01.01.2012 Efforts to protect the integrity of the female body

Female genital mutilation. Female circumcision or female genital mutilation (FGM) is an issue that also affects women and girls living in Switzerland. The legal situation regarding FGM has recently been clarified. The Federal Office of Public Health has been cooperating for many years with a range of partners to promote prevention and raise awareness of the FGM problem.

Pictures Efforts to protect the integrity of the female body


Unicef estimates that some 12,000 migrant women and girls from regions in which female genital mutilation is practised live in Switzerland. Of these, approximately 6,700 have been, or are at risk of being, subjected to FGM. Female genital mutilation is a gross violation of physical integrity and an infringement of international law. The Swiss Parliament has therefore clarified its legislation in this area of law, approving the ban on FGM in September 2011. Art. 124 of the Swiss Criminal Code now makes it a punishable offense to mutilate or otherwise impair the genitals of women and girls. Moreover, the aim is also for genital mutilation performed abroad to be treated as a punishable offence in Switzerland.

Prevention continues to be important
But this ban cannot be the only means of protecting women and girls against FGM. Just as important are prevention and awareness campaigns in the communities concerned. In addition, account has to be taken of the medical, psychological and legal needs of those affected by FGM. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has been active in the field of FGM prevention since 2003, and has promoted the implementation of the Roth-Bernasconi motion, «Sexual mutilation performed on women. Awareness and prevention measures» (2005). In cooperation with various organisations it has, for instance, helped draw up the guidelines on «Patients on whom genital circumcision has been performed: Swiss recommendations for physicians, midwives and nursing staff», which are designed to help healthcare professionals deal appropriately with those affected by FGM. Another useful publication is the brochure on prevention produced by Terre des Femmes, «We will protect our daughters», which was revised and re-issued in 2010. This provides migrant women with information in their own languages about the effects of FGM on their health and about the legal situation in Switzerland with regard to FGM. The brochure can be obtained free of charge at www.migesplus.ch.

Caritas Switzerland as point of first contact
The mediation service of Caritas Switzerland for preventing circumcision of girls is an important initial source of information on FGM. It receives financial support from both the FOPH and the Federal Office for Migration. Its services comprise in particular:
– Prevention among the migrant population affected by FGM: it provides dedicated women and men in the migrant communities with know-how (individual counselling, coaching and continuing education) and support for regional networking activities and for organising prevention events in their communities.
– Raising awareness of health professionals: Caritas Switzerland informs and advises healthcare staff and institutions on FGM. Contact: Monika Hürlimann, tel. 41 (0)41 419 23 55; mohuerlimann@caritas.ch
– Besides reading material and other information aids, Caritas Switzerland provides multipliable programmes and work tools for prevention and awareness activities in the migrant communities and makes them available to the cantonal authorities.

Knowledge transfer to the cantons
On behalf of the FOPH, Caritas Switzerland is currently organising knowledge transfer to a probable number of three cantons with a view to institutionalising FGM prevention activities on a sustainable basis. Round-table discussions are to be used to improve networking among the cantonal integration, health, social and child protection authorities and committed migrants. The aim is to inform, and raise the awareness of, the cantonal authorities regarding FGM, so that they can acquire the know-how and contacts required for them to carry out prevention work in cooperation with migrant women and men and with professionals.


Sabina Hösli, National Migration and Public Health Programme, Health Policy Directorate, sabina.hoesli@bag.admin.ch

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