Female Genital Mutilation in Guinea-BissauFemale genital mutilation in Guinea-Bissau, also known as FGM, is the complete removal of the female external genitalia. It is a traditional cultural practice that young girls and women in Guinea-Bissau suffer. More than 400,000 girls and women have experienced an FGM procedure within Guinea-Bissau. If the practice of FGM does not end, half of the females in Guinea-Bissau will, unfortunately, experience FGM by the year 2030.

FGM is supposed to “guarantee” a female’s virginity and fidelity after marriage. Certain communities conduct FGM to elevate the sexual pleasure of men. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), communities view FGM as “a necessary part of raising a girl and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.” The unnecessary procedure of FGM violates women and can impact their entire lives.

About FGM in Guinea-Bissau

Women in Guinea-Bissau have experienced torture and mistreatment for decades. If a female refuses to undergo FGM in Guinea-Bissau, those within her town may harass her and she will most likely have trouble finding a husband. The percentage of FGM procedures in Guinea-Bissau during the year 2014 was 44.9%. However, from the year 2014 to 2018-2019, the percentage increased to 52.1%. Due to the fact that many cases of FGM occur in girls from infancy to age 15, Guinea-Bissau has seen an increase in sexual and reproductive services.

Types of FGM in Guinea-Bissau

Furthermore, female genital mutilation in Guinea-Bissau consists of four different types of procedures. Additionally, many of the procedures occur with no anesthesia whatsoever. The main two that practitioners use in Guinea-Bissau are Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce, whereas Type 2 comprises partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora.

After females experience FGM, they have to remain immobilized from hip to ankle for 40 days to allow for healing after the surgery. According to the Journal of Medical Ethics, “Several studies have indicated that many girls are subjected to FGM several times, particularly if the members of the family or their social network are not satisfied with the result of the first procedure.”

An uproar has occurred due to the fact that unnecessary FGM procedures are happening across rural and eastern parts of Guinea-Bissau. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “In several countries, harmful practices meant to control women’s sexuality have led to great suffering. Among them is the practice of female genital cutting, which is a violation of basic rights and a major lifelong risk to women’s health.” Several long-term risks of FGM are difficulty during childbirth, sexual dysfunction and psychological effects.

Plan International

Since about 52% of females have undergone Type 1 or Type 2 FGM, more than a handful of people are speaking about FGM’s harm. For instance, some sections of Guinea-Bissau are addressing and doing public proclamations to stop FGM. In addition, the girls and women who have endured the procedure are encouraged to use their experience to educate others on the dangers of FGM so that the practice can come to a complete end.

An organization that seeks to advocate for those who have undergone FGM is called Plan International. This organization is fighting for women’s rights and has partnered with Nickelodeon and The Body Shop to raise awareness and take action about the FGM issue. A 52-year-old woman named Siren from Guinea-Bissau shared her story with Plan International to inform and educate others about her experience and how she overcame FGM.

Plan International is working with community leaders in Guinea-Bissau like Sawandim Sawo, who performed FGM for 18 years before Plan International informed her of the dangers of the practice. As a result, Sawo joined Plan International to raise awareness by speaking to men, women and children. Plan International encourages girls to raise awareness about FGM in their communities by performing songs and creating poetry and drawings.

Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP)

In addition, Tostan is a human rights organization that emerged in 1991 to educate African-Americans who had little to no schooling. Tostan began advocating for an end to FGM through the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) in Guinea-Bissau in 2008. CEP allows people to share human rights knowledge and connect with others through the program. More than 8,000 communities, including some in Guinea-Bissau, have decided to abandon the FGM practice as a result of CEP’s efforts.

Often, practitioners use unsterilized scissors, razors or even a piece of glass to perform FGM procedures. Additionally, they frequently use the same tools on dozens of girls on the same day. Due to this course of action, a significant percentage of HIV transmission occurs as a result of FGM surgeries. Approximately 5.3% of the women’s population in Guinea-Bissau are living with HIV.

