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 EgyptFemale 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

Victories Against FGM in Africa
Today, there are an estimated 200 million women and girls living with female genital mutilation, or FGM. FGM is widely practiced in 30 countries around the world.  At least 65 to 70 percent of FGM victims live in Africa.

According to the World Health Organization, FGM is a broad term including “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Traditionally, it is used to control female sexuality, but it often leaves a myriad of health and social problems for survivors. Despite the ingrained nature of this practice, in recent years there have been several victories against FGM in Africa.

Seven Victories Against FGM in Africa

  1. Liberian Abolishment: After years of political negotiation, the Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf fulfilled her 2015 vow to abolish FGM. FGM affects more than 50 percent of Liberian girls and is used as a ritual in the Sande secret society’s coming-of-age ceremony.Many traditional organizations have threatened death toward activists who expose their rituals. Despite these challenges, Africa’s first female executive leader executed one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa.
  2. The Girl Generation: This NGO works to connect girls from across the continent to “end Female Genital Mutilation in this generation.” It has given over $1.6 million in grants to grassroots organizations in eight African countries from Nigeria to Mali. It focuses mainly on changing social attitudes about the practice in rural areas where it is common.Regarding the organization’s work, one woman said, “I am now a changed person. When I came here yesterday, I never thought anyone will convince me FGM is bad, but now I’m convinced, and will stand up for my younger sisters and cousins not to be subjected to the cut.”
  3. The American Doctor: Dr. Marci Bower, a San Francisco native, spent two weeks in Nairobi surgically repairing the scars left by FGM. Victims of FGM often experience complications in childbirth and infections in the cut area.In Kenya, about five million women are living with FGM, though the practicing rate of 27 percent is much lower than that of the countries in northern Africa. Dr. Bower operated on 44 local women and trained others to do the same when she returned to the United States.
  4. Kembatta Women Stand Together: One Ethiopian woman, Bogaletch Gebre, has worked for decades to eliminate FGM in her native country. After a traumatic cutting at the age of 12 and an education as a Fullbright scholar, Gebre founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzina or Kembatta Women Stand Together to fight FGM. Her organization has been lauded for reducing FGM rates in parts of Ethiopia from 100 percent to three percent through community outreach and information campaigns.
  5. Kenyan Girls App: Five teenage girls from the Luo ethnic group in Kenya invented an app to help their peers escape FGM. The girls were the only African team to compete in  2017’s Technovation contest, sponsored by Verizon, Google and the U.N.Their entry, called “I-cut,” includes options for users to seek medical treatment, report FGM in their local communities, donate to the cause, escape the ritual and learn more about FGM. One team member, Synthia Otieno, said their goal for the app was to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”
  6. Masaai Women: In the nomadic Masaai community, FGM is commonly practiced as an initiation ceremony. However, after witnessing her sister undergo FGM and an abusive child marriage, Nice Leng’ete decided to use her high school education to make a difference.After years of bargaining and dialogue, Leng’ete has saved over 15,000 girls from cutting, winning one of the largest victories against FGM in Africa. Leng’ete became the first woman to speak before the highest Masaai elder council, which formally abolished FGM for all 1.5 million Masaii people.
  7. African Men Against FGM: It is not only women who are achieving victories against FGM in Africa. Male activists, such as Kelechukwu Nwachukwu from Nigeria and Tony Mwebia from Kenya, are working to inform African men about the realities of FGM.Despite the prevalence of FGM in their communities because of the secretive nature of the practice, many African men are unaware of the pain FGM causes. Nwachukwu commented, “I’ve seen girls who have died [from FGM] but the parents don’t make the link. Many will tell that it’s just God’s will.” Despite the challenges, male activists have become an essential part of the movement to end FGM in a generation.

Female genital mutilation contributes to poverty in areas where it is practiced. Girls are cut at young ages to prepare them for child marriage, a practice linked to lower development. As the British NGO ActionAid put it, “Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.” Each victory against FGM in Africa is a victory against extreme poverty and the violation of women’s human rights.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

FGM and educationAccording to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to any procedure that involves “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

There is no health benefit for girls or women and possible medical complications include severe bleeding, cysts, infections, difficulty urinating and issues with childbirth. The practice is especially dangerous because it is rarely performed in a medical setting.

More than 200 million girls and women from 30 different countries have been cut, and UNICEF estimates that 30 million more could be cut in the next 10 years if current trends do not change. The practice is concentrated in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, with a 90 percent prevalence rate in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt.

