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Halting female genital mutilation in Sudan rests with its leaders

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Investigators of students’ attitudes to female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan have urged the government, religious leaders, and teachers to clarify religious and legal attitudes towards the practice. FGM is still condoned on religious or cultural grounds, it seems, even though it has been banned since the mid-1970s.

Their survey showed that more than 90% of male and female university students knew the risks and complications, yet almost a fifth favoured FGM, were unsure, or did not condemn it. Over half the female respondents were circumcised—at the behest mostly of their mother or grandmother. Two thirds of male students, but only almost half of female students deemed FGM illegal. The law relating to FGM it seems, is open to the interpretation that clitoridectomy is permissible. Between 50% and 78% of Muslim students of both sexes considered FGM necessary for religious reasons. The traditional view that FGM increases a woman’s chances of marriage was refuted: three quarters of the men said that they preferred to marry an uncircumcised woman, and support from the women was under 10%. Almost 80% or over thought that FGM should stop. The overall response rate was 83%.

The anonymous questionnaire was handed out to the first 500 students entering the campus of Khartoum University during two weeks in July 2000.

Over 80% of Sudanese women have undergone FGM according to a study in the mid-1990s. The aim of the current study was to assess attitudes to it within a contemporary setting.