Chad Red Cross involves African tribal chiefs in the fight against female genital mutilation

تم النشر: 5 أبريل 2006 0:00 CET

Monique Ngaralbaye in N’Djamena, Chad

Tribal chiefs in Chad are becoming increasingly aware of the tragic consequences of female genital mutilation (FGM) – a cruel, ancestral tradition that is still common in many African countries. Cases of FGM have been reported in at least 12 out of Chad’s 18 regions, despite the fact that the practice has been denounced by many international organizations and conventions as both dangerous and inhumane.

Girls and women subjected to the procedure, which involves the surgical cutting or removal of female genitalia, face serious health risks throughout their lives. The practice is also one of the main reasons why so many young girls leave school at an early age since they are often forced to get married or are too ashamed to be seen by male students.

It is estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 girls are mutilated in Chad each year, especially in rural areas of the country. The practice is officially forbidden and carries a jail sentence of up to five years but current legislation remains unclear and specific laws still need to be voted on.

This is one of the reasons that tribal chiefs play a vital role in the fight against FGM, since they are widely respected by local populations and stand the greatest chance of ensuring that existing regulations against FGM are followed.

In an effort to mobilize tribal chiefs in southern Chad, the country’s Red Cross Society has set up an advocacy project with the support of the International Federation and the Swedish Red Cross.

Recently, several chiefs gathered in the Bodo area, where they attended a training session organized by the female genital mutilation awareness programme run by Chad Red Cross. They shared their experiences and views with Red Cross volunteers and acknowledged that although the practice is deeply rooted in tradition, it should no longer exist.

The outcome of the meeting was very positive – tribal chiefs in the Bodo region have officially agreed to get involved in the fight against FGM and pledged to explain to rural villagers why the practice should be banned. They also vowed that anyone who continued carrying out genital mutilation would face legal consequences.

Bodo’s chief went even one step further by deciding to establish a local society to provide advice and assistance for women who carry out female genital mutilations. The main objective of the society is to help them find another way to earn a living. The Chad Red Cross has suggested micro-projects, including small business initiatives and agricultural activities, as an alternative.

The project also aims to bring women together so they can help each other find and maintain other sources of income. It is hoped that the advocacy process can be extended to neighbouring areas and the Chad Red Cross plans to sponsor a regional meeting of main tribal chiefs focusing on the issue.

The National Society already has 400 trained volunteers, who run advocacy campaigns against FGM, including 45 people working in Sudanese refugee camps in Eastern Chad.