Education, a way to save thousands of Portuguese girls from ablation

Lisbon, Jan 10 (EFE) .- Education and awareness are fundamental tools to protect more than 6,000 girls at risk of being victims of female genital mutilation in Portugal, where for the first time a sentence has just been handed down in a court for a crime of ablation.

Ablation, “total or partial excision of the female genital organs” according to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), was declared illegal in 1948, but that does not prevent minority communities from maintaining its practice in countries of the European Union such as France, with 125,000 victims, or Germany, which totals 70,218, according to a study by the European Network Against Mutilation (End FGM).

In Portugal, “we work with 6,000 girls at risk of being mutilated,” explained to Efe Sónia Duarte Lopes, coordinator in Lisbon of the Family Planning Association in Portugal (APF) and member of “End FGM”.

In the Portuguese case, the problem requires special attention due to the relationship with Guinea-Bissau, “a former colony in which half the population is Muslim and where cutting is practiced.”

The issue has gained relevance in Portugal these days due to the 3-year sentence handed down against Rugui Djaló, a 20-year-old mother who, during a trip to Guinea-Bissau with her daughter, now 3 years old, allowed him to he performed the ablation and caused him “permanent injuries and sequelae,” according to sources from the Portuguese Public Ministry.

The defendant, who will also have to pay 10,000 euros in compensation to the minor, argued during the trial that she would give her life for that of her daughter and that she did not allow mutilation or any harm to be done.

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Knowing the context and understanding that for some cultures these are rituals that keep victims of social ostracism away, is vital to inform, sensitize and end ablation, experts say.

In recent years, the official registry of cases in Portugal has increased, from 40 in 2014 to 129 in 2019, and 63 until May 2020, according to data from the Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality.

“Although the registries are increasing, this does not mean that the number of cases is growing,” said Duarte, but rather that “it is now possible to identify the victims, which is good news” since, being registered in the national health system , “it is possible to work with them.”

Preventing mutilation is an easy task because it is practiced “in secret” and the victims “do not want to speak,” Laura Remartines, director and founder of the Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ADDHU), explained to Efe.

In his opinion, it is “a public health problem, not just cultural” and the fact that a case goes to trial, as has just happened in Portugal, is “very good” because “it will bring to light a real problem that, if no action is taken, it will never end. ”

“The Portuguese government should intensify explanations in schools, tell what happens,” defended the founder of ADDHU, who insisted that the main problem with mutilation “is that it is not spoken because it is a taboo.”

On the contrary, according to activist Hayat Traspas, the mere fact of reaching a trial constitutes a “failure” for governments.

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“Resources must be invested in prevention, education and awareness,” said Traspas, co-founder with her mother, a victim of ablation, of the organization Save a Girl Save a Generation.

“If the judge all he sees is a criminal, he will issue a sentence without ending the problem,” said Traspas, who maintained that, to end the mutilation, Europe must “think about its culture, and put the mechanisms in place so that know that it is harmful. ”

The context, he added, is essential because the ablation “is not done to harm, but to position your daughter in a place that a mother considers better.”

“Mutilation is closely linked to forced marriages,” he added, and the goal in some cultures “is to preserve virginity, purification” and “the more virgin and pure a woman is, the more value.”

For all these reasons, Sonia Duarte stressed, working with the communities is vital: “When the way of thinking is changed and traditions are given another perspective, then everything changes.”

Andrea Caballero de Mingo

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