The practice of FGM is a violation of women’s rights and human rights. However, organizations such as Plan International and Tostan are raising awareness and speaking to communities about female genital mutilation in Guinea-Bissau. Such efforts can educate and inform people in Guinea-Bissau about FGM and how to eradicate it.

– Carolina Reyes
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Central African Republic
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM has no health benefits, and in fact, it can lead to extreme health complications. This includes severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts and infections as well as complications in childbirth and the added risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About three million girls per year are at risk of undergoing FGM before their 15th birthday without interventions to combat the prevalence of FGM. Female genital mutilation is a common practice in the Central African Republic.

The Prevalence of FGM in the Central African Republic

FGM is widespread in the Central African Republic. The average portion of women undergoing FGM in the Central African Republic is 24% but can range from 3%-53% depending on the province, according to UNICEF. Of those cut, 52% of girls underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Orchid Project’s Work to End FGM

The Orchid Project is an NGO that focuses on ending FGM throughout the world. It does this by “catalyzing the global movement to end female genital cutting,” particularly by advocating among global leaders and governments to make sure that the elimination of FGM is a priority. The Orchid Project has a goal of eliminating all FGM by 2030. The project spreads awareness of the dangers of FGM through its website.

The Murua Girl Child Education Program

The Murua Girl Child Education Program is an organization that raises awareness of child rights and promotes children’s protection from harmful practices like FGM. Seleyian Partoip, the program’s founder and director, gave a speech at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya. She says, “Every time I speak about FGC [female genital cutting], I speak as a survivor of the practice… My daughter will never speak as a survivor.” The program’s vision is to preserve, promote and protect cultural practices while stopping harmful traditions. It does this by reaching out to schools and communities and educating them on the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, while also teaching people about proper hygiene, their bodies and their rights. The program is based in Kenya but also reaches out to youth in other African countries.

28 Too Many’s Work to End FGM

28 Too Many is an organization that spreads awareness of female genital mutilation in the Central African Republic and other African countries. “The more we talk the better . . . [b]ut to fully eradicate FGM we need to have the authorities on our side enforcing the law,” said Marguerite Ramadan, president of the Central African Republic Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. 

Female genital mutilation is prevalent in the Central African Republic, but, the Orchid Project, the Murua Girl Child Education Program and others are working to end it. With the right education, outreach and awareness, communities will abandon the practice of female genital mutilation. Thanks to donations, these organizations can continue working toward their goal of eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.

Neve Walker
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria
About 20 million girls and women in Nigeria have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). Female genital mutilation in Nigeria is prevalent as the country has the third-highest number of FGM cases in the world, accounting for 10% of the global total. A 2020 U.N. brief states that 20% of Nigerian women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM.

Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria

The World Health Organization (WHO) has described FGM as the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or damage to other female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is still prevalent in about 30 countries around the world. Although FGM creates many painful long-term complications for women and girls, it continues because it provides supposed benefits for men.

“Traditionalists in Nigeria support the practice because they see it as a necessary rite of passage into womanhood which ensures cleanliness or better marriage prospects,” says Public Health Nigeria. In certain cultures, women must undergo FGM so that others consider them suitable for marriage. The fear is that women will become sexually promiscuous or unfaithful to their partners if they do not undergo FGM. Since Nigerian men pay a dowry for their brides, it is common for the bride’s father to encourage some form of FGM to make his daughter more marketable to bachelors.

FGM in Nigeria is a tradition that has been upheld for centuries to maintain male dominance. It is performed to ensure women keep their virginity, to provide men with greater pleasure during sexual intercourse and to remove genitalia that appears unattractive to the male eye. Men make decisions regarding women’s bodies without considering how their choices negatively impact women and girls.

Types of FGM

People practice multiple types of FGM worldwide. During an interview for Hello Nigeria, a medical practitioner, Nesochi Okeke, classified the various forms of female genital mutilation in Nigeria. In Type I, FGM practitioners cut off part or all of the clitoris. In Type II, the clitoris is removed and part or all of the labia minora. Type III is even more extensive, with FGM practitioners removing most of the external genitalia, including the clitoris. After the procedure, a midwife sews together what remains, leaving only a small hole for urination. The sutures symbolize that a young girl has found her husband, staying in place until she consummates her relationship.

