Treating Female Genital MutilationWith female genital mutilation (FGM) victimizing more than 200 million women and girls worldwide, organizations across the globe are combatting and treating the practice through surgery, awareness, education and mental health treatment. FGM – a non-medical procedure that involves cutting, sewing or removing parts of a woman’s genitalia – creates serious health issues for women who undergo the procedure including menstrual/urination/vaginal problems, complications with sex and childbirth, mental health issues, HIV infection and in serious cases, death.

Why Practice FGM in the First Place?

FGM is a medical issue, but it is also a cultural battle. FGM’s roots are steeped in patriarchal tradition and gender inequality positioning it as a purely traditional practice with no health benefits or reasoning. Practiced mostly in Africa, the procedure also exists in the Middle East, Asia and several South American ethnic groups. Documentations have also shown that some practice it in the U.S., Australia and Europe.

As a global public health crisis, FGM is highly difficult to eradicate. Females also often undergo the practice without consent. Additionally, if females choose to remove themselves from the practice, they may experience more risk as their community may ostracize them or they may not be able to marry.

FGM is also a direct result of poverty. In largely impoverished and uneducated societies, violence against women is highly prevalent. A United Nations report from 2015 stated that “Half of countries in developing regions report a lifetime prevalence of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence of at least 30 percent” and cited Africa as one of the most susceptible regions for this violence. Developing regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania also are more accepting of wife-beating and domestic violence according to the report. With women deliberately unable to participate in the economy and household decision-making, they often meet with the dominant group’s traditions, including FGM.

While FGM is a largely immovable force in many civilizations around the world, measures of education/advocacy, surgical reconstruction and mental health counseling are helping the practice’s victims.

The On-site Approach: FORWARD

FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African women-led organization that emerged in 1983. It works to end all types of violence against women and girls. FORWARD works on-site in African communities with girls and women to support, speak with and educate them on gender-based violence and women’s issues. In this way, FORWARD utilizes a bottom-up approach to ending FGM. By mobilizing students at a local level, communities can hopefully eradicate the practice due to enough people opposing it.

In just the last five years, FORWARD has educated 36,000 U.K. students “about their body and rights” and has “mobilized” 24,393 African “school girls and boys.” FORWARD is also unique in its quest to educate not only young girls but also young boys, encouraging them to defend the women in their lives and progress their rights.

The Surgical Approach

While one organization does not solely specialize in surgical and counseling solutions to FGM, various medical treatments for survivors are in existence around the world. The most experimental and ambitious procedure is clitoral reconstruction surgery. France’s health care system is notable in its wide-scale endeavors to create a successful surgical procedure for FGM survivors. Since 2004, the country has allowed women to undergo surgery for free.

However, the surgery is still highly complicated and is by no means a widely successful operation. Since the initial process of FGM is so variable (four main types of cutting exist within the practice), the surgical reconstruction results in similarly variable effects.

One of the largest studies and testings of clitoral/vaginal reconstruction surgery took place in France. More than 2,900 women who survived either Type II or Type III FGM received the operation. While “almost all of the women [who returned for post-op assessment] reported improvements with pain,” the effects were noticeably diverse. Some experienced clitoral pleasure while others experienced decreased pleasure. Some experienced minor complications following the surgery and some returned to almost completely normal genitalia.

Though reconstructive surgery is still potentially dangerous and may not be the best option for many women, endeavors to create a solidified and routine procedure prove promising.

The Education and Rehabilitation Approach: Desert Flower Foundation

The Desert Flower Foundation uses education to solve FGM. Its mission statement reads, “Education is the most powerful weapon in the fight against female genital mutilation.” Just as the most impoverished countries in the world are also the most dangerous, the least educated also hold the highest rates of FGM. 

The Desert Flower Foundation has distributed 10,062 “education boxes” to children in various African nations, primarily in Sierra Leone. Complete with workbooks, pencils, rulers and backpacks, Desert Flower furthers women’s education in order to make them more aware of their intersectional roles in health and gendered societies as well as help them question the archaic practice.

In addition to education boxes, Desert Flower is treating female genital mutilation through various campaigns and projects that include opening a Desert Flower School in Sierra Leone and creating a sponsorship program called Save a Little Desert Flower. The organization has also opened various Desert Flower centers in major European cities offering FGM reconstructive surgery and support groups for survivors. Mental health is also a large focus at these centers since women who have undergone FGM can experience depression, PTSD, anxiety and overarching struggles with relationships and self-worth.

The Law and Research Approach: 28 Too Many

28 Too Many emerged in 2010 and is an advocacy and research organization based out of the U.K. The 28 African countries heavily practicing FGM inspired the charity’s name and the organization hopes to stop the FGM practice completely. Through research and law expertise, 28 Too Many uses this knowledge to implement more effective legislation, policy and education systems in these countries.

In 2019, 28 Too Many published individualized reports of 29 countries, complete with extensive research on FGM. It found that a reported 22 out of the main 28 FGM countries have legislation in place banning the practice – but the countries rarely enforce these laws.

