By Berhane M. Tekeste
April 7, 2007 — On Wednesday, 4 April 6, 2007, the government in Eritrea issued a proclamation arbitrarily banning female circumcision because "female circumcision is a procedure that seriously endangers the health of women, cause them considerable pain and suffering besides threatening their lives". Indeed, the method that was being used to perform female circumcision for many centuries is barbaric and should have been arrested long ago.
That said, if that is all the reason for issuing this proclamation, here is good news: In this day and age, female circumcision can and is being performed safely, pain-free, aseptic, without suffering or threatening life in any health center, thereby bringing an end to the barbaric surgical interventions including an end to the grave morbidity and mortality associated with it. And Eritrea has enough of such health centers. That being the medical status of male/female circumcision, why would any one be denied the right to have the procedure performed in a health center? What other reason does the government have to arbitrarily alienate the people of Eritrea from their cultural heritage?
But if the purpose of the proclamation were to abolish female circumcision as a cultural heritage, regardless of how it is performed, then the proclamation is totally off the mark. The government has no right whatsoever to ban a cultural heritage.
In Eritrea, Female circumcision is a deeply rooted cultural heritage that is not amenable to legislation but to the absolute will and consents of each and every family. As the smallest unit of society, the family has the last word over female or for that matter also male circumcision and all other cultural heritages. No law can force people to abandon their cultural heritage because they have the inalienable right to develop and preserve their cultural heritage such as language, religion, music, dance, art etc, and pass it on to future generation. For all purposes and intent, people are essentially what their cultural heritage is.
As it is written, the proclamation appears to be directed towards abolishing the procedure not the cultural heritage itself. The government or any group of medical professional has every right to ban any barbaric/cruel method used to preserve cultural heritage. But why would the government of Eritrea want to abolish a cultural heritage that is practiced by, practically, the entirety of its population? Simple, because it can. It is the blatant rule of might.
Eritrea is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. Yet and though not necessarily for the same reason, female circumcision is a cultural heritage practiced by all Eritreans. There is and never have been any recorded and/or documented incident of an uproar, uprising, or opposition against this particular cultural heritage in Eritrea? So why try to do away with it?
Female circumcision is no different than any other non-therapeutic and/or aesthetic surgery. Eritreans just like every other human being have right to medical/surgical services as long as it is paid for one way or the other? So, what happens if an adult Eritrean woman reports to a health center and requests, for whatever reason, to have circumcision? Is her inalienable right to the procedure going to be denied for no other reason than by order of the government of Eritrea?
The cultural heritage of any given society is characteristic of that society. It doesn’t have to be accepted or conform to the cultural heritage of other society. Nor do others have any right to impose their cultural heritage upon others?
Female circumcision as a cultural heritage is a matter for each and every family to decide. Given access to safe, sanitary and pain-free methods, the family should have the option to do it or not. No one but the family and only the family has the right to preserve or to abandon its own cultural heritage. If people are forced not to preserve their cultural heritage even under sanitary conditions in their own homeland, then they will be forced to take care of that somewhere else. And there are plenty of options for that.
Proclamation 158/2007 can ban only the method of female circumcision but has neither reason nor standing to abolish female circumcision as a cultural heritage.
I can’t wait to see the day when Eritrean parents are imprisoned for exercising their inalienable right to preserve their cultural heritage under all safe, sanitary, and pain-free conditions.
The author is an Eritrean-American residing in New Jersey, USA. He can be reachedat email@example.com