The Dangers of FGM

The majority of FGM procedures occur with unsanitary cutting tools. Women and girls of varying ages are held down while a midwife cuts the genitalia. After the procedure ends, it is common for midwives to use dried cow dung to halt the bleeding.

According to Public Health Nigeria, the short- and long-term side effects of FGM include but are not limited to:

  • Inability to heal
  • Abscesses
  • Cysts
  • Excessive scar tissue
  • Painful sex and menstruation
  • Hepatitis and other blood-borne diseases
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Infertility
  • Increased risk of bleeding during childbirth

Preventing FGM

In 2015, Nigeria passed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act against FGM and all other gender-based violence. Although FGM is illegal in Nigeria, it is still prevalent. The patriarchal ideology has begun to shift in some countries, but the ancient value of male dominance remains.

Education plays an essential role in curbing FGM cases around the world. In 2019, UNICEF began taking action to eliminate FGM in Nigeria by 2030. To educate the Nigerian public on the harmful effects of FGM, UNICEF has organized a series of workshops. Christianah Fayomi has performed FGM procedures for nearly 29 years, charging between 500 and 1,000 nairas to circumcise an infant or child and 5,000 nairas to circumcise an adult woman. Because of UNICEF’s workshops, she no longer practices FGM. “I saw the diagrammatic representation of the female genitalia and was tutored about the ills of the practice and I am now promoting its abandonment,” Fayomi says.

Organizations like UNICEF are working to implement change across Nigeria and put a stop to patriarchal traditions that occur at the expense of women and girls around the world. When educating and mobilizing communities, it is important not to criticize tradition, but rather to help people understand the negative impacts of the practice. Education efforts must emphasize that women and girls are an integral part of society. They are mothers, wives, daughters, nurturers, innovators and changemakers. When people see women as they truly are rather than viewing them through a material lens, the patriarchal ideology may begin to shift.

Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in SomaliaAs of 2021, 98% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somalia. The deep cultural roots of the practice make FGM difficult to eradicate, necessitating significant cultural shifts to end this human rights violation against girls and women. Female genital mutilation is a unique form of gender-based violence that older women tend to promote and carry out on their daughters. Many communities do not see the traditional practice as a form of abuse as some cultures view it as a way for mothers to protect their daughters.

Reasons Women Choose FGM for Their Daughters

  1. Controlling Sexuality. Female genital mutilation in Somalia and other countries is considered a way for mothers to discourage sexual activity by making intercourse less pleasurable, more painful or significantly difficult. Some mothers do it in the hopes of ensuring “premarital virginity and marital fidelity.”
  2. Guaranteeing Marriage. By ensuring that young girls do not engage in sex, potential suitors are significantly more likely to wed the girls. Doubts of a girl’s virginity are enough to completely ostracize and shame the girl as well as ruin any prospects of marriage. Marriage, according to the beliefs of many traditional communities, brings long-term protection and economic stability. Therefore, parents view genital cutting as a means of increasing marriageability and reducing the economic burden on the family with one less child to feed.
  3. Enhancing Femininity. Some cultures view the natural form of female genitalia as ugly or too masculine and seek to change the appearance to enforce beauty standards.
  4. Coming of Age Ritual. Many women see genital mutilation as a rite of passage that they underwent, and as mothers, they feel obliged to pass the ritual down to their daughters in the name of tradition.

Regardless of the reason, mothers typically view female genital mutilation as a way to protect their daughters. Proper awareness about the myriad of consequences to young girls’ long-term health is necessary to show that FGM causes more harm than any possible social benefits.

Person-Centered Communication in the Fight Against FGM

The fight against female genital mutilation in Somalia requires comprehensive cultural shifts and collaborative efforts from community leaders, governments and the health sector. While global efforts have made progress to slowly decrease rates of female genital mutilation and most experts agree that healthcare professionals are essential to the fight, it is still somewhat unclear how best to incorporate the medical field into the efforts. A new approach called Person-Centered Communication (PCC) is showing a lot of promise in the present.

