Having worked in Africa for the past 15 years, we at African Impact feel very strongly about protecting the rights of the inspiring girls and women we work with across the continent. In East Africa in particular, we encounter a large number of females who have undergone one of the most widely-condemned acts of violence against women, female genital mutilation (FGM). To promote the day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we want to share with you some key facts on this extreme form of discrimination and show you how you can help girls and women at risk of FGM.
Here is everything you need to know about FGM:
- What is Female Genital Mutilation?
- Why does FGM happen?
- Where does FGM happen?
- What is being done to end FGM?
- How can you get involved and help girls and women at risk of FGM?
Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision, comprises of all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is proven to have no health benefits for girls and women and is most often performed in non-medical settings, meaning it is an extremely painful and dangerous experience. Apart from the distress at the time of the procedure, FGM has a number of long-term consequences for women, including infertility, cysts, and complications in childbirth.
According to the World Health Organization’s website, ‘FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.’
FGM is performed for varying reasons across the globe and differs region by region, often influenced by the sociocultural factors at play within different communities. Some key reasons for FGM include:
- A rite of passage: an initiation into a specific community or culture that represents a transformation into adulthood.
- An indicator of belonging to a specific group or culture: a way in which a child is shown to be part of a community and differentiates them from others.
- A cleansing act: some cultures believe that by cutting a girl’s genitalia it will allow her to be more hygienic and attractive to men.
- Fear: in some traditional cultures, people fear that the clitoris will cause harm to a baby, may cause discomfort as a girl grows into a woman, or even fear that men cannot enjoy sex as a result of its existence.
It is important to remember that while FGM is considered an abhorrent practice by the majority of medical professionals and those in the Western world, it is also seen by many women in affected-areas as a positive and necessary procedure that is an important part of their culture.
While many women and men from East Africa’s Maasai community are speaking out against FGM, while others argue that it is part of their traditional culture
Globally, over 200 million girls and women alive today have been subject to FGM, with 44 million of those females aged 14 or under. It is a common practice in the Middle East, Asia, Central and South America, however is predominantly performed on the African continent; with 87 – 98% of girls aged 15 to 49 affected in Egypt, Guinea and Somalia. While a report from the United Nations on the intensifying efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation shows evidence of an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM in Africa, it is rising in other regions. In 2018, more than 200,000 women in Australia had undergone, or were at high risk, of female genital mutilation. It is expected that 15 million girls will have undergone FGM in Indonesia by 2030.
FGM has been recognised as an extreme violation of human rights for girls and women for almost 20 years now. In 1997, the World Health Organization issued a joint statement with the United Nations against the procedure and considerable leaps forward in research, policy, and action have since been made.
Progress towards the elimination of FGM within the African continent
- To date, 22 of 55 members of the African Union has legislation that criminalizes the practice of FGM
- Initiatives, such as the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme, have helped amend the law in countries including Egypt and Uganda, resulting in an increase in the penalties given to those convicted of performing FGM
- A ban on female genital mutilation, issued by the President of Sierra Leone in 2014 as part of the government’s effort to reduce the spread of Ebola, has remained in place and has not been lifted by the newly-elected administration
- In Kenya – to combat the cross-border aspect of the practice of FGM – legislation has been strengthened to punish offenders in cases where the crime has been committed in another country
- Through the United Nation’s trust fund that supports the elimination of violence against women, 5,182 participants in Mali (both male and female) received education on the consequences of FGM, while many were referred to appropriate care services
- Supported by an investment of EUR 500 million, the United Nations and European Union recently launched the Spotlight Initiative. This pioneering program focuses on ending harmful practices and promoting sexual and reproductive health in Africa, while aiming to bring together national governments and civil society to address inequality and violence against women
- In 2016, 989 communities in Guinea (over 270,000 individuals) made public declarations to end FGM with the support of the Joint Program, a UNFPA-UNICEF initiative. This helped identify and protect 20,563 girls aged between 0 – 15
- In East Africa, elders have been involved in campaigning against FGM, encouraging greater numbers of men from the Maasai and Embu communities to champion the rights of girls
What African Impact is doing to help those affected, or at risk, of FGM
While the statistics above seem promising, the African Impact team still come into contact with many women and girls who have been affected by FGM in East Africa. To do our own part, and contribute to the incredible efforts of other organizations worldwide, we launched a new partnership with the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM) at our volunteer project base in Moshi, Tanzania.
Their main focus is to raise awareness among grass-root communities, where these customs are still being practised, through holding educational seminars, training workshops, and sensitization and awareness campaigns at various community events.
Volunteers on our Girl Empowerment project in Moshi support NAFGEM at specific times throughout the year by providing educational workshops on the importance of health, safety, early pregnancy, income generation and self-confidence. We are extremely proud to help this organization keep young girls and women away from the dangers of FGM.
February 6th is the day for Zero Tolerance Against Female Genital Mutilation, so we want to encourage you to learn as much as you can about this practice and support initiatives that are helping to #ENDFGM.
Visit the United Nation’s webpage for more information on global initiatives, consider donating to a charity focused on ending FGM for good, or even better, learn more about how to help stop FGM by volunteering with our team in Moshi, Tanzania.