locations since 2007, and so far more than 2,000 girls and young women have taken these classes as an alternative to the brutal FGM/C.  The idea behind the program is to remain true to the values of the Meru and the idea of preparing girls for womanhood through education rather than physical mutilation.  These young women learn about relationships, marriage, self-awareness, Meru cultural values and traditions, substance abuse and even HIV/AIDS.  While ARP seems like the perfect alternative to FGM/C in the Meru society, there is still a huge amount of resistance to the change and FGM/C procedures are now often performed under cover of night, sometimes by individuals not qualified to perform them.  There are so many risks and dangers involved in the practice of FGM/C (aside from the fact that it is a blatant violation of basic human rights), that these procedures are becoming increasingly dangerous.  Some of the short-term side effects include severe pain, shock, hemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis (bacterial infection), urine retention, open sores in the genital region and damage or injury to nearby genital tissue.  Some of the long-term consequences of FGM/C can include recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths, and the need for further surgeries depending on the type of FGM/C that the woman was subjected to.  There are four main procedures used to perform FGM/C and in brief they are:

1)      Clitoridectomy: involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and sometimes the prepuce as well;

2)      Excision:  involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, which can or cannot include the removal of the labia majora as well;

3)      Infibulation:  the creation of a covering seal to narrow the vaginal opening.  The seal is formed by removing and then repositioning the inner and/or outer labia.  This procedure can or cannot involve the removal of the clitoris; and

4)      Other:  this includes all procedures performed on female genitals not for medical purposes and can include pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.

There are many organizations including the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund and local NGO’s throughout Africa that are trying to put an end to the practice of FGM/C.  As I mentioned earlier, ARP programs are being created in different regions of the continent, including in the Meru society, but there are still millions of young girls at risk of FGM/C every year in Africa.  Moving towards the eradication of FGM/C will require that education and awareness about the consequences of this procedure to young women (both physically and mentally) be made available to community leaders throughout the many regions in Africa where FGM/C is prevalent.  In the meantime, it will be up to the many women who have suffered this barbaric procedure, and the brave men who support them to bring forward change in local communities through alternative learning programs.  Hopefully the international community will continue to fight for the rights of children in developing countries, specifically the rights of girls, by bringing awareness to the public on such a large scale, that these violations of human rights can no longer be ignored.