Researchers are conducting a six-month study in Guinea, Kenya and Somalia across more than 180 prenatal care centers that are incorporating this method of anti-FGM action into employee training. Person-Centered Communication aims to pioneer a way to strengthen healthcare workers’ relationships and conversations with patients as a way to prevent female genital mutilation in the first place. It primarily focuses on training nurses and midwives to utilize their “double perspectives.” This includes medical professionals who treat the severe health impacts of FGM and community members who put a lot of cultural significance on the practice, in order to communicate the inarguable harms of FGM to patients without judgment.

PCC functions on the notion of mutual respect in which healthcare workers use medical, cultural and psychosocial training to treat patients as their equals while having productive conversations to discourage female genital mutilation in Somalia. Preliminary findings show that this gentle, judgment-free approach is successfully shifting the mentality around female genital mutilation. While the COVID-19 pandemic presents an increased risk to girls enduring genital cutting due to access to healthcare becoming more difficult, PCC initiatives have doubled down to continue making progress in Somalia.

Promising Results

As the study progresses, experts are seeing very promising results, primarily attributable to the double perspective of healthcare professionals. Because the health professionals come from the same or similar communities as the young mothers and understand the cultural significance of FGM, the professionals have an easier time convincing pregnant women to not cut their daughters. Approaching the conversations with mutual respect, kindness and an understanding of the culture and the good intentions surrounding female genital mutilation makes young mothers more receptive to conversations about why women should abandon practices of genital mutilation.

This is incredibly monumental as one of the most difficult aspects of addressing FGM is deep cultural roots and the ineffectiveness of outside judgment and pressure. Person-Centered Communication training in the medical field holds significant potential for decreasing female genital mutilation in Somalia by changing cultural and societal views through discussion and understanding.

– Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in India
Female genital mutilation (FGM) in India is a well-kept secret. Indian girls as young as 7 years old suffer from this human rights violation. On a regular afternoon in Mumbai, locals swarm the streets, completely oblivious of the gross human rights violations devastating little girls in the dingy by-lanes.

Insia Dariwala and Sahiyo

A woman named Fatema experienced this horrifying practice when her aunt lured her out of the house under the pretext of a fun afternoon at the movies. She is the older sister of Insia Dariwala, who later co-founded an organization called Sahiyo with four other women due to the impact Fatema’s suffering had on her. Dariwala avoided FGM because her mother stood up against the practice when she discovered what had happened to Fatema. Sahiyo is now one of the leading Indian organizations striving to end the practice of female genital mutilation. Dariwala shared her older sister’s story and the issue of FGM in India in an interview with The Borgen Project.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation as procedures that partially or totally remove the external female genitalia or otherwise injure the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Female genital mutilation in India is known as “khatna.” At times, it involves removing the entire clitoris and the labia minor, and at other times, it may just include cutting off the prepuce.

Who Practices It?

Female genital mutilation in India exists among the Dawoodi Bohra Muslim community as well as other smaller Bohra sub-sects including the Suleimani and Alavi Bohras. This community traces its ancestral and ideological roots to 10th and 11th century Egypt and Yemen. While it is a small community in India, it still amounts to more than 500,000 Indians.

In fact, a Sahiyo study found that 80% of girls in this community had undergone FGM. Moreover, 66% of them were 6 to 7 years old. Traditional cutters, also called “mullanis” (female Muslim religious leaders), performed most khatna procedures. However, healthcare professionals conducted FGM also.

Reasons Behind the Practice

Dariwala explained to The Borgen Project the reasons that many give for practicing FGM. Some say it is for hygienic purposes. Others cite practicing gender equality by circumcising both boys and girls. Some khatna proponents even claim it enhances sexual pleasure for the female. Some mothers believe that their daughters with FGM will not have extramarital affairs.

She emphasized that “through sharing of stories and other community engagement events, we can without a doubt say that female genital mutilation is done to control sexual urges and is one of the most common reasons stated for carrying out this practice.”

