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

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

Female Genital Mutilation in Togo
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is female circumcision — a ritualistic practice that occurs in several countries as a rite of passage leading to womanhood where someone removes the external genitalia of a female. Africa, Asia and the Middle East are where FGM is most prevalent. More than 200 million women today have gone through this procedure. This article, in particular, will focus on female genital mutilation in Togo.

About Togo

Togo, a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, comprises at least 30 ethnic groups, most being immigrants from other parts of Western Africa. The majority of its population lives in small villages throughout rural areas. For the purpose of economic planning, the country has five regions — Maritime, Plateaux, Centrale, Kara and Savanes.

Togo gained independence from France in 1960. Following this, rifts between the country’s leaders and the rise of coups have left the people to fend for themselves. This has resulted in immense poverty. The year 2009 brought the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The goal of this commission was to investigate the political violence in the country from 1958 to 2005. The group published its final report in 2012. This report included numerous recommendations such as reforming the electoral system, the judiciary, and military and security forces.

Currently, Togo has an elected president. A 70% majority vote declared Faure Gnassingbé the winner.

Togo Women and FGM Practice

Women in Togo have dealt with inequality for years. Recently, they have gained more opportunities and improvements in equality. Women in Togo have become more involved in politics as well. However, these women tend to have ruling tribal family backgrounds or be successful businesswomen. Women in Togo have also received a much more developed education, and literacy rates have increased. These improvements bring knowledge and awareness of the outlining health problems from FGM. Support for the abandonment of FGM is higher among women whose mothers are more educated.

A percentage of women in Togo still support the practice of genital cutting. Therefore, they remain adamant about their daughters going through with it. Women are the primary guardians of this puberty rite which ties closely to women’s status and power. The use of anesthesia is not common during the procedure.

In Togo, female genital mutilation is highest in Centrale. In fact, 13.5% of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced it. Savanes is the second-highest region with 7.6%. FGM is lowest in the southern Maritime and Plateaux regions with less than 2%. The most common type of FGM that people in Togo practice is the cutting and removal of flesh.

The most common age range for female genital mutilation in Togo is 4 to 14. However, infants and women preparing for marriage can also experience FGM. Sometimes, FGM occurs in women who are pregnant with their first child or who have just given birth. According to a survey from 28 Too Many, 73% of Togo women, aged 15 to 49, have heard of FGM; of these, 94.5% believe the practice must end.

Laws Against FGM

Law No. 98-016, dated November 17, 1998, is the main law relating to female genital mutilation in Togo. This law does not address FGM that health professionals carry out or cross-border FGM procedures. According to the September 2018 Togo law report from 28 Too Many, “Law No. 98-016 bans all forms of female genital mutilation in Togo and defines FGM as the total or partial ablation of the external genital organs of infant girls, young girls or women and/or all other operations concerning these organs.” In November 2015, Togo unveiled a new penal code further criminalizing the practice of FGM.

However, Togo citizens have rarely enforced these established laws. In addition, a limited number of known court cases on the issue have occurred. This is due to the fact most cases had happened in rural areas where there is limited awareness of the law, or “traditional customs often took precedence over the legal system among certain ethnic groups,” according to the report.

Strategies

The year 2016 saw the establishment of a national communication strategy to target traditional practices of FGM. This strategy included the support of the humanitarian aid organization, UNICEF. The strategy targets local community and religious leaders and partners with grassroots organizations to achieve commitments to end the practice. The strategy also educates women on their rights and provides alternative sources of income opportunities for former traditional FGM practitioners.

Many are still highly concerned regarding what to do about female genital mutilation in Togo. The practice, still viewed as a rite of passage for women, continues in rural areas. Several have voiced the urgency for the government to enforce the legislation and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Just like in many other countries today, female genital mutilation is still a massive threat in Togo. Its women are in danger of physical and mental health issues from the procedure. More strategies are ideal, and proper execution of the laws that Togo has put in place will help the women in the country.

– Thomas Williams
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Iraq
In 2008, Gola told her story of female genital mutilation in Iraq to reporters with The Human Rights Watch. It was a story of silent pain. “My family took me and told me nothing, I never went to the doctors, my family was never concerned.”

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation or FGM has been going on for centuries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines FGM as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

Iraq’s older generations believe that cutting a woman’s clitoris will ensure the preservation of her virginity and push the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation in Iraq. Additionally, the women do not receive any anesthesia beforehand. FGM consists of three types including type one which is the removal of the labia minora and the labia major, the protective layers surrounding the vaginal orifice. Meanwhile, type two is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal orifice. However, all reproductive parts of a woman are important to her maintaining physical and mental health, and expulsion of one or more of these parts puts women’s lives at risk.