 

Why is it difficult to stop?

Female genital mutilation is a deeply entrenched cultural practice that is often considered a coming-of-age rite of passage and is therefore performed near the start of puberty. It is believed to make girls cleaner, to improve marriage prospects, to preserve virginity and also has religious undertones. Due to the depth of its cultural significance, it is very difficult to convince practitioners – typically midwives or other locals – to cease the practice.

Those who perform the procedure also have another reason to continue – it is their livelihood. Unless NGOs and anti-FGM organizations can provide an alternative way for them to make a living, practitioners have little incentive to stop.

 

What is the link between FGM and education?

Regarding FGM and education, program advisor for USAID Somalia MaryBeth McKeever said that advocacy should be focused on community education communities. “These communities are composed of parents, students, teachers, school administrators and traditional/religious leaders and each school has one. The CECs have been instrumental in increasing girls’ education and can help girls and women make informed choices on decisions that will impact their health, education and lives,” McKeever said.

The connection between FGM and education is twofold: education and awareness about the practice and its risks and general educational attainment. Teaching young girls and women about the dangers of FGM is a powerful tool in changing public opinion and reversing the trend. However, the importance of overall education may seem less clear.

The International Center for Research on Women published a report on FGM and education that stated that, while more research needs to be done, “emerging evidence illustrates that basic education can be an effective instrument for abandoning the practice of FGM.”

This research shows that women are less likely to have their daughters cut as their level of education rises. In addition, a higher level of education also makes fathers less likely to support FGM.

Education exposes students, male and female, to a variety of competing ideas and concepts and a broader worldview. This allows them to make more informed decisions regarding their own reproductive health and agency.

 

What is being done?

UNICEF’s education initiatives with local governments – such as their support of mobile schools and boarding schools, improved sanitation facilities and better quality curriculums – all contribute to ending the practice of female genital mutilation.

Programs in Egypt aim to introduce information on FGM to medical and nursing schools because the practice is highly medicalized there. Healthcare personnel play a key role in continuing the practice and therefore could play a key role in ending it. School-based interventions across the world focus on integrating information on FGM into compulsory science curriculums.

The Global Women PEACE Foundation, a joint American and Liberian NGO, devised their own curriculum for teachers and administrators to teach them how to have conversations about FGM and reproductive rights with their students. The Tostan Education Program targets the students with a four-part plan that teaches human rights, reproductive health, hygiene and problem-solving. Safe Hands for Girls, an American and Gambian initiative, also implements outreach and advocacy training in schools.

The emphasis on school-based interventions highlights the link between FGM and education, and the important role that schools can play in ending this dangerous practice.

– Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Female Genital MutilationMore than 120 million women and girls worldwide are victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). Often referred to as circumcision, a tragic misnomer, FGM is practiced in 28 different African countries, southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, among Muslim populations in Malaysia and Indonesia and increasingly among immigrant groups in Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Some cultures believe a woman’s ability to be stimulated sexually is impure within the definition of their religious practices. Others believe women are unmarriageable if they have not been cut, and therefore the practice is often perpetuated by mothers to ensure their children are not cast out societally. It is also believed that having their children cut can reduce the chances of extramarital affairs. Female genital mutilation is an epidemic with little justification for its practice.

There are four types of FGM:

  • Type I: The prepuce (clitoral hood) is removed, sometimes with part or all of the clitoris.
  • Type II: The prepuce, clitoris and part or all of the labia minora are removed.
  • Type III: Sometimes called infibulation, it involves the complete removal of the clitoris, labia minora and inner surface of the labia majora. Then the raw edges of the labia majora are then stitched together with thorns, silk or catgut sutures, resulting in a layer of scar tissue covering the vaginal opening and leaving a small opening for urine and menstrual blood to pass through.
  • Type IV: Encompasses any other surgical procedures that include the manipulation of female genitalia. Examples include: pricking, piercing, incision of the clitoris or labia, stretching of the clitoris and/or labia, cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue, introcision (defined as a tearing of the perineum followed by compulsory intercourse with a number of young men), scraping of the vaginal orifice, cuts into the vagina and introduction of substances into the vagina with the intention of tightening or narrowing the vaginal opening.

The short-term effects of female genital mutilation include severe pain, infections, abscesses and recurring cysts. Long-term effects include painful intercourse, menstrual complications, increased risk during childbirth, sexual dysfunction and psychological trauma.

