What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful and brutal practice of partially or completely removing, cutting, sewing up, piercing of external female genitalia as a social or cultural custom. There are several deep-rooted cultural, social, even political and religious believes behind this inhuman practice. This custom is a reflection of discrimination and oppression against women and girls. FGM 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 Female Genital Mutilation affect a girl?
FGM is an extremely inhuman and tragic demonstration of how society could dictate the girls’ and women’s lives. Female genital mutilation is often associated with both long term and immediate medical, psychological, and psycho-social adverse consequences. FGM survivors suffer from acute and chronic pain, shock, excessive bleeding, reproductive tract infection, and sexually transmitted infection, complications during childbirth, urinary and menstrual problems, psychological consequences like post-traumatic stress disorder etc. It and can even lead to death as a result of excessive bleeding or sepsis.
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 rights activists and organizations around the world have been actively trying to abolish this practice.
Where is Female Genital Mutilation most prevalent?
The practice is most prevalent in the western, eastern, and north-eastern 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. As per UNICEF, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.
Why Does it happen?
Most communities consider this custom as an honor. Those who have undergone the process are glorified, considered as more feminine, marriageable, ‘clean’ and ‘pure’. On the contrary, those who do not comply often face several untoward outcomes. They are stigmatized, harassed, and don’t get married. Many people, even after being aware of its harmful and traumatic consequences, choose their daughters to undergo FGM as a result of the immense social pressure.
Watch this TEDx Talk on FGM ‘My Mothers Strange Definition of Empowerment’ by Khadija Gbla
Role of International Humanitarian Organizations in Ending FGM
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, and 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.
Why it is so challenging to abolish this harmful custom?
Several countries have passed laws against FGM but in most countries where the prevalence is still high. Laws are usually not enforced or complemented with social awareness and education. As a consequence, this heinous practice keeps continuing under the cover. According to a UNICEF report, there are a huge number of unreported cases. 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.
This custom is firmly embedded in cultural, social, racial, and religious systems. When it comes to abolishing FGM, the resistance at different levels is quite strong. Many communities and families refuse to stop this violent act even after realizing its harmful implications. To them, being non-compliant means being disrespectful or disgraceful to their culture and tradition.
What can we do?
Raising awareness at the community level and engaging community leaders are very important. In many communities, elderly family members and relatives of the girl perform FGM. Quite surprisingly, in some societies, the FGM procedures are performed by health care professionals. Health Care providers often do this as a social responsibility.
Complete eradication of this brutal custom needs active involvement at different levels and sectors of societies. Changing any social custom is usually a very slow process. All actors – policymakers, international organizations, community, and religious leaders, and the media should work in collaboration to end female genital mutilation. Changing Organized measures by different stakeholders may bring slow changes in the near future. Increased awareness and active participation of every individual are key for this movement to be successful.
Please check out these important resources – Female genital mutilation (FGM) frequently asked questions by United Nations Population Fund and the Fact Sheets on FGM by the World Health Organization. In the UK, The Department of Health (DH) in partnership with NHS England has launched a 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 who provide resources, online support, and community outreach program for activists and survivors.
Resources and Networks for FGM survivors:
Many organizations and activists groups provide clinical, emotional, psychological and social supports to the survivors of FGM
End FGM European Network is an umbrella organization of sixteen organizations across 11 European member states, working to ensure to end female genital mutilation.
Africa Advocacy Foundation provides mental and emotional supports to the young girls through their FGM YOUNG SURVIVORS PROGRAMME
Orchid Project has a vision of a world free from female genital cutting.
Dahlia Project is a support group for women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM). They provide a safe space for women and girls to recover from the trauma 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 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 the Female Genital Mutilation. They have joined together to create legal, socio-cultural, educational, and medical strategies to prevent the practice and to support survivors.
Desert Flower Foundation worldwide first holistic centers for the treatment of FGM victims the Desert Flower Foundation has established four Desert Flower Centers in: Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, and Amsterdam
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