Tag Archives: female genital mutilation
In honor of #GivingTuesday—the global day of giving that kicks off the charitable season—Too Young to Wed is sharing the story of an Illinois seventh-grader who is helping child brides.
Bree Kalina was looking for three or four friends who could help her raise money for girls in Kenya who were fleeing child marriage.
But word spreads fast at Shepard Middle School in Deerfield, Ill., and pretty soon the rising seventh-grader had nearly a dozen volunteers who wanted to pitch in.
“All my friends, whenever I’d tell them, ‘You have a chance to help girls in Africa,’ they were so excited,” said Bree, 12, who organized a fundraiser in August for the Samburu Girls Foundation as part of a service project for her bat mitzvah.
The foundation provides a safe haven for victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation and is among the initiatives supported by Too Young to Wed.
Bree is no stranger to public service. She’s volunteered at soup kitchens with her parents and two younger sisters before, and she’s participated in book drives aimed at providing resources for inner city schools. Each child who celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah at Shir Hadash Synagogue is expected to complete a service project, and as Bree prepared to become an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community, she looked for a way to make a lasting impact.
Before Bree was born, her mother, Susan Ryan Kalina, had worked as an editor at the Chicago Tribune alongside photographer Stephanie Sinclair, Too Young to Wed’s founder. Susan shared with her daughter information about Too Young to Wed, which supports efforts to end child marriage and assist child brides. Bree decided she wanted to raise money for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which keeps about 30 girls, ages 7 to 16, together in a safe house and uses donations to help the girls return to school.
Bree’s rabbi helped her brainstorm ways to raise money, and ultimately, she opted to host a dinner at her home. That’s where her friends came in. Over a two-day period, they packed into the Kalina family’s kitchen, creating menus and signs to welcome their guests, preparing guacamole, salsa and Spanish rice, and baking sweet potato-black bean enchiladas, brownies and cookies.
They laughed a lot, said Bree. But they also discussed how traumatic it would be to be pulled out of school, married off to a stranger and separated from their families.
“It was really fun teaching all my friends that this is actually going on,” said Bree.
“It was so sweet to see all these little girls super excited to help,” said Bree’s mother, Susan. “They were really into it. It showed the power and the drive behind children and what they’re capable of when you point them in the right direction.”
When they were done slicing, mixing and sautéing, the girls changed into white shirts and black pants and then served their guests, who paid $50 a person to dine. The effort raised $700 for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which will use the money to cover housing and food for the girls it rescues.
“I thought I was going to do something teeny, like when you have a lemonade stand,” said Bree. “I didn’t think it would be this big.”
Bree also completed a second project, by volunteering at a Chicago center for homeless teens. Her efforts dovetailed nicely with the Torah portion for her bat mitzvah, which emphasized the importance of helping one’s community and treating all its members with dignity and respect.
Those who participated felt like they got as much out of the experience as those they were trying to help, if not more, said Susan Ryan Kalina. And Bree and her friends felt empowered by their ability to help others, she said.
“To know at such a young age that you could do something to make a big difference in a child’s life . . . it’s an awareness of the power every one of us has,” she said.
Too Young to Wed is a nonprofit organization that supports initiatives like the Samburu Girls Foundation as well as other groups committed to helping child brides and victims of female genital mutilation and other harmful, traditional practices. Contributions to Too Young to Wed are tax deductible.
With the first ever prosecutions underway in the United Kingdom and Guinea-Bissau, an increased focus on strengthening the law in Kenya, and a rare conviction in Uganda, positive moves are being made in various locations to implement laws that ban female genital mutilation (FGM).
Under this increasingly optimistic backdrop, the Nov. 20, 2014 verdict in the case of Soheir al-Batea, a 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing FGM in the Daqahliya Governorate, northeast of Cairo, was particularly disappointing. Both Soheir’s father and the doctor who carried out the mutilation were acquitted, despite the fact that a medical examiner’s report, endorsed by Egypt’s general attorney, confirmed that FGM had taken place. The judge, who was appointed to the case only recently, seemed to discount this unbiased expert evidence and instead acquitted both men through writing in a court ledger.
Egypt has had a tumultuous past in terms of its battle to eliminate FGM. In 2006, its two most senior Islamic clerics stated that FGM has no basis in religion. Following this, in 2007, the country’s medical professionals were banned from performing FGM, after a 12-year-old girl died. It was this ban, backed by legislation introduced in 2008, that was used to prosecute Soheir’s father and doctor in a very similar scenario, six years later. Even with good laws in place, justice can continue to be evasive. If laws are not implemented properly and the judicial system is not transparent, girls like Soheir will continue to fall through the cracks.
According to UNICEF, more than 27.2 million Egyptian women and girls have been affected by FGM. This represents 91 percent of the female population and is the biggest number for any one nationality. Out of an estimated 100 million to 140 million affected by FGM globally, at least one in five is from Egypt. While figures for younger women and adolescent girls seem to be decreasing slowly, this abuse continues to have broad national support from various quarters – including from professionals who are supposed to have a duty of care.
Unfortunately, as well as prevalence, Egypt also leads the world in terms of one of the biggest risks to the global anti-FGM movement – that of the increasing trend toward its medicalization, which fundamentally contradicts WHO guidelines. Incredibly, a 2012 academic document by Egyptian doctor Mohamed Kandil in F1000 Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, suggests there is “insufficient evidence to support the claims” that FGM Type 1 is harmful, when performed by medical practitioners.
UNICEF suggests that 77 percent of the FGM that happens in Egypt is carried out by doctors or other medical professionals – an increase of over 100 percent since 1995. Despite leading the way globally in terms of falls in prevalence, Kenya is also experiencing an increase in the medicalization of FGM. Indonesia has yet to fully ban it, although that country recently revoked its shocking 2010 regulation, which allowed medical professionals to legally perform FGM. In 2010 too, Equality Now succeeded in reversing a decision by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to endorse Type IV FGM, when it suggested changes in the law to allow for a “ritual nick” or pricking of the clitoral skin.
All efforts to permit or make FGM supposedly “safer” conceal the severe violence it represents and hide its lifelong and life-threatening physical, emotional and psychological consequences. Soheir’s death tragically highlights FGM as an extreme violation of the human rights of girls and women with serious health risks, regardless of whether it is performed on her inside or outside a medical establishment.
Without strong messages from the Egyptian government, such as proper implementation of the law and swift punishment for the perpetrators, FGM may become more acceptable, with women’s rights increasingly taking a back seat at all levels. Part of the solution too is ensuring that health care providers are given comprehensive education and training on the health and human rights implications of FGM.
Equality Now is working with local lawyers at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) to ensure that Soheir gets justice at last – justice for one girl, but hopefully setting a precedent to help ensure that countless others are protected. The general prosecutor’s request for an appeal in the case was granted, and proceedings are scheduled to begin on Dec. 15, 2014.
Equality Now is working on the Soheir al-Batea case as part of its Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF), created to help rectify the unique and devastating human rights abuses suffered by girls during adolescence. The AGLDF supports and publicizes strategically selected legal cases, diversified to represent the most common and significant human rights abuses of adolescent girls.