28 Too Many is looking to perform more research into how legislation is failing women in FGM countries. It is also actively working towards creating new legislation and education programs in these areas in order to protect women and girls in each country.

The Future

FGM is still a complicated and daunting issue, but advocates all around the world are actively devoted to ending the practice for good. Any of the organizations that this article lists are performing valuable work in treating female genital mutilation. Through their continued work, hopefully, the practice of FGM will reduce and all women and girls will receive the treatment they need.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle EastFemale genital mutilation, or FGM, is a practice that is most common in cultures with strict patriarchial structures. Many people believe that the ritual is only performed in Africa, but in actuality, thousands of girls undergo female genital mutilation in the Middle East every year. Though many claim the procedure is done for religious reasons, researchers have found that it predates Christianity and Islam. In fact, female Egyptian mummies have been found with FGM. This is a deep-rooted and harmful practice that still continues today. The United Nations formally recognizes FGM as a form of torture that oppresses women.

Female Genital Mutilation in the Middle East

  1. Where does FGM occur? FGM was previously believed to only occur in Africa, however, recent advocacy efforts revealed that the practice extends to many other countries, especially in the Middle East. In the Middle East, FGM is mostly concentrated in Southern Jordan, Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. There have also been cases of FGM in Qatar, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. The practice most often occurs in small ethnic enclaves where the ritual is considered tradition. It is important to recognize that FGM occurs in many places outside of Africa in order to stop the practice completely.
  2. Who is most impacted by FGM? In Egypt, about 87% of girls are affected by FGM. According to a UNICEF study from 2013, many of them are traumatized by the experience before the age of 14. In many other Middle Eastern and African countries, the majority of girls are cut before the age of 15. Current rates are certainly improving, but it is likely that one in three girls in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Djibouti will experience FGM by 2030. In the United Arab Emirates, 34% of the women surveyed said they had experienced FGM. Twenty percent of women surveyed in Saudi Arabia are subject to the practice.
  3. What are the impacts of FGM? This practice has severe short-term and long-term negative impacts on women who undergo the procedure. Young girls are held and tied down while a local village cutter, usually not a licensed medical professional, performs the procedure with little or no anesthetic. In short, FGM can cause death, infections, hemorrhage and severe pain. In Egypt, there was a public outcry after a doctor performed FGM on a 12-year-old girl who then bled to death. The doctor was arrested, but the practice is extremely traumatizing and can cause severe psychological damage in the long run. It can lead to chronic infections and trouble with childbirth. Girls who undergo FGM are also more likely to drop out of school and become child brides.
  4. Steps are being made to reduce FGM. As information becomes more readily available, more and more people are speaking out against the procedure. It is finally being recognized as a violation of human rights. Though FGM is most common in Egypt, the country has made the most progress in the past 30 years, according to UNICEF. FGM is completely banned in Egypt and doctors can go to jail if they perform it. It has also been banned in Sudan. In Yemen, FGM can no longer be performed in medical facilities, but it has not been banned at home.
  5. FGM rates are decreasing. As can be inferred, many women are now against the practice of FGM. However, some more traditional cultures still advocate for the circumcision of women. In Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq and Djibouti, 70% of all women were affected by FGM 30 years ago. Today, half of all girls in those five countries undergo FGM. Although FGM is still allowed in Iraq, it is illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many people against the practice explain that law is not enough and there needs to be stricter enforcement to ensure the end of female circumcision.
  6. A call to action: According to UNICEF, there has been a massive movement to end FGM in the last 25 years. There are many organizations, like the Orchid Project, that campaign against the traditional cutting in the Middle East and Asia. In 2013, UNICEF formally recognized that FGM is a problem that extends to areas outside of Africa. In addition, the United Nations celebrates International End FGM day every February 6, which is a huge step forward in spreading awareness. The U.N. also made it a goal to stop FGM in all countries by 2030.
FGM is a way to oppress women and makes girls feel like their body is a sin. It is a horrible practice that leaves long-lasting wounds in our global society. Not only is it a form of torture, but it strips women from basic human rights. Thankfully, more people are becoming familiar with female genital mutilation in the Middle East and elsewhere. Allies around the world are working hard to bring an end to the practice.

Karin Filipova
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation
One of the most extreme and dangerous forms of discrimination against women is the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Some might not associate the practice with modern, cosmopolitan countries outside of Africa. However, the truth is that it is still quietly happening in a lot of communities in Southeast Asia. In fact, Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is more common than people previously thought.

What is Female Genital Mutilation?

FGM comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs. FGM usually takes place on religious or cultural grounds and undertaken for non-medical reasons, leaving the girls with long-term health complications. International organizations, such as the U.N. and the WHO, universally consider FGM a violation of human rights and an extreme form of discrimination against women. While it has no health benefits, the practice is prevalent and often performed for cultural and religious reasons. The WHO estimates that more than 200 million women and girls have experienced FGM and that more than 3 million girls are at risk of this painful practice annually.

Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia

While the procedure in many African countries commonly occurs as a ceremony when girls reach adolescence, FGM in Southeast Asia often occurs when the girls are in infancy, which makes it more hidden. Better known as Sunat Perempuan in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, people often quietly carry out the procedure on girls before they turn 2 years old and are aware of what others are deciding for their body. Muslims in Southeast Asia typically observe this practice and reside in countries such as Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Singapore

Since FGM occurs quietly, the exact number of women who experienced it is hard to pinpoint. However, experts believe that it is highly prevalent within the Malay community. Based on some anecdotal evidence, some estimate that approximately 80 percent of the 200,000 Malay Muslims were victims of FGM in Singapore. There is no law banning the practice of FGM in Singapore, and the government remains overwhelmingly silent on the issue. Some clinics offer to perform the procedure for around $15 to $26.

Indonesia

Many in Indonesia consider Female Genital Mutilation a rite of passage and people have practiced it for generations in Indonesia, a country containing the largest Muslim population of all countries globally. The government estimates that about 50 percent of the girls aged 11 and under nationwide undergo FGM, while in some more conservative parts of the country such as Gorontalo, the number could be upwards of 80 percent. Local healers say that the practice would prevent the girls’ promiscuity in later life. There is also another widespread belief that God would not accept uncircumcised Muslim women’s prayers. Some hospitals in Indonesia even offered FGM as part of the “birthing packages,” which further legitimizes the procedure and makes it hard to eliminate.

The government has gone back and forth in its decision on the issue. In 2006, the government had banned the practice of FGM, but due to pressure from religious groups, it had moved away from the attempt four years later. Instead, to accommodate the religious and cultural considerations, the government issued regulations allowing for medical staff to carry out less intrusive methods to ensure more safety. In 2016, the women’s minister announced a renewed campaign to end FGM but again met with increased opposition from the religious leaders in the country.

Malaysia

A study in 2012 found that more than 93 percent of the Muslim women that it surveyed in Malaysia have undergone the procedure. In 2009, Malaysia’s Islamic Council issued a fatwa – a legal pronouncement in Islam, allowing FGM and making the practice mandatory unless considered harmful. The call for standardization of procedure by the health ministry in 2012 added more to the problem of FGM in Malaysia as many in the country consider it to be normal and part of the culture.

A New Generation

Despite international condemnation, the practice of Female Genital Mutilation in Southeast Asia is still prevalent and entrenched in traditions in many communities. The practice exists mostly among the Muslim community but is not exclusive to it. It is only until recently that FGM in Southeast Asia has gained more international attention, and more evidence on the prevalence of the practice is necessary to raise awareness on the issue. Across Africa where the practice concentrates, some communities have started to question FGM and abandon the long-standing tradition. Hopefully, with the new awareness of FGM in Southeast Asia, the nations will soon put an end to the practice that has been putting the women in danger for generations.

Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

 

Boglatech Gebre

Born in a small village in Ethiopia’s Kembata region, Boglatech Gebre was one of 14 children. Growing up, people described her as the average Ethiopian girl. She would help her mother with the chores and the cooking, help look after her siblings and would have to take a daily walk to get clean water for the family. However, unlike other young girls she grew up with, Gebre was secretly attending school. When she was growing up, females did not have access to education. Gebre received a secret education daily and soon she was able to read and write unlike other girls her age. She did this by excusing herself to fetch water in the early morning and having her uncle help her complete her chores. Gebre eventually received a scholarship to attend an Ethiopian school. Following studying microbiology in Israel, as well as the United States, she received her Masters and started studying for her Ph.D., leaving the program to return to Ethiopia as a women’s rights activist. Here are five facts about Boglatech Gebre.

5 Facts About Boglatech Gebre

  1. Boglatech Gebre was an Ethiopian Women’s Rights Activist. At the age of 12, Gebre underwent genital mutilation. Although the physical scars healed, the mental scars did not. This procedure was a key factor as to why Gebre abandoned her Ph.D. to become a women’s rights activist. Gebre not only focuses on ending the act of female genital mutilation (FGM) but is also passionate about ending the kidnapping of underage girls to become child brides.

  2. She Started a Charity with her Sister. In 1997, Boglatech Gebre and her sister founded KMG Ethiopia, based in Kembata. The letters stand for the phrase “Kembatti Mennti-Gezimma-Tupe,” which, in the Kambaata language, is a phrase that describes the power that united women have. People have credited KMG for saving 10s of thousands of young girls from becoming child brides. The charity has also essentially ended female genital mutilation in the Kembata region. In 1998, one year after Gebre and her sister founded KMG, the female genital mutilation rate was 100 percent, but by 2008, it dropped to 3 percent. The charity also focuses on providing women’s health services, because it opened up the first mother and child health center in Ethiopia. KMG also provides women and girls with education, livelihood and economic empowerment, information and health on gender-based violence, human rights information, environmental change and infrastructure development.