FGM is a silent practice that has been going on for decades. Female genital mutilation in Iraq occurs across Iraq without religious, lawful or ethical reasoning. Mutilation begins on girls as young as 3 although grown women may also experience it.

Solutions

Wadi, an NGO, finds solutions for women in crisis. In early 2004, Wadi began visiting villages after learning of the high number of women that FGM affects. After interviewing several women in the area, it found that 907 out of the 1,544 women it questioned were victims of FGM. Wadi has launched a campaign to educate women about the harmful consequences of FGM. In 2011, the parliament of the Kurdish region passed a bill banning domestic violence against women thus banning FGM. However, even though the Kurdish region has banned this practice, women’s voices are continuing to cry out against it to prevent future injustices.

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

In July 2012, Wadi launched an FGM hotline to provide social, mental, medical and reproductive advice to FGM-affected women throughout the region. By mainstreaming gender rights and working on educational programs, Iraq should be able to make headway to eradicate FGM. To fully eliminate this practice, the Wadi team began to visit local villages and midwives to educate them that these mutilations do not preserve a woman’s virginity, the wounds are not self-healing and the practice causes harm that is often permanent. Hadiya, who experienced FGM at the age of 5-years-old, spoke of pain 20 years after the mutilation occurred. FGM can cause infertility, incontinence, complications in labor and even death.

 

With all endings come new beginnings. Iraq has been the home to unlawful practices and prevalent mistreatment of women, but women are steadily pushing back to reclaim their freedom and honor. Some who have undergone FGM are now refusing to let their daughters experience the same fate, disallowing their clerics from approving practices of FGM. They band together in face of an ancient ritual that tears the body apart. Gola told her story so that women born after her will not have to tell theirs.

– Nancy Taguiam
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in SudanAlthough six African states issued legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation, the north African state of Sudan was lagging behind in these efforts. Female genital mutilation ( FGM) was illegal in some Sudanese states but the bans were widely ignored. Under the leadership of Omar al-Bashir, parliament rejected recommendations to ban the practice.

Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is defined as procedures that deliberately alter or cause injury to female genital organs. It is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and adolescence and occasionally performed on adult women. These procedures are nonmedical and provide no health benefits, only harm to the female. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, therefore, it interferes with the natural functions of the female body.

The reasons behind FGM vary between regions due to a mix of sociocultural factors. The procedure is routinely executed by a midwife without anesthesia. There are four types of FGM. Type one is the partial or total removal of the clitoris. Type two is the removal of the clitoris and inner labia. Type three is the removal of all the external genitalia or narrowing of the vaginal opening. Type four is any other type of damage to the female genitalia, such as burning, scraping or piercing.

Females experience either short-term or long-term effects. The short-term effects include severe pain, excessive bleeding (hemorrhage), genital tissue swelling, fever, infections, wound healing issues. The more dangerous and life-altering long-term effects include urinary problems, menstrual problems, increased risk of childbirth complications, the need for later surgeries or psychological problems.

According to UNICEF, 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone a form of FGM. FGM is also more prevalent among the poorest women.

Actions to End Female Genital Mutilation

In 2008, the National Council of Child Welfare and UNICEF joined together to launch the Saleema Initiative, which focused on abandoning FGM at a community level.  The initiative educated women about the health risks and encouraged females to say no to the procedure.

Additionally, the United Nations General Assembly took action in 2012 by calling on the international community to enhance efforts to end FGM. In 2015, the global community agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include a target under Goal 5 to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is addressing the issue by implementing guidelines, tools, training and policy to allow healthcare providers the opportunity to offer medical care and counseling to females suffering the effects of FGM.  The WHO also aims at generating knowledge to encourage the abandonment of the FGM procedures. One final measure by the WHO is increased advocacy through publications and tools for policymakers.

Criminalizing Female Genital Mutilation in Sudan

In May 2020, the Sudanese Government criminalized FGM and made it punishable by up to three years in prison. But, experts remain concerned that a law is not sufficient in ending the practice due to religious and cultural ties to the procedure.

The sociocultural and religious ties surrounding female genital mutilation in Sudan complicate attempts to end the practice. Criminalizing FGM in Sudan may not be enough to end the practice. The National Council of Child Welfare, UNICEF, the United Nations General Assembly and the WHO are taking major steps to eliminate FGM or assist those already affected by the practice.

– Rachel Durling
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia
Female genital mutilation (FGM) impacts more than 200 million women all around the world. The practice, which girls mostly experience between their infancy and teenage years, encompasses a range of procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia. It usually occurs in an informal setting without anesthesia. FGM is a global concern, but sadly there is a collection of nations in Africa, the Middle East and Asia that grant it legitimacy. One of these nations is Somalia, and as the COVID-19 pandemic forces many people to stay at home, circumcisors are subjecting women to door-to-door mutilation. Here is some information about female genital mutilation in Somalia and how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting it.