Sahiyo’s own survey corroborates these statements. Forty-five percent of Bohra community members believe FGM occurs to decrease sexual arousal. Other reasons community members gave were religious purposes, maintenance of traditions and customs, the possibility of gaining respect from the community, ensuring “taharat” (religious piety and purity) and discouraging promiscuity and masturbation.

The Reason for the Secrecy

Perhaps India has kept FGM in the dark partially because religious leaders have wanted it that way. For example, in 2016, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin, the religious head the of Bohra community, stated that “the act” must continue “discreetly for girls.” Also, khatna is not illegal in India.

Dariwala emphasized that “We kept the violation of our human rights a secret. Now, we are finally bringing it out of the darkness.”

The Role of Islam

Dariwala noted that khatna is actually a pre-Islamic practice. Not all Islamic groups practice female genital mutilation, and some non-Muslim groups observe the practice. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, does not mention it. However, the Daim al-Islam, a religious text that the Bohra community follows does endorse this practice.

On the contrary, there are Muslim religious leaders including Syedna Mufaddal’s rival Taher Fakhruddin who denounced khatna for children and suggested abolishing FGM. Dariwala underlined that since this practice predates even the origin of Islam, India needs to tackle this issue not by attacking any faith but rather by viewing it as a human rights issue.

The Possibility of Eradication

Organizations like Sahiyo have worked tirelessly to make this a possibility. Sahiyo has conducted conferences and workshops to spread awareness globally. It has also given digital platforms to women to share their experiences and trauma. Sahiyo also believes in the art of storytelling. It uses theatre, films and magazines to spark discussions about gender-based violence. It also conducts media training for journalists to teach them how to effectively report on the practice of FGM. Third, Sahiyo conducts research and data collection.

Eradication of female genital mutilation by 2030  is a United Nations (U.N.) Sustainability target. To eradicate female genital mutilation in India and Southeast Asia, Dariwala and Sahiyo are urging the U.N. to build on the momentum of groups like Sahiyo. There needs to be exponentially more data collection and survivor support.

With leaders like Insia Dariwala spearheading the eradication effort regarding female genital mutilation in India, people will certainly gain more awareness of the issue. Additionally, with leaders like Dariwala at the helm, the 2030 U.N. target could become a reality.

– Iris Anne Lobo
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Burkina FasoBurkina Faso is a small country located in West Africa and is one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Accordingly, it also has one of the weakest healthcare systems in place for women and children. Approximately 10% of all children born in Burkina Faso die before the age of 5 and more than 300 women out of 100,000 live births die during pregnancy or labor. Burkina Faso is also among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Female Genital Mutilation in Burkina Faso

According to UNICEF, in 2010 it was found that 76% of Burkinese women have undergone female genital mutilation. However, the prevalence of FGM in Burkina Faso has significantly declined during the past two decades. In 1999, 83.6% of women had undergone cutting. This rate dropped to 76.1% in 2010. The decline has much to do with the country’s ban on female genital mutilation, passed in 1996 and further criminalized in 2018 with additional prison sentences and fines.

Since the ban, a declining trend in the prevalence of FGM has taken place among women of lower age groups. Older generations are now less likely to pass down the practice. Additionally, a change in sentiment has coincided with the decrease in prevalence. Only 9% of people in Burkina Faso believe that female genital mutilation should be continued, with support for the practice coming mostly from rural communities.

Government Intervention

Burkina Faso’s government also recognizes that a law is not enough to completely eradicate female genital mutilation. Strong cultural and religious beliefs have kept female circumcision rituals active. The legislation does not have much sway over a firmly established tradition. To fully combat the problem, the Burkinabé Government established the National Committee for the Fight against Female Genital Mutilation(CNLPE) in 1990. Since then, the committee has successfully led a nationwide campaign against female genital mutilation. The CNLPE has fought to end the practice in several ways.