  3. Gebre was Influential in Passing Legislation. Ethiopia heard Gebre’s passion for creating a safe country for women. Because of her active role in speaking out for women’s rights, Ethiopia passed bans on issues such as child marriage and female genital mutilation. Ethiopia has also banned the practices of bride abduction, polygamy, widow inheritance and domestic violence. KMG persuaded Ethiopian courts to hear the cases of women, and the country has even hired female judges.

  4. Gebre and KMG have Received International Recognition. Since the foundation of KGM, Boglatech Gebre and the organization have won fifteen major awards. These awards include the Spanish National Committee for UNICEF’s International Award in 2015, the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Services for Human Rights in June of 2013 and the North-South Award of the Council of Parliament of Europe in 2005. All the awards the charity has received reflect its commitment to improving human and women’s rights.

  5. She has Influenced other Improvements in Ethiopia Outside of Women’s Rights. As mentioned earlier, KMG has influenced Ethiopia’s environment and infrastructure development. The charity has planted over nine million trees that are indigenous to Ethiopia in an act of combating the environmental crisis. Gebre and the organization have also helped build bridges throughout the rural area of Kembata, opening up ways of travel that were not previously available to the local people.

On November 2, 2019, Boglatech Gebre passed away in Los Angeles, California. Although her charity did not release her cause of death, people believe it was due to a car wreck from 1987 that left her with nerve damage. Since the accident, Gebre would fly out to California to receive treatment. Initially, medical authorities told her she would never walk again, but she went on to run marathons, literally and figuratively. People knew Gebre for not letting anything hold her back, whether it be nerve damage or her gender. These five facts about Boglatech Gebre show the legacy and influence she has left behind, but KMG Ethiopia plans to continue it.

– Destinee Smethers
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

end female genital mutilationThe international agencies UNICEF and UNFPA are now in their second year of Phase III of their joint campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM). While this human rights violation receives less coverage than many other plights affecting the world’s poor, the world’s leaders have come together in recent years to agree on the need to end female genital mutilation. Complete elimination of FGM is recognized as part of the Sustainable Development Goals the global community hopes to reach by 2030.

The Issue at a Glance

The UNFPA defines FGM as “any procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genitals for non-medical reasons.” Affecting 200 million women and girls today in 30 countries, FGM can take the form of a clitoridectomy, infibulation—a way of surgically sealing the vaginal opening—excision, or other damage to the genital area.

While FGM is most prevalent in Africa, it is widely practiced in parts of Asia and the Middle East as well. Egypt and Somalia have among the highest rates in the world, where over 90 percent of girls undergo FGM. In Indonesia and some Asian countries, FGM is so standardized that hospitals expect to perform it on all newborn girls.

Why FGM Should Be Stopped

Part of what makes FGM a human rights violation is that this treatment is typically done to girls under 15 who are not old enough to offer informed consent. Many agree to FGM after hearing myths of what will happen if they forgo the treatment, and the youngest never agree at all—their parents decide.

Not only does FGM violate a women’s right to make informed decisions about what happens to her body, which has physical and psychological repercussions, but it has a negative impact medically 100 percent of the time. Even when done by medical professionals with sterile tools and cutting-edge technology, FGM is a dangerous medical procedure that has no health benefits and frequently leads to a multitude of health issues later in life, including urinary problems, painful copulation and complications during childbirth, as affirmed by the World Health Organization. In short, girls are put through a painful procedure that has negative side effects down the road because of a cultural bias that women can’t be trusted to manage their sexual decisions.

How UNICEF-UNFPA’s Program Works to End Female Genital Mutilation

The reason FGM exists in the first place and has been so difficult for aid organizations to combat is that it is ingrained as a cultural norm. Girls grow up knowing that they will undergo this procedure and that their daughters will too—breaking that cycle appears inconceivable. Unfortunately, the reasons girls are guided to FGM are entirely myth-based and built on a sexist desire to limit female’s use of their sexuality. Girls are told that unless they undergo FGM, they will be dirty, impure or ineligible for marriage by either a religious sect or often by their community. This means that the work UNFPA and UNICEF does to fight involves looking for ways to change the social expectations around FGM.

Some of the specific ways UNFPA and UNICEF’s Joint Program is ending FGM include working with social groups and media to spread awareness of the health and human rights concerns associated with FGM and “to change perceptions of girls who remain uncut.” The agencies have also worked with government leaders to design policies that prohibit FGM to discourage the procedure for legal reasons and with religious leaders to “de-link FGM from religion.” As a result of their work, 31 million people have publicly declared abandonment of FGM. The focus has been on collective abandonment, since when only one or two individuals in a community give up the practice, they face being ostracized by their peers.