A Universal Ritual

While the prevalence of FGM varies greatly across the many countries that practice it, Somalia has the highest percentage at 98% according to UNICEF. Many nations, including the United Republic of Tanzania and Togo, have met the practice with disdain and objection; however, more than half the women in Somalia think it should continue.

To most people, this would seem outside the realm of possibility, but tradition runs deep in Somalia, and disputing the practice of genital mutilation holds a gravity on par with blasphemy. The procedure itself is a family experience and a rite of passage where, according to Islamic Relief Worldwide, local women use “knives, scissors or razor blades to remove parts of the genitals, while female relatives hold the girl down.”

Cutting Season

There is no law in the Somali Constitution that specifically criminalizes and punishes the practice of female genital mutilation in Somalia, so the tradition remains stable; so much so that experts recognize summer vacation as “cutting season” for girls. Breaking from school means they have time to undergo and recover from the procedure before the next school year starts.

While there is little formal data to strengthen this case, Somali circumcisors agree that the months of July and August are their peak season for FGM. They even pride themselves on the fact that girls travel from other countries like Djibouti to undergo circumcision in Somalia; however, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) saw a “massive” jump in the number of girls who underwent the procedure in 2020 due to coronavirus lockdown.

COVID-19 and FGM

The UNFPA projected that 290,000 girls experienced cutting in 2020 and that an extra 2 million girls could undergo cutting in the next decade due to the setbacks of prevention programs along with the vitality of circumcisors in their efforts to lobby the public into believing that FGM is a healthy rite of passage into womanhood. The lockdown has also led to this massive increase in FGM and the economic state has driven circumcisors to go from door to door, offering to cut the girls stuck inside. While the frequency of mutilation rises, the awareness declines as advocates cannot access communities where FGM is popular.

Solutions

The pandemic has had detrimental effects on efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation in Somalia, but the country has not lost hope. Young women from all across the region are taking a stand against female genital mutilation and those who perpetuate it. The Y-Peer Youth Network is one such group. In 2002, the UNFPA founded the network to educate young people, communities and even health care workers about sexual and reproductive health. Other topics of advocacy are gender-based violence and child marriage.

While FGM is a widespread issue in Somalia, the young girls working to stop it are making waves and shaking the status quo to its core. To learn more about the Y-Peer Youth Network, check out its website.

– Matthew Hayden
Photo: Flickr

FGM in Sierra Leone
People in Africa, parts of the Middle East and Asia frequently practice the archaic custom of female circumcision or female genital cutting. The act involves the cutting away of the external genitalia from young girls for non-medical reasons and often results in severe pain, bleeding, infections, and in the most severe cases, death. Moreover, victims of female genital mutilation also frequently suffer from fertility issues, pregnancy and childbirth complications and mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorders, that inhibit their individuality and sexuality throughout their youth. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leone remains a common practice throughout the country as only 10% of Sierra Leonean women have been able to evade the tradition. Here is some information about FGM in Sierra Leone.

The Social Norm

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide have experienced female genital mutilation as the practice has become so heavily integrated into the patterns of the societies they live in; the custom is often essential in traditional initiation rites and marriage rituals, and because these societies are highly patriarchal, girls have no choice but to undergo FGM due to their male counterparts dictating it. Additionally, many also view female genital mutilation as a symbol of status and honor to families, making it a social norm that girls have no choice but to abide by. Two million young girls are at risk of female genital mutilation every year as this archaic tradition lives on.

Female Genital Mutilation in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is one of the 28 countries in Africa where female genital mutilation is a common practice to this day. The practice, which an elderly female figure in Sierra Leonean villages typically performs, occurs in unsafe and unsterile environments. Female genital mutilation in Sierra Leone often happens without proper medical equipment; elderly women perform this operation with razor blades, penknives and even shards of broken glass without receiving any training on any medical practices. With these women severely uneducated about the gross human anatomy yet performing dangerous procedures without the proper tools, girls end up in dangerous health conditions where they experience laceration and infection without medicine to offer relief. UNICEF estimates that nearly 90% of all Sierra Leonean women have suffered genital mutilation.

FGM in Sierra Leone is particularly dangerous for young girls who are in poverty and live in poor and rural villages. Individuals in poverty are more vulnerable to the most unsafe conditions when undergoing female genital mutilation as they have little to no access to monetary means to acquire the necessary medical supplies during and after the mutilation. Moreover, classism plays a significant role in this archaic practice as more affluent families are able to afford a private medical professional to perform the procedure safely while impoverished girls must fend for themselves.

