What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful and brutal practice of partially or completely removing, cutting, sewing up, and piercing external female genitalia as a social or cultural custom. There are several deep-rooted cultural, social, even political, and religious beliefs behind this inhuman practice but actually, it is nothing but a reflection of discrimination and oppression against women and girls and is used to harness the rights and controls of women’s lives, sexuality, health and well being.
“With the dignity, health, and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste. Together, we can and must end this harmful practice.” — UN Secretary-General António Guterres
How does FGM affect a girl?
FGM is an extremely inhuman and tragic demonstration of how the lives and existence of women could be dictated by the society and community. Female genital mutilation is often associated with both long-term and immediate medical, psychological, and psycho-social adverse consequences like acute and chronic pain, shock, excessive bleeding, reproductive tract infection and sexually transmitted infection, complication during childbirth, urinary and menstrual problems, psychological consequences like post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. It can even lead to death as a result of excessive bleeding or sepsis.
Where Does it happen?
The practice is most prevalent in the western, eastern, and northeastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and among migrants from these areas in North America and Europe. More than 200 million girls and women in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have undergone FGM.
Female genital mutilation breaches several human rights principles. It is mostly performed on young girls and infants and is therefore a violation of the rights of the child. The practice also violates the rights to health, security, and physical integrity of the person, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure causes death. Human right activists and organizations around the world have been actively trying to abolish this practice but the progress is not very encouraging. As per UNICEF, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.
Why Does FGM happen?
In most communities, it is considered to be an honor for the family and young girls to have their genitalia mutilated. Those who have undergone the process are glorified, rewarded, and considered as more feminine, marriageable, ‘clean’, and ‘pure’ with their virginity intact. On the contrary, those who do not comply often face several untoward outcomes. They are stigmatized, tortured, socially isolated, and harassed and have to live with fear and insecurities of not getting married or not being able to have a family. Many people, in spite of being aware of its harmful and traumatic consequences, choose their daughters to undergo it as a result of the immense social pressure.
Why it is so challenging to abolish this harmful custom?
Several countries have passed laws against FGM but in most of the countries where the prevalence is still high. Laws are either not enforced or not complemented with social and cultural awareness and educating common people against this violent custom. As a consequence, this heinous practice keeps continuing under the cover. According to a UNICEF report, there are a huge number of unreported cases. Though the prevalence of FGM has decreased in most countries in Africa over the last few decades, according to a report published by the UN, still more than three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.
Since this practice is firmly embedded in cultural, social, racial, and religious systems, when it comes to abolishing this, there is very strong resistance at different levels. Many communities and families refuse to stop exposing their young girls to this violent act even after realizing its harmful implications, as being non-compliant is considered as being disrespectful or disgraceful to their own culture and tradition.
Raising awareness at the community level and engaging community leaders are very important. In many communities, it is carried out by elderly family members and relatives of the girl. But quite surprisingly, in some societies, FGM procedures have been reported as being performed by health care professionals. Health Care providers often do this as a social responsibility.
Role of International Humanitarian Organizations
In 2010, WHO, in collaboration with several UN agencies and international organizations published a “Global strategy to stop health care providers from performing female genital mutilation”. Various National and international organizations have played a key role in advocating against the practice. The elimination of FGM has been called for by numerous inter-governmental organizations, including the African Union, the European Union, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as in three resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly. In 2008, nine United Nations agencies and WHO together, issued a statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy to abolish it. This Statement was a call to all States, international and national organizations, civil society, and communities to protect the rights of girls and women.
What Can WE do?
Complete eradication of this brutal custom needs active involvement at different levels and sectors of society. Governments and policymakers, NGOs, International human rights organizations, Community and religious leaders, and media are different actors who need to work in collaboration to end female genital mutilation. While we are hopeful that organized measures by different stakeholders may bring slow but sustainable changes, increased awareness and active participation of every individual is a key for any movement to be successful.
If you are looking for some useful resources to refer to before taking any action, please check out the Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions by United Nations Population Fund. In the UK, The Department of Health (DH) in partnership with NHS England has launched an FGM Prevention Program. NHS has also created guidelines to help health professionals identify and assess the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) for patients. WeSpeakOut, Sahiyo, Equality Now are some of the anti-FGM advocacy groups that provide resources, online support, and community outreach program for activists and survivors. If you are a man or a boy and have never been part of any women’s rights movement before, please read our blog post A Step by Step guide for Men to Fight For Gender Equality.
Are you or anyone known to you a survivor of FGM?
Many organizations and activist groups provide clinical, emotional, psychological, and social support to the survivors of FGM.
The End FGM European Network is a European umbrella organization of sixteen organizations across 11 European member states, working to ensure sustainable European action to end female genital mutilation.
Africa Advocacy Foundation provides mental and emotional support to the young girls through their FGM YOUNG SURVIVORS PROGRAMME
Orchid Project – Orchid Project has a vision of a world free from female genital cutting.
Dahlia Project – Dahlia’s Project is a support group for women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM). The project aims to provide a safe space for women and girls to unpack the effects of FGM.
Safe Hands for Girls creates awareness about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and its harmful effects; helps fight to eliminate it; and provides support to survivors of the practice.
Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation was founded on the principles of ending violence and injustices against women and girls. The mission of the organization is to empower women and girls through education to eradicate gender-based violence, with special emphasis on female genital mutilation/cutting.
NYC FGM is a multi-sectoral coalition of organizations, individuals, and government agencies committed to ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in New York. They have joined together to create legal, socio-cultural, educational, and medical strategies to raise awareness, prevent the practice, and support survivors.