How the CNLPE Fights Female Genital Mutilation

  • A national hotline was created for Burkinese citizens to anonymously report instances of female genital mutilation.
  • Police and magistrates patrol villages to investigate potential cases of female genital mutilation and offer counsel.
  • Educational campaigns on FGM in Burkina Faso reached more than 300 remote villages.
  • Awareness of the issue has been publicized in nearly every form of media. Media is used to disseminate information on female genital mutilation in local languages across the country.
  • Information on the practice has become a part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools.

Looking Ahead

Burkina Faso has become one of the most committed countries in the fight to eliminate female genital mutilation. Banning the practice in 1996, combined with various efforts from the CNLPE, resulted in a decrease in FGM nationally. Although the issue has gained support, some rural villages have started performing genital mutilation on girls at younger ages. This is done, “so that they are either less willing to talk about what has happened to them or to seek help.” Though there is more work to be done, Burkina Faso is moving in the right direction in ending FGM for good.

– Eliza Kirk
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in UgandaFemale genital mutilation (FGM) is an invasive violation that impacts the short- and long-term health, safety and well-being of girls and women. Internationally recognized for its harm, much work goes into preventing female genital mutilation. Nonetheless, it remains a modern issue. As of 2016, UNICEF reported that one in three girls between the ages of 15 and 19 years old has been subjected to FGM. In the past couple of decades, East Africa has recorded the largest decrease in the use of FGM. Female genital mutilation in girls between the ages of 0-14 has decreased from 71.4% in 1995 to 8.0% in 2016. In 2010, Uganda created the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act. This played a significant role in the reduction of female genital mutilation in Uganda. However, cultural norms, traditions and beliefs continue to create challenges in completely eliminating FGM.

Activist Grandmothers

Lonah Cheptilak, one of the Trail Blazers Foundation’s activist grandmothers, is a “Role Model Mother,” advocating for women and girls in the Amudat District of Uganda. Cheptilak mentors 20 adolescent girls, visiting them at school, tracking their progress and providing counseling. Cheptilak is currently lobbying the district to set up a rescue center in Loroo Sub-County due to the prevalence of FGM and child marriages in the area. She is also fighting for schools to reopen to provide protection for young girls during COVID-19. Cheptilak states, “FGM in Amudat is a bigger problem than COVID-19. Students used to find refuge at school. Now some parents are using the closure as an advantage to cut their daughters in gardens.”

Involving Cultural Leaders

In Uganda, if a woman does not undergo FGM, she faces not only public ridicule but will be in danger of losing her bride price. This is a significant deterrent in choosing to remain uncut, even though legislation makes the practice punishable by law. Research shows that young girls have utilized COVID-19 lockdowns to cut themselves in private and receive medical care afterward. Because of the cultural norm that pressures girls as young as 11 to conduct the atrocity on themselves, it is vital that governments and organizations engage leaders in the community to transform the system from the inside out.

Dorcas Chelain, the vice chairperson of the Amudat District, advises social workers and activists by sharing her cultural knowledge. For instance, Chelain understands that simply speaking to the women in Amudat has proven ineffective. While they may agree that FGM is harmful and must end, the women lack the power to change the system. In order to survive, they defer to the male influence and cultural norms that dictate their reality.

Girls Resist FGM

Innovative problem-solving techniques are required to involve communities in the elimination of harmful traditions. In the conservative Pokot community in the Amudat District of Uganda, the Straight Talk Foundation has been actively engaging with the people and persevering through the difficult process of convincing girls to defy FGM in Uganda. Through this work, 20 girls refrained from undergoing the FGM procedure. Empowered by the support of their parents and the church, they were able to resist FGM and get married despite being uncut.

The women have become an example of possible alternatives for communities that base financial, moral and marriageable worth on FGM. The government of Uganda strategized to include these 20 couples as ambassadors representing the possibility of a new way of life. For their brave resistance, each woman was rewarded with 20 roofing sheets which would help in the construction of a permanent home.

It is clear that to truly end female genital mutilation in Uganda, such a deeply ingrained cultural practice, government, organizations, families and communities must be involved to create lasting change.

– Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 on FGMThe COVID-19 pandemic has increased rates of female genital mutilation, especially in African communities. The Orchid Project reported this elevated level after communicating with organizations and activists who are working to end FGM. COVID-19 has certainly negatively affected FGM. Women are prevented from leaving their communities to escape the practice because governments are obliged to implement lockdown measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened issues of gender inequality. The pandemic has deprived women of essential health services and resources. The lack of access to adequate medical assistance is especially dangerous because FGM practices can lead to serious health consequences.

The Traditional Practice of FGM

According to the World Health Organization, “traditional circumcisers” mostly conduct FGM, but FGM is also often administered by healthcare providers who believe the practice is safer when performed by a medical professional. However, FGM has no health benefits and only harms women and girls. Women undergo FGM because of cultural norms. In many communities, women’s fears of rejection make them more likely to endure FGM for social acceptance. Moreover, some communities believe that FGM increases marriageability, which provides economic reasons for FGM as marrying off a girl means the economic burden on the family is eased. FGM practices also link to “cultural ideals of femininity and modesty.” COVID-19 has increased incidents of FGM because people see lockdowns as “an opportunity to carry out FGM undetected.”

The Severity of FGM

FGM has immediate and long-term health implications such as extreme pain, urinary tract issues, hemorrhaging, sexual problems and even psychological problems. The mutilation of the genital tissue may necessitate further medical surgeries in order to address the damage and resulting complications. COVID-19 has significantly increased the rates and severity of FGM because of restrictions preventing women from leaving communities to seek medical assistance and lockdowns providing an opportunity to carry out the practice discreetly.

The Joint Programme on FGM

One of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals includes the elimination of FGM by 2030. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF created the Joint Programme on FGM to support the goal of putting an end to FGM practices globally. The initiative works at all levels to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of FGM and encourage communities, girls and women to renounce the practice. The initiative focuses on 17 key countries where rates of FGM are notably high.

By 2019, the initiative had already “helped more than 3.2 million girls and women receive prevention, protection and care services related to FGM.” Furthermore, 31.6 million people in 15 countries agreed to stop the practice of FGM. The program has led to countries such as Nigeria banning FGM entirely. The Joint Programme on FGM acknowledges that COVID-19 has exacerbated incidents of FGM. To address this, the initiative has advocated for governments and humanitarian organizations to include FGM response and prevention efforts in their COVID-19 response plans.

Female genital mutilation is a culturally entrenched practice requiring interventions to include communities in order to break through cultural barriers. Organizations are working to create awareness of this human rights violation and create lasting change to end female genital mutilation by 2030.

Ainara Ruano
Photo: Flickr

Ongoing Harm, Female Genital Mutilation in LiberiaLiberia is one of three West African countries that has not yet made female genital mutation (FGM) illegal. FGM refers to the partial or complete removal of external female genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Considered a violation of the human rights of girls and women by U.N. Women Liberia, FGM has no health benefits and is extremely harmful.

Legal Activism

In 2018, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia signed the Domestic Violence bill, an executive order that banned FGM performed on girls younger than 18 years old, but the criminalization of FGM was limited to one year and expired in February 2019. The executive order did little to address the part community leaders play in perpetrating this crime. It also failed to change the immense social pressure placed on girls to undergo these treatments. For these reasons, female genital mutilation in Libera continues to be an issue.

International Pressure

The United Nations has been active in its role of fighting to end FGM globally. Due to the lack of policy regarding female genital mutilation in Liberia, Marie Goreth Nizigama, of U.N. Women Liberia, said, “50% of women and girls aged between 15-49 years” have been mutilated. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Chief Zanzan Karwo who is the leader of Liberia’s National Traditional Council expressed frustration, rebuking international groups that have sought to abolish female genital mutilation in Liberia. He believes that FGM prepares young women to become good wives. Despite pushback, the pressure to end female genital mutilation in Liberia continues. Williametta E. Saydee Tarr, the gender, children and social protection minister in Liberia, claims that plans are being pursued to make FGM permanently illegal.

