During 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the Legal Resources Centre will be sharing the stories of survivors of gender based violence who fled their countries to seek asylum in South Africa. Many women, children and sexual and gender non-conforming persons endure horrific hardship, sexual persecution, assault, rape and discrimination in their countries. When they arrive in South Africa their hardship does not end. Some women experience sexual persecution while crossing the border, while others may experience oppression, intolerance and discrimination while trying to create a life in South Africa. When they enter the asylum seeker process, they often endure further persecution. These are their stories.
Female circumcision in Cameroon
M is a young woman from Cameroon who was born into a village that practises female circumcision (known as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM). When M was 18 years old, her uncles decided that she needed to be circumcised. Her sister had already gone through the process and M was determined not to let it happen to her. She fled her village but had to run away again when people from her village discovered where she was hiding.
She went to live with her brother in Mozambique who brought her to South Africa. She applied for asylum but her application was rejected. The Refugee Status Determination Officer stated as the reasons for the decision that F did not establish that harm would happen to her if she returned to her country. She was also “incident-free” since she left her village. The RSDO felt that she could have relocated to another village where female circumcision is not practiced. This decision is clearly wrong as the Refugees Act recognizes that someone would qualify for refugee status where the person suffers persecution if they belong to a particular social group.
In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a campaign against female circumcision in Cameroon. The practice is often carried out by practitioners with little medical training, leading to complications and even death. Cameroon’s national penal code does not classify genital mutilation as a criminal offence.
Yet, this is clearly an offence against women’s rights. The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women, including an end to female genital mutilation. In South Africa, legislation recognises FGM as a harmful practice and outlaws this practice. The Department of Home Affairs must recognize the practice of FGM as persecution and grant refugee status accordingly.