A volunteer wears a badge that reads "The power of labor aginst FGM", during a conference on International Day of Zero…
FILE - A volunteer wears a badge that reads "The power of labor aginst FGM," during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in Cairo, Feb. 6, 2018.

KHARTOUM/WASHINGTON — Sudanese women's rights activists and religious freedom organizations are embracing Sudan’s move to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM).

Late last week, Sudan’s transitional government approved a draft law that criminalizes the act of carrying out FGM on any woman or girl, making it punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine.

According to the United Nations, nine out of 10 females in Sudan between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM, which can lead to a number of physical and psychological problems.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed the move.

“Female genital mutilation is a dehumanizing form of sexual violence that is deeply rooted in religion, tradition and culture. Outlawing FGM is an important step to protect the health and dignity of Sudanese women and girls,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava.

The commission also urged Sudan’s government to raise public awareness of the law and to educate people about the negative impacts of FGM. The law is expected to be passed next week.

Other forms of violence

Wafa Adam Mahmood, who works at an NGO in Khartoum called Siha, a women’s rights group, also welcomed the move, but said Sudanese females continue to face other forms of violence at home and in their communities.

"It is important to think about forced marriage, which is more serious and also a protection issue for women and girls in Sudan,” Mahmood told South Sudan in Focus.

Sudanese activist Mahasin Dahab said the transitional government needs to change 30 years of oppressive laws that do not protect women.

“It is extremely sad to know that there is no law on domestic violence, there is only the criminal law. And that is not just," Dahab told South Sudan in Focus. "For a random stranger to actually stab you and beat you ... that is the one I can go and sue with that law, but what about my family that actually abuses me?”

Dahab added that many Sudanese women do not know their rights.

“We only have the law and we don’t have a conversation going on. We don’t see anything about it on TV, on local news, we don’t [hear] it on radios. It is extremely sad,” Dahab told VOA.

The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, issued a statement embracing the criminalization of FGM but said passing a law will not solve the problem.

Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF country representative for Sudan, said in the statement, “We need to work very hard with the communities to help enforce this law.”

Manal Al Jazuli, who heads a coalition of women’s groups called the Sudanese National Women’s Union, called the draft legislation historic.

“This came out as a result of a long-standing struggle by feminist movements, initiatives, by women activists and by women inside their political parties,” Jazuli told South Sudan in Focus.