Norway: Responses to female circumcision

NRK's segment on female circumcisions on Norwegian-Somali girls in Somalia has caused a stir in Norway. I have collected the response which appeared in the online press the past few days and summarized them according to the various ideas.

"I had never thought that there were so many. This goes against the indications I get from Somali mothers," says midwife Sara Kahsai.

Kahsai works at the Norwegian Center for Minority Health Research (NAKMI) and has conducted a study in the past about complications and treatment after female genital mutilation.

"We had hoped the attitude towards circumcision was changing and when I speak with Somali mothers they say that they will not expose their children to this. The reports of NRK are a setback for us," she says.

Kahsai stresses that she cannot confirm the numbers that were presented and thinks there's reason to be skeptical about them, saying it is difficult to remember all the people who had been circumcised several years back.

Religious Approach

Bashe Musse of the Somali Network (Somalisk Netwerk) would like to see stricter regulations and better information campaign. He suggests a fatwa against circumcision.

"We need a fatwa, which is a Muslim law, against circumcision. With such a law people will stop it," says Musse to Aftenposten. He thinks Somalis must take responsibility and show greater engagement in the issue.

"The Somalis must understand that they don't own their children, but that children are protected by Norwegian law. They must also clearly understand that there are consequences for those who break the law," says Musse.

He would like to see immediate measures for girls who go on vacation to Somalia and who are in danger of being circumcised. He suggests speaking with the parents and explaining to them how much unnecessary pain they inflict on their daughters and that they can be punished when they return to Norway.

Safia Yusuf Abdi, Norwegian Somali, says that imams should be approached. She does not like the fact that the "lighter" form of female circumcision, clitoridectomy , is called 'Sunna' and says it has nothing to do with Muhammad's life. She is right, but that name has nothing to do with the Muslim sunna and does not come from Muslim tradition.

Abdi thinks that an imam who knows that Koran should use the religion to protect the girls, but that instead they stay quiet. "Why don't the imams react when the religion they lead is being abused to legitimize female circumcision," asks Abdi. She also supports gynecological examinations.

Sociologist Katrine Fangen has worked with Somalis in Norway and she thinks religious leaders are the only ones who can turn back the positive attitudes towards circumcision. "These women listen to what the imams say," she thinks.

Informative Campaign

Erna Solberg (Conservative party) suggests that all Somali families with children under 18 should be called in for a discussion about female circumcision, either by local or school health authorities, where the consequences of such actions will be clearly explained to them.

"They will be informed about the punishment framework, about the possibility of being deported and of course about what consequences they will be for the girls," says Solberg. She wants to encourage the government to do so in their action plan against female circumcision.

"A translator, and preferably one competent with their culture, should be present," says Solberg. She thinks that also other immigrant communities who come from countries where female circumcision is common should be called in to such talks.

She says Norway already has a arrangement where all asylum seekers are informed of Norway's attitudes towards female circumcision, but till now this has not been done for those who come on family reunifications, which is common by Somalis.

Solberg had in the past voiced her opposition to the Parliament's decision to gynecologically examine all girls, saying it was degrading.

Minister of Children and Equality Affairs Karita Bekkemellem says that the problem is that the information doesn't reach the people who need it. "That means that we must increase the effort and inform what Norwegian laws say on this type of attack," says .

Stricter Measures

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says he feels personally responsible for these girls. "We will have lots of tolerance for ethnic and cultural multitude, but we shall have zero-tolerance towards such a breaking of laws and human rights that this is," says Stoltenberg.

"To circumcise your child is totally and completely unacceptable. It is doubly criminal. It is a violation of Norwegian law and it is a violation of basic human rights," says Stoltenberg, adding that he'll need to learn more on the subject.

The prime minister suggests that circumcision cases are difficult to investigate and points out that nobody are been convicted in Norway in the past 11 years in which the law against circumcision had been on the books. He is not happy with the efforts the police, the prosecution and child services have put in till now and adds that this will be given priority and that the government will increase its efforts against circumcision.

Gynecological examination

Annika Huitfeldt (Norwegian Labour Party), suggests that every family who comes from Somalia and other risk-countries must sign a contract stating that no family member will be circumcised. This contract will be legal and binding. Breaking the law would lead to criminal charges.

"Additionally girls with a background from counties in risk-zones must be followed up regularly and gynecologically examined." In this she diverts from the Parliament's decision on asking the government to perform such checks on all Norwegian girls.

Huitfeldt thinks it isn't appropriate, but stresses that she understands that the proposal can stigmatize specific groups. "It is a counter-argument. But is not good enough. We're talking here factually about measures against female circumcision," she says.

Safia Yusuf Abdi (see above) thinks that information about Norwegian law is not enough and that gynecological examinations are needed.

"Even if health personnel think it is a little unpleasant to examine a girl in this way, people should ask themselves what is worse: to examine somebody because of concern about them and their health, or to circumcise a young girl? We must react and endure some unpleasantness to get change," she says.

Sources: Dagbladet 1, 2 (Norwegian), Hardanger Folkeblad (Norwegian), Afternposten 1, 2 (Norwegian) 3, 4 (English)

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