UNFPA and UNICEF, along with countless other international agencies, have worked to end FGM one girl at a time. Unfortunately, the procedure is still all too prevalent in large regions of the world. Removing taboos that FGM is too religious or too intimate of a topic to discuss will be necessary for the fight against FGM, and so women may be freed from this violation of their bodies.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr

Female genital mutilation in Egypt

Female genital mutilation has impacted at least 200 million women and girls worldwide, though the exact number is unknown. The practice is most common in western, central and northern Africa, though it also occurs in a few countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world, with 87 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 having undergone the procedure as of 2016. Some progress has been made over the past few decades, thanks to efforts by the Egyptian government and international organizations, but the cultural preference for female genital mutilation in Egypt prevails, and there is much work that needs to be done.

Egypt has the fourth highest rate of female genital mutilation, tied with Sudan. Only Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti are higher, all with at least 90 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 having undergone female genital mutilation. In Somalia, the procedure is nearly universal, at 98 percent.

According to the World Health Organization, there are four main types of female genital mutilation, otherwise known as FGM. These types vary based on what parts of the female genitalia are removed or altered. In Egypt, the most common procedure is Type 1, which includes the partial or full removal of the clitoris.

FGM is condemned internationally for a number of reasons. It has no health benefits, can lead to infections, severe bleeding, infertility and other serious medical problems, is a violation of the rights of women and can result in psychological trauma.

Prevailing Cultural Beliefs

Female genital mutilation in Egypt was banned in 2008 and criminalized in 2016; however, these laws have had little impact on the prevalence of the practice. FGM is seen as an important rite of passage within many communities. It’s viewed as a way to promote female chastity and purity, and many view it as essential for a young woman to get married. According to some Egyptian villagers, husbands will require their brides to undergo the procedure before the wedding ceremony.

It is not only men, however, who support the procedure. While opinions about FGM vary among women, many women do adhere to this cultural tradition and support it being done to their children and grandchildren. According to UNICEF data, only 38 percent of Egyptian women who know about FGM think the practice should end. Egyptian woman Mona Mohamed remembers being tied down to get the procedure when she was ten, her mother and grandmother each holding one of her arms.

Slow Progress

In 2000, for married women, the rate of female genital mutilation in Egypt was 97 percent. Between then and 2014, there was little progress, as the 2014 health survey found that 92 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 had gone through FGM. There has been more significant progress between 2014 and 2018, however, as the rate has been reduced to 87 percent.

While this represents a higher rate of reduction, if progress continues at this rate, it will take more than 34 years to end the practice entirely. Success in ending FGM relies on working at a community level to change cultural perceptions.

Efforts by International Organizations

In 2008, UNICEF and UNFPA created a joint program targeting FGM in the countries where it is the most prevalent. Their program focuses on law reform, research, training medical personnel and fieldworkers, and engaging directly with religious leaders and local communities.

Both Muslim and Christian communities are known to support female genital mutilation in Egypt, so the program works with leaders from both religions to educate them on the realities of FGM. If religious leaders come to agree with international views on FGM, the program then provides resources to help them spread this knowledge in their communities through sermons and family counseling.

To better reach girls and women, the program also launched a national television campaign. By far their most innovative solution for community outreach, however, is an interactive street theatre show on female genital mutilation. The play provides a depiction of FGM and its impact on girls, and afterward, the audience is encouraged to be involved in an open community discussion.

Despite being a culturally-driven practice, FGM is often performed by licensed doctors. The 2014 health survey found that 72 percent of FGM procedures in Egypt was done by a doctor. As a result, it is important to also focus efforts on medical professionals. Beginning in 2013, UNFPA held workshops for the medical staff at hospitals to disseminate accurate knowledge about FGM and provide doctors and nurses with the resources they need to counsel their patients and argue against FGM.

Additionally, UNFPA is working on a legal front to address the lack of legal repercussions for those who perform FGM, in spite of it being criminalized. This involves working with law enforcement personnel and prosecutors to ensure that individuals aren’t able to exploit legal loopholes to avoid conviction.

Hopefully, the efforts of UNFPA, UNICEF and other international and regional partners will continue to have an impact on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Egypt, protecting the human rights of thousands of women and girls.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Pixabay

10 Facts About Gender Inequality
In our patriarchal society, many underserve and underappreciate women in several aspects of life. Gender inequality ranges from the gender-pay gap to genital mutilation, transcending geographical and cultural differences. These 10 facts about gender inequality display the overarching themes of inequalities that women face and cope with around the world.