Cultural Progress

One of the most important aspects in fighting female genital mutilation both in Liberia and globally is engaging cultural leaders and communities in ending the tradition. If cultural attitudes toward FGM fail to change, then progressing human rights for girls and women will significantly decline. As a result of seemingly insurmountable cultural and financial pressures, girls and women willingly subject themselves to mutilation; therefore, even criminalization of FGM cannot end the mutilation without traditions and perspectives changing as well.

Liberia’s fight to end FGM is not restricted to policymaking and criminalization. Yatta Fahnbulleh, owner of a large bush school in Tienii that performed FGM on more than 200 girls, decided to end her engagement in FGM despite its financial benefits. In 2019, Spotlight Initiative aided in the startup of the Alternate Economic Livelihood program. This program provides resources and education to former practitioners. This way they can generate a source of income after losing their livelihood. Providing access to education and financial alternatives is essential in garnering the support of communities who depend on the practice for survival.

Looking Ahead

It is vital that the United Nations continues to place pressure on Liberia despite leaders expressing attachment to the practice. female genital mutilation endangers women and often causes lifelong sustained harm so, the pressure is appropriate and necessary. Alongside the international attention to criminalize FGM, efforts to engage leaders in ending devastating practices are of the utmost importance. The willingness of people like Yatta Fahnbulleh to close her school gives hope that people are willing to end female genital mutilation with proper education, tools and resources to survive.

Hannah Brock
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan
In Sudan, authorities have declared that they will ban female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage, a monumental push forward for girls and women’s rights. Sudan will adopt the eradication of child marriage into all articles of the African charter on the rights and welfare of a child, reported The Guardian. Sudan’s authorities hope that these new additions allow for more protection for Sudan children. Here is some information about FGM in Sudan.

FGM in Sudan

Female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons. Different types of FGM procedures exist, however, the core purpose is that it is a rite of passage into adulthood and a pre-requisite for marriage.

As of July 2020, laws in Sudan are making the practice of FGM punishable by up to three years in jail. By enforcing stricter laws against FGM, Sudanese government officials project a decline in FGM rituals. According to an in-depth analysis conducted by UNICEF in 2016, nearly two-thirds of circumcised women experienced FGM as early as ages 5 and 9 years and more than one-tenth of women married before 15 years of age.

Child Marriage in Sudan

People in Sudan commonly practice child marriage and about a third of Sudanese girls marry before the age of 18. Child brides are prevalent in Sudan due to several factors such as poverty, level of education and harmful traditional beliefs that younger girls are easier to socialize into obedience. Some Sudanese families believe they must marry off their daughters when they reach puberty to “protect” their chastity.

The Psychological Effects of Child Marriage and FGM

Child marriage and FGM can be detrimental to girls in Sudan as they can experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Sudanese girls are 23% more at risk of suffering from cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Child marriage can also often lead to domestic abuse due to a potential imbalance in the power dynamic. The inequality in power threatens young girls’ ability to negotiate contraception, risking frequent early pregnancies. As the Sudan government and world leaders fight to put an end to child marriage and FGM in Sudan, this could, in turn, decrease potential long-term damaging psychological and physical effects on vulnerable Sudanese girls and women.

Plan International

Plan International is one of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping to end gender-based violence amongst vulnerable children and young people in Sudan. Since 1977, Plan International has been working towards inspiring girls and young women of Sudan to reach their full potential instead of entering into a cycle of violence and poverty. Through advocacy, academic opportunity, leadership outreach and mentorship programs that address child marriage and gender-based violence, Plan International has been inspiring girls and young women to obtain new opportunities. Helping advance children’s rights and equality for girls through its programs and projects is how Plan International aims to aid in the fight to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation.

As a new era in girls’ and women’s rights is present in Sudan, the road is still full of challenges. The process of complete abolishment of these crimes against humanity might be extensive but world leaders have pledged that these crimes will no longer exist by 2030. Fortunately, the future looks promising as Sudan’s government officials begin to consider how to improve female’s living conditions.

 – Jessica Barile
Photo: Flickr