This past June, the National Popular Assembly (ANP) of Guinea-Bissau approved a law prohibiting female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) nationwide. The controversial law had been on the table for discussion for 16 years, before it was ultimately approved by 64 votes in favour to 1 vote against.
45 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 years are affected by the newly prohibited practice, due to its deep significance in traditional culture. These long-held cultural beliefs make implementing the legislation a particular challenge in Guinea-Bissau
Cadi Seide, a young mother and a member of the Community Management Comittee of Canquebo village, expressed her pleasure at the decision to ban FGM/C, and highlighted that while communities were mired in the divisive debate over the traditional and religious practice, FGM/C had continued to impact women and girls in towns and villages across the country.
There is widespread agreement that considerable work lies ahead, particularly to raise awareness on why this harmful custom should be ended. Currently 33 per cent of women approve of the continuation of female genital mutilation across the country.
While over 50 per cent of the population agree that the practice of female genital mutilation should be abandoned, prevalence of the practice remains high and the trend is worrying. Nevertheless the approval of this law by the ANP is an important first step to protect the physical integrity of women and girls across Guinea-Bissau.
UNICEF is implementing a joint programme with UNFPA and the NGO Tostan in Guinea-Bissau to promote the end of FGM/C. To date this joint programme is targeted at achiveing public declarations of the abandonment of FGM/C in 39 communities in the Gabu and Bafata regions where the practice is most prevalent.