Articles on Shifting Sands
Portugal’s first FGM conviction to be appealed?
A court in Sintra, Portugal, 8 January 2021, found a woman guilty of practicing or allowing the practice of FGM on her one and a half years old daughter, during a trip to Guinea Bissau in 2019. This is the first FGM conviction in Portugal. The 21 years old mother was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Her lawyer is appealing the decision and wants the penalty reduced.
“A 3-year prison verdict is a disproportionate sentence, especially in the case of a 19 years old mother – herself a survivor of this practice” declared Sonia Duarte Lopes, Board Member of End FGM EU and Lisbon Branch Coordinator for the Associação para o Planeamento da Família (APF). “As a young mother, she was not prepared to resist against a family tradition and an established cultural context, where secrecy surrounds this practice. When convicting, courts should consider the context of extreme vulnerability that women in these situations have to deal every day.”
Many agree that the Judges wanted to send a zero-tolerance signal with an exemplary first conviction which would have a dissuasive effect on other cases in the future. However, while the effective implementation of laws is an important part of ending FGM, it is not enough. Prosecution doesn’t equal protection for girls and women subjected to cutting. A conviction means a case in which FGM hasn’t been prevented. These harsh convictions, disregarding the context behind the practice, may in fact act as a deterrent for survivors and women and girls at risk of FGM to come forward, making them fear the prosecution of their family and community.
“Indeed, ending FGM cannot only be about prosecution but also, and most importantly, about prevention and protection” declared Anna Widegren, End FGM EU Director. “This means first and foremost closely working with communities and creating the conditions for them to speak out against embedded social norms, which make practicing FGM not an individual choice but a collective community pressure. Secondly, prevention must be done through training key professionals to be able to speak to communities about the real risks of FGM.”
The Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, also known as the Istanbul Convention, provides a useful framework for tackling FGM which is based on prevention, protection, prosecution and integrated policies. Building on this framework, and with the best interests of children in mind, End FGM EU campaigns for increased efforts to ‘prevent and protect’ those under threat of undergoing FGM by empowering FGM-affected communities to abandon the practice and training relevant professionals to be better sensitized in dealing with and handling potential cases of FGM.
Update September 2021
About the Author - Bríd Hehir
Bríd is a retired health professional. She started her career as a nurse and midwife in Africa where she worked for almost four years. She encountered FGM/C in Ethiopia. She then moved to London where she worked in the National Health Service as a midwife, community nurse, health visitor, reproductive and sexual health nurse and manager over a period of 30 years. She did not encounter FGM/C during that time despite working with immigrant communities who are reported to practice it still. She is puzzled by the current reported prevalence of the practice, the official response and associated activism. And is worried that they might cause more harm than good.