10 Facts About Gender Inequality

  1. Lack of Basic Education: In 2014, 263 million children were not in school. At the primary level, 31 million girls did not attend school compared to 29 million boys. Poverty and family income are often driving factors in whether or not girls have the opportunity to attend school. Other factors such as violence, living in remote, inaccessible areas and child marriages can also heavily impact female retention in schools. Increasing female education level is imperative to the positive growth and development of an individual, a family and a country.
  2. The Prominence of Child Marriages: As of 2014, 700 million girls are coerced into marriage before the age of 18. If people force girls into marriage at an early age, they are more likely to drop out of school as well as get pregnant early, which can contribute to physical and mental health hazards. Girls Not Brides is an organization committed to resolving child marriages around the world by keeping governments accountable. It also implements new policies and programs and increases the visibility of the issue.
  3. Increased Pregnancy Complications: Pregnancy and childbirth complications increase as income decreases. Stressors such as financial instability or crowded, polluted living spaces make infant mortality two-thirds higher compared to a higher income area. In addition to infant mortality, half a million women and girls die from child deliveries and complications each year.
  4. Battling Menstruation Stigma: Menstruation is a hormone-based process that signals female fertility. However, in countries such as Venezuela and rural Ghana, communities ostracize girls and women during menstruation. In Venezuela, communities force menstruating women to sleep in huts and in Ghana, communities forbid women from making contact with men. Furthermore, in underprivileged areas, menstruating women often do not have access to sanitary napkins which can cause infections. However, Freedom4Girls, a charity dedicated to removing the stigma around menstruation, is taking action by providing environmentally-friendly, reusable hygiene products to women in poverty.
  5. Culture of Domestic Violence: Domestic violence occurs due to unequal power dynamics within a partnership with approximately 85 percent of domestic violence victims as women. The practice of a patriarchal culture empowers abuse and violence against women, leaving low-income women at a higher risk of staying in violent relationships.
  6. Underreporting of Sexual Assault and Rape: Rape is highly underreported and repeatedly under-prosecuted with one in five women experiencing unwanted sexual contact in their lives. The underreporting of these crimes is frequently the result of fear related to public shaming, officials doubting their situations and further harm from the perpetrator. Women who experienced rape may also experience short-term or long-term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, therefore, putting mental health at risk. Victims of rape or sexual assault may resort to RAINN, an organization committed to improving the criminal justice system for sexual assault cases, increasing visibility for sexual violence and providing victim-focused services.
  7. The Dominance of Females in Human Trafficking: Human trafficking encompasses the enslaving of humans into unwanted labor or sexual activity. In 2014, 80 percent of enslaved humans brought across international borders were women, funding a multi-billion dollar industry and remaining as one of the largest illicit crime operations. Because of the pervasiveness of human trafficking, a multitude of organizations around the world are working to end this issue including the Polaris Project in the United States, Prajwala in India and COSA in Thailand.
  8. Existence of Female Genital Mutilation: Cultures perform female genital mutilation due to a series of cultural ideals where the female body must remain pure and clean. For example, some cultures believe that female genital mutilation will ensure virginity and fidelity by removing the “unnecessary” areas that promote pleasure. As many as 200 million girls have undergone the practice in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. 28 Too Many works to terminate these practices in the countries of Africa through extensive global data research, policy changes and community engagement.
  9. Marginal Female Leadership Representation: In more privileged countries, the number of females in leadership roles is dramatically lower than male counterparts considering the same level of education. Women account for 52.5 percent of the college-educated workforce with 57 percent of undergraduate degrees and 59 percent of master degrees. For example, in the financial industry, 61 percent of accounts and auditors are women, however, only 12.5 percent of chief financial officers in Fortune 500 companies are women.
  10. Unequal Economic Participation: Society has historically ingrained the idea of unequal economic participation and the entire world demonstrates this. Multiple countries possess laws to make it difficult or impossible for women to own land. Even though females represent half of the world’s population, less than 20 percent of the land is owned by women. Owning land is important for female economic development such as improved access to loans as well as educational development. Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights recognizes the benefits of land ownership and is devoted to reforming laws and policies and developing programs to include women’s land rights.

These 10 facts about gender inequality demonstrate how one aspect of female suppression could lead to another. For example, girls who do not have the privilege of receiving a basic education could become vulnerable to teenage pregnancies or child marriages, which could further lead to pregnancy complications and compromised wellbeing. Women constantly face unjust and unequal circumstances that suppress rights to their own bodies, property or financial stability. Although many organizations such as Girls Not Brides, Freedom4Girls and Polaris Project have successfully come together in an effort to counteract multiple harmful practices and beliefs, it is important to recognize inequalities in everyday life and break the cycle of female suppression.

– Angela Dong
Photo: Flickr

FGM Sierra Leon
Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone has recently become a topic of conversation both nationally and internationally since it is one of the 28 African countries that still partake in the practice. The World Health Organization officially described female genital mutilation (FGM) as “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The procedure usually involves some kind of cutting or removing of the genital flesh of a female as part of the initiation into womanhood. Several organizations are spreading awareness of the devastating results of this barbaric procedure and working to end this practice once and for all.

Why FGM Occurs?

The reasons for the procedure of FGM depend on the culture, they but usually fall into four categories: psychosexual, as a way to control female sexuality and maintain virginity; sociological and cultural, the practice is viewed as a vital tradition to the cultural heritage; hygiene and aesthetics, as some communities view the external female genitalia as unappealing and unclean; and finally, socio-economic factors since FGM is often a pre-requisite for marriage and the right to inherit.

