The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Senegalese women fight brutal practice of circumcision

May 22, 2006

The following article is excerpted and translated from the March 28, 2006 issue of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), an African Trotskyist monthly.

On March 12 in a small village in southeastern Senegal, “circumcisers” – people who carry out the ritual mutilation of women’s genitals – pledged not to do it any more. A humanitarian organization offered to help the circumcisers find another trade, and offered health and education aid to local leaders if they helped stop the brutal practice. With pomp and ceremony, the governor of the region and delegations from the neighboring countries of Djibouti and Mali observed these pledges.

The government newspaper played up the importance of this ceremony. This newspaper claimed that, “an important step has been taken in the fight against circumcision and against young and forced marriages.” The truth of the matter is completely different.

The Senegalese government passed a law many years ago that banned such mutilation. But women’s organizations had to fight against this brutal and reactionary practice before the government pretended to do anything about it. As early as 1997, women’s organizations convinced the circumcisers in one village to publicly stop the practice. Since then, women’s organizations have fanned out all over Senegal and would have done even better if the authorities had not put roadblocks in their path. Inspired by the Senegalese feminists, women from other countries where women are commonly mutilated joined the fight: in Mali, Djibouti, and Burkina Faso.

Since the leaders of the country’s Muslim religious brotherhoods do not denounce the activities of these women’s organizations, the Senegalese government gives them a kind of grudging support and even passed a law condemning the practice. The Senegalese government and many other politicians belong to one of the most important Muslim brotherhoods. This brotherhood does not approve of female circumcision, which is a practice that predates Islam and is not practiced by most Muslims in the world. But the brotherhoods widely practice and support polygamy and the forced marriage of very young women. So the government closes its eyes to these violations of the most basic rights of women. That is why those who want to fight against all the barbaric practices that oppress women cannot count on regime leaders.