The Eritrean government and civil society have expressed optimism that efforts to combat female genital mutilation (FGM) were bearing fruit, saying the campaign against the practice was gaining support in rural villages where excision was most common.
"We do not have the statistics yet, but we have seen a positive response, with even village councils coming up with their own provisional laws with the people's consensus to discourage the practice," Dehab Suleiman, the head of information and research at the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), told IRIN on Wednesday. A national law was also being drafted to outlaw FGM in Eritrea, she said.
At a function to mark Anti-Female Circumcision Day on 6 February, Eritrea's Health Minister Saleh Meki had said the campaign against FGM was showing encouraging results.
Suleiman said FGM prevalence rates in Eritrea were estimated at 94 percent, but the practice was expected to decline in the near future because an increasing number of parents were choosing not to have their daughters subjected to FGM. "Even some circumcisers are now giving up the practice and are joining us to educate the people about the harmful effects of FGM," she said.
FGM involves the cutting and/or removal of the clitoris and other vaginal tissue, often under unsanitary conditions. It is practiced in at least 28 countries globally. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that up to 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone some form of FGM.
It is practiced extensively in Africa, and also in parts of the Middle East and among immigrant communities around the world. According to medical experts, it causes physical and psychological complications, as well as heightening the risk of HIV/AIDS, especially when dirty instruments are used.
Human rights activists have put pressure on governments to legislate against FGM. At least 16 African countries have banned the practice, and the Maputo Protocol, an African regional document that prohibits and condemns FGM, came into force in November 2005.