The procedure is often performed with penknives, razors or even cut glass, and can result in severe pain, bleeding, cysts, infections, complications in childbirth, infertility and in extreme cases, death. The initiation can also often result in psychological issues from the trauma and pain of the event as well as from the inability to experience sexual pleasure thereafter. An estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone the procedure worldwide, with a staggering 90 percent in Sierra Leone.

Challenges in Stopping the Practice

The practice is ingrained into the culture and holds high social significance. In fact, 69 percent of women and 46 percent of men aged 15-49 believe in the continuation of the practice. FGM has been viewed as an initiation into womanhood and has been an important cultural touchstone for the people of Sierra Leone. This makes it difficult to stop the practice, as many see it as socially embarrassing and being unworthy of marriage if they have not received the initiation.

Another challenge faced to end FGM is that many Soweis, who usually perform the initiation, refuse to end the practice as they see it as a threat to the traditions of the Bondo society. They also receive large amounts of money for the initiations and do not want to lose this source of income.

Organizations Working to End FGM

The Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM) is a non-governmental organization aiming to end the procedure. It was founded in 2002 by Rugiatu Turay, a victim of FGM herself, and many other women while living in a refugee camp in Guinea during the Sierra Leon’s civil war. AIM activists visit villages and speak with the women who perform this procedure and try to convince them to give it up. They have convinced 700 practitioners from 111 villages to stop practicing FGM.

AIM believes that one of the most efficient ways to begin the ending of practice is to teach women how to read and write since most of the procedures are performed by illiterate elder women. Providing them with the knowledge to read and write will open opportunities for them to pursue alternate means of income and reduce their interest in performing FGM.

Another non-governmental organization, AMNet, is fighting against the old fashioned initiation rite. AMNet works with Soweis, the senior female community members, to change the social stigmas surrounding women in regards to FGM in local communities. The group has high profile supporters like Sia Koroma, the first lady of Sierra Leone, which helps bring attention to their cause.

Legislation is Needed

Non-governmental organizations are working hard to provide knowledge on the issues surrounding FGM, but formal legislation against the practice will further help end the societal pressures and stigmas that encourage the continuance of the initiation rite. Several countries have banned the practice, including more than 20 countries in Africa and most Western European countries. Ending the practice has also become a part of the United Nations 2030 sustainable development agenda.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone is not yet illegal, though progress is being made to eradicate the procedure. The country recently ratified the African Unions 2003 Maputo Protocol on Women’s Rights, stating in Article Five of the protocol that female genital mutilation should be prohibited by the government in order to finally end the procedure.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone has been a huge cultural touchstone for many communities. The procedure, though, is highly dangerous for females in many areas of their mental and physical health. Many of the activists fighting to end the procedure recognize that immediate ending of the practice will not work, but could lead to underground practices, as the social and cultural significance of the initiation is far too important to many communities. Instead, they hope to use education to spread awareness about the harms of the practice, hopefully, changing opinions over time with respect to cultural significance.

Mary Spindler
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Djibouti
Djibouti’s location in the Horn of Africa makes it a prime port for trade. The diverse population has taken an increased interest in this country’s urban areas bordering the coast. The country’s GDP is rising, but 16 percent of the population was still living under $1.90 per day in 2017. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Djibouti reveal the status of the country as well as the effects of welcomed foreign interactions.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Djibouti