In spite of legislation to end the occurrence of FGM, in some cultures it is an ingrained rite of passage for women to enter womanhood. Mona Eltahawy, an op-ed contributor to the New York Times, interviewed a 53-year-old FGM survivor from Cairo who said, “It must be carried out, because that’s the way to maintain the purity of girls, to make sure the girl is not out of control. We don’t care if it’s against the law or if they’re trying to stop it. We know doctors who are willing to continue and have done so.”

In October 2014, the U.N. Secretary-General announced a global campaign to end the practice of FGM within a generation. The government of Egypt banned it in 1959, then permitted again in some forms including “medical” genital cutting. Then a universal ban on all FGM was enacted in 2008. The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has ensured that everyone within their jurisdiction has the rights and freedom defined in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The Guide to Good and Promising Practices Aimed at Preventing and Combating Female Genital Mutilation, written by the Steering Committee for Human Rights, outlines the Four Ps implemented to combat FGM.

The Four Ps:

  1. Integrated Policy and Data
  2. Prevention
  3. Protection
  4. Prosecution

Several countries and organizations have employed methods to fight FGM on a large scale. Senegal has been hailed as a success story not for eradicating the practice, but reducing the rate at which it is performed. Their methods include alternative rites of passage into womanhood, campaigns that include brides and bridegrooms to reject the custom, involving priests and clerics and helping women to reach higher levels of education.

A group of young women in Kenya who call themselves The Restorers developed an app to prevent female genital mutilation and other gender-based violence. The Restorers entered their app, i-Cut, into the Technovation Challenge. The app includes an SOS option for those who believe they may become victims of FGM or other gender-related violence, as well as an option to report if they have been victimized.

The Restorers didn’t win the competition, and many Kenyan leaders have not embraced the app, claiming that the girls have “become too westernized and are ruining African culture.” However, they plan to submit the app to Google Play and other digital marketplaces. This type of innovation complements more traditional preventative measures by raising awareness and giving women the option of reporting FGM.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council has stressed the need to raise awareness and improve educational campaigns to combat gender stereotypes that drive discrimination against women and girls. These campaigns must involve both genders collaborating to prevent the spread of harmful ideologies fueling violence against women and specifically female genital mutilation.

The issue is not strictly legal and not entirely social. In order to truly end this custom, the underlying issues regarding gender and power dynamics must be addressed.

The causes of FGM are rooted in the promotion of misconceptions about female sexuality in addition to detrimental gender politics within societal structures. Confronting FGM and its sources requires a multidimensional approach that enacts policies that dictate preventative measures, campaigns to influence cultural perception of the practice, programs to improve gender equality and safety for women and girls worldwide.

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation

In 2017, five female Kenyan students created i-Cut, a female genital mutilation protection app that provides medical and legal assistance for girls who will or have gone through genital mutilation (FGM), a process where the outer part of the genitals are either partially or completely cut off.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app are Ivy Akinyi, Stacy Owino, Cynthia Otieno, Mascrine Atieno and Purity Achieng, who refer to themselves as the Restorers. According to CNN, Dorcas Adhiambo Owino was the girls’ mentor on the project.

The female genital mutilation protection app i-Cut, as explained in Ebony, has five options: “”help”, “rescue”, “report”, “information on FGM” and “donate and feedback”.” “Help” alerts the authorities when FGM is about to occur, and “Rescue” gives young women information about places to receive medical treatment after FGM. “Report” informs the authorities that an instance of FGM has occurred.

Although FGM is illegal in Kenya, it is still heavily practiced, with one in five girls experiencing it. According to Mashable, FGM is seen as a rite of passage in many communities, preparing young women for marriage and purportedly discouraging premarital sex. These traditions are commonly found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Unfortunately, girls experience many challenges after FGM. According to Mashable, young girls are often unable to go to school, which prevents many of them from being employed. There is also a connection between girls who become young wives and mothers and FGM. Worse still, many girls die as a result of the process.

The creators of the female genital mutilation app have a personal connection with FGM: even though their tribe is opposed to the practice, a friend of theirs from school went through it. The friend, as they explained to Reuters, was intelligent, but dropped out of school after the procedure was done. The app is meant to combat situations like this.

i-Cut is currently one of the technological innovations competing for the Technovation Challenge award of $15,000, and is the only African country represented this year. “Sponsored by Google, Salesforce and Adobe, Technovation challenges girls aged 