Having worked in Africa for the past 14 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). On this day, the day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we want to share with you some key facts on this extreme form of discrimination against women and girls and help promote the abandonment of FGM globally.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
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.’
Why does FGM happen?
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.
Where does FGM happen?
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.
Even within the UK, an estimated number of 65,000 individuals have been victim of FGM.
What is being done to end FGM?
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 and policy have been made.
FGM is now outlawed in 26 countries across the Middle East and Africa (where women are most at risk) and in 33 other countries with migrant populations from these areas. In countries where FGM is banned, trained healthcare providers are offering their services to ensure that those procedures that do happen are done in a medicalised and safe environment.
Closer to home for us at African Impact, we see what communities are doing on a smaller scale for the women and girls who are either at risk, or who have been affected by, FGM.
At our volunteer project base in Moshi, Tanzania, we partner with an inspiring local organization who are dedicated to ending FGM, the Network Agaisnt Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGEM). Their main focus is to raise awareness among grass-root communities, where these customs are still being practiced, through holding educational seminars, training workshops, and sensitization and awareness campaigns at various community events.
Volunteers on our Girl Empowerment project here support NAFGEM 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.
The progress made so far has been huge for these nations, yet the practice still continues.
How can you get involved?
Today 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 volunteering with us in Moshi and directly help girls who have escaped female genital mutilation.