  1. Although one-third of the population’s main income is livestock, it contributes only 3 percent to Djibouti’s GDP. On average, the country only gets 130 millimeters of rain each year. Because of this, only a small portion of the land, about 1,000 square kilometers, can be used for agriculture. This leaves Djibouti with no choice but to rely on affordable international market prices to import 90 percent of its food commodities. The World Food Program (WFP) is supporting the government with a school feeding program and food security for the families affected by drought.
  2. Currently, the poverty rate in Djibouti is at 21 percent. However, in the last 15 years, the country’s GDP has been growing by more than 3 percent per year. There is work to be done to bring a living wage to the people.
  3. Djibouti provides a gateway to the Suez Canal. Acting as a stable bridge between African and Middle Eastern areas draws trade, foreign military bases and foreign assistance. Djibouti is the host to NATO and other foreign forces, proving it to be a neutral country even in the midst of surrounding conflict.
  4. In 2019, Djibouti may be responsible for an estimated 42,100 displaced people under the National Refugee Law. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping to ease this burden through socio-economic integration. Their efforts aim to include refugees in the education and health systems and to assist with voluntary resettlement.
  5. Although many people moved to urban areas in search of economic opportunity, droughts over the last 30 years and conflict in the region forced many out into extension slums. The International Development Association’s (IDA) Slum Upgrading Project has gained support in the amount of $20 million. The development will mitigate the overpopulated areas by establishing a system of transportation for the public, their goods and emergency assistance.
  6. The enrollment rate of Djiboutian students in 2017 was less than 50 percent across the board. Fortunately, the completion rate of children in primary school has improved from 22 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2018 for females and from 31 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2018 for males. These percentages in enrollment and completion rates are projected to rise.
  7. The cost of electricity in Djibouti is double that of the African average. Currently, electricity is available to half the population, and the percentage of consumers is expected to double in the near future. As a result, USAID is launching two projects, the Power Africa Transaction and Reform Program (PATRP) and the East Africa Geothermal Partnership (EAGP), which will develop Djibouti’s natural resource potential into sustainable energy in order to power the country.
  8. Cybercafes offer online access to counter the high cost of the internet. More than 105,000 Djiboutians, who cannot afford internet, utilize these cybercafes, although access does not guarantee the availability of all sites and information, especially in regards to media. Authorities will block access to websites they find unfavorable to the government.
  9. Djiboutian male family members do not curb their women away from work opportunities, and there are no laws forbidding female entrepreneurship. However, the difficulty of accessing the market is in part due to social norms, family duties, education or skill barriers and transportation issues. The World Bank understands the vital role female empowerment plays in improving their society. For this reason, they have launched the 3.82 million dollar project, “E-commerce for Women-led SMEs.” Their contributions will provide Djiboutian women with the tools to access e-commerce platforms. The project’s connections to financial institutions, such as IFC’s Banking on Women network, lending specifically to women, will alleviate the struggle women have had trying to finance their small firms through disinterested creditors.
  10. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is practiced on more than 90 percent of women and girls in Djibouti. Some have endured this under qualified medical practitioners. But, medicalizing the act does not mean there are health benefits to removing the tissue. The tradition is practiced for different reasons, such as to represent a transition to womanhood or to discourage sexuality in women. Some communities associate it with religion, believing it fosters virtuous women, although there is no support for that belief in religious scriptures. FGM leads to severe pain, prolonged bleeding, higher risk of infection or HIV transmission and death. Women can also experience infertility or multiple complications in childbirth. UNICEF and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) have spearheaded a program to advocate for legislation banning FGM, provide victims with access to health care professionals and open the discussion to voice declarations against FGM in communities, like Djibouti, being affected.

Djibouti’s cosmopolitan port keeps it a central location for foreign affairs; however, an overpopulation of displaced people and drought have put a strain on food security. Equality is a work in progress. Though FGM still poses a threat to Djiboutian girls, there are organizations working to end the barbaric practice. Furthermore, women are on the rise towards entrepreneurship. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Djibouti show the continued external support that contributes to the country’s infrastructure in order to create a stronger country.

– Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr

FGM/C and Poverty
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is a practice that has occurred for generations — a female, often in childhood, is subjected to some form of cutting to her genitalia in the promotion of religious following and the detraction of desire for sexual interaction. Its purpose is to reduce sexual desire in women, thereby making them less likely to be interested in intercourse outside of marriage. It is also highly symbolic to many groups of people who practice it as a religious necessity; however, there is no known religion that demands this practice.

FGM/C and Poverty

FGM/C and poverty are connected in developing countries as the girls who undergo FGM/C are often from poor families who are then married as children, never continue their education and subsequently repeat the cycle of poverty. Recently, there has been a decline in FGM/C practitioners, which should lead to lower levels of extreme poverty on an individual basis.

Countries such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia and Togo have experienced a decline in FGM/C prevalence, with Egypt reducing prevalence from 69 percent to 55 percent between ages of 2005 and 2014. As the correlation with lower education becomes more well-known, it can be inferred that the decline in FGM/C victims has led to a higher attendance rate for girls at school, which can, in turn, affect the poverty in the region.

Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a program designed to create social equality throughout the world, works to end poverty in developing countries. A primary focus of the organization is to work to end FGM/C and poverty because the list of side effects and results of the practice leave women often unable to contribute in their society because they are traumatized, physically incapacitated, unable to maintain strength and nutrition, and in some cases, do not survive the procedure.

When injuries or death result, the cost of caring for these women or paying for their funeral causes strain on family members and communities. Such a responsibility can, in turn, increase the poverty issues already at play. Disability due to the trauma from FGM/C can also lead to a woman’s decreased productivity level, thereby bringing in less money for the family and continuing the cycle of poverty.

The Beginning of the End

The decline of the practice is increasing in developing countries, with more people wanting FGM/C to end. In 2010, a Burkina Faso survey determined that 90.6 percent of women wanted FGM/C to end, a staggering increase from 75.1 percent in 1999. With such a trend beginning, countries should encourage education, discourage FGM/C and lower the poverty levels by introducing a new way of thinking.

FGM/C and poverty are both declining, but it can be agreed that the decline is not occurring quickly enough. More must be done to protect young girls from the sexual alterations that are often completed without consent.

By not cutting into perfectly healthy and innocent girls, developing nations can promote a stronger and healthier workforce. FGM/C and poverty are connected, and one cannot be reduced in isolation — it is imperative that both be tackled to end the other.

– Kayleigh Mattoon
Photo: Flickr