Preventing female circumcision in Finland

Female circumcision is a violent tradition that violates numerous international agreements on human rights as well as Finnish criminal law. The KokoNainen project of the Finnish League for Human Rights has, since 2002, worked for preventing female circumcision, as well as for raising consciousness and changing attitudes towards it in Finland.

Permanent change is our goal

Our work against gendered violence aims at achieving sexual and reproductive rights as well as the right to self-determination of persons who have arrived as immigrants in Finland.  Physical integrity is part of these rights. Thus the goal of our work against female circumcision is that girls who live in Finland are not circumcised in Finland or abroad.

The Finnish League for Human Rights is the only organisation in Finland doing long-term work on modifying attitudes towards female circumcision. Our actions stem from the principles of humans rights and are grounded on respecting different cultures. However, violence can never be accepted under any claims of culture or traditions.

Our main mode of operation is preventive work at a grassroots level, i.e. holding attitude-modifying discussions with people in Finland with an immigrant background  and who come from cultures where girls are circumcised. The discussions are carried out both with individuals and in groups. Our work is currently expanding from Somalis, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Sudanese to other groups of immigrants.

Co-operation brings results

The immigrants themselves and their own organisations play a key role in changing attitudes. Nevertheless, a change of attitude requires accurate knowledge of the health problems and human rights aspects of circumcision as well as strong role models presented by people who have already started to oppose circumcision. We provide all of these.

In fact, as a result of our grassroots work, the attitudes within Finnish immigrant communities have already changed. The majority of the Somalis – both women as well as men – are nowadays against the tradition.

Knowledge also travels across borders. The preventive work we do in Finland also has an effect outside our country. We have experienced that immigrants living in Finland manage to prevent the circumcision of girls in their native countries by sharing knowledge about the dangers of the tradition.

Without constant work significant changes in attitudes do not necessarily remain permanent. This is why it is particularly important right now to continue the work of preventing female circumcision.

In 2016, one of our focus areas is working to change attitudes among asylum seekers in different parts of Finland.

Training and advocacy

Over the years we have trained students and professionals from many walks of life in order for them to understand what circumcision is all about and how to bring it up with a client in a tactful way. For example, the police and social authorities have received advice about circumcision.

We also promote social advocacy in order to make legislation and the various authorities acknowledge female circumcision as a serious form of violence against girls and women. In 2012, we took part in the elaboration of a national strategy to prevent female circumcision.ray_tukee_logo

According to our strategy, it is the responsibility of the state and the municipalities to train the people working within social welfare, health care, day care, in schools and child welfare, on the issues around circumcision. This is, however, not the case at the current time. This is why we work at influencing the state to take the responsibility for preventing circumcision and for supporting victims of it.

In 2016, the new KokoNainen project has combined the work done by the Finnish League for Human Rights against honour-related violence with the work against the circumcision of girls.

What is female circumcision?

The circumcision of girls is a very old tradition, rooted especially in certain communities in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Circumcision is found in many ethnic and religious communities, and it is justified, for example, with cultural, social, economic, or religious reasons.

There is a range of terms used for circumcision. Internationally, it is frequently referred to as FGM (female genital mutilation), meaning dismemberment of the sexual organs of girls and women. The term FGC (female genital cutting) is also used, as well as a combination of the two, FGM/C.

In the Finnish League for Human Rights we talk of both female genital mutilation and female circumcision. When working with immigrant communities the more neutral term female circumcision pays respect to those who have undergone the tradition, and it has proven to be a functional choice. However, when advocating against the tradition we use the term female genital mutilation because it emphasizes the brutality of the act.

According to a Unicef estimate, there are about 200 million circumcised girls and women in the world, but today fewer girls are being circumcised. The World Health Organisation classifies circumcision into four main types. The age and mode of circumcision vary in different communities.

Female circumcision has no health benefits. Instead, it leads to multiple complications, the immediate ones being pain, shock, haemorrhage, infections and even death. Long-term complications include chronic infections, urination problems, painful sexual intercourse, dangerous childbirth, infertility and mental suffering.

Female circumcision is a form of discrimination against women and girls as well as being blatant violence of human rights, and it should not be approved of under any circumstance.

Conference: Female genital mutilation and cutting – a matter of human rights and gender equality

The Finnish League for Human Rights will organise an international conference and a Nordic expert seminar on female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The event takes place on 13th of October 2016 in Helsinki and its focus is FGM/C as a human rights violation and a hindrance to gender equality.

The event is directed mainly to Nordic researchers, professionals, authorities, civil society organisations and politicians as well as men and women from the affected communities living in the Nordic countries.

The aims of the event are:

  • to increase knowledge on current discussions, policies and good practises particularly in the Nordic countries
  • to provide an opportunity for the participants to create networks in order to increase more effective cooperation
  • to increase dialogue between the professionals, authorities and the members from the affected communities
  • to disseminate information on FGM/C in the media.

More information available here.