A Brighter Future

Because female genital mutilation is a practice inherently ingrained in the Sierra Leonean culture, attempting to pervade the custom is a difficult task. However, one may find a brighter future in the women who had once undergone this archaic practice. The Amazonian Initiative Movement is a nongovernmental organization in West Africa that campaigns to ban FGM in Sierra Leone and neighboring countries. Rugiatu Turay created it in 2002 with women who met in a refugee camp in Guinea during the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone. As the organization’s leaders themselves have experienced the horrors of female genital mutilation and the abuses of societal patriarchy, the activists have long searched for a resolution and discovered that the strongest combatants against the tradition are education and literacy.

With an estimated 66% of the Sierra Leonean population illiterate and 60% living beneath the poverty line, education and gender equality campaigns directed towards young girls have become some of the best ways to resist female genital mutilation. Moreover, the initiative offers a safe house for young girls who are fleeing from domestic abuse, forced marriage and genital mutilation where they can live, become educated and learn how to provide for themselves independently. The Amazonian Initiative Movement has empowered young women so that they may be capable of making their own choices with their bodies with the hopes of one day eliminating the dangerous practice of female genital mutilation throughout West Africa.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in Egypt
In 2016, lawmakers in Egypt federally criminalized female genital mutilation. Yet, the practice still persists.

Data from the Egypt Health Issues Survey (EHIS) from 2015 shows that the prevalence of FGM among Egyptian girls and women aged 15-49 is 87.2%. As one of the most populous countries in the Middle East and Africa, Egypt likely has the greatest number of circumcised women and girls in the world. To combat the high incidence of female genital mutilation in Egypt, anti-FGM campaigns have gained traction in the past several years.

About Female Genital Mutilation

According to WHO, FGM “involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are four types of female genital mutilation, and they range from pricking or piercing the genitals to removing the clitoral glans, clitoral hood, labia minora and labia majora.

There are no health benefits to female genital mutilation. In fact, FGM can cause health issues such as hemorrhaging, urinary problems, vaginal issues, menstruation difficulties, an increased risk of newborn deaths, psychological problems and death. Just in 2020, a 14-year-old Egyptian girl died while undergoing the procedure.

Reasons People Practice FGM in Egypt

The practice of FGM mostly persists due to tradition. Female genital mutilation in Egypt has existed for thousands of years. Evidence of FGM practices has even dated back to the second century BCE, and experts believe that FGM comes from a desire to guarantee the virginity of enslaved women. Today, people tend to practice FGM in order to keep women pure. Those who agree with the practice believe that removing the clitoris is essential to preventing women from becoming sexually aroused and having sex before marriage. They believe FGM benefits the girl or woman by saving them from impurity or uncleanliness.

While female genital mutilation occurs all over Egypt, girls with lower economic status tend to be more at risk. According to the EHIS data from 2015, 69.8% of women and girls age 15-49 in the highest wealth quintile in Egypt have experienced FGM in comparison to 94.4% of women and girls in the same age range in the lowest quintile. Furthermore, girls in the highest wealth quintile are only 5.4% likely to undergo FGM, whereas girls in the lowest quintile are 22.8% likely to undergo FGM.

Egypt’s Efforts

Egyptian leaders continue to take steps to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Egypt. Along with other world leaders, Egypt vowed to end FGM by 2030. In 2016, Egypt launched the National Committee for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation. The group, with support from UNICEF and under the guidance of the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, seeks to end female genital mutilation in Egypt. Since 2016, the group has created campaigns that raise awareness of the dangers of FGM. One such project was the “Budour Month” radio campaign in June 2019.

In December 2020, the committee met with representatives from various medical councils and organizations to create a plan to fight against the medicalization of FGM. The medicalization of FGM is the belief that female circumcision that a doctor performs is safe or medically necessary. Groups like the National Committee are not alone in fighting this falsehood. In 2020, Randa Fakhr El Deen, the head of the NGOs’ Union Against Harmful Practices on Women and Children, led a group of doctors to campaign against the practice. During this campaign, known as “White Shirts,” the doctors hung up signs that read “No to FGM” and “FGM is a crime” in a Cairo metro station. They also handed out pamphlets that explained the risks of FGM.

Hekayat Nehad

This group of doctors is just one of many citizen groups speaking out against female genital mutilation in Egypt. Artists and advocates have created plays and shows about the dangers of FGM. One popular show called “Hekayat Nehad” (Nehad’s stories) that the UNFPA backed and Dr. Nehad Aboul Komsan, the Chair of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, created, discusses violence against women, including FGM. In just one month, the show’s Facebook page received 7 million views.

Although people still practice female genital mutilation in Egypt, more and more people oppose it. Advocates believe it will take a while to end a practice that is this entrenched in Egypt’s society. However, government-supported education, task forces and harsher legislation are paving the way for a future without female genital mutilation.

– Sophie Shippe
Photo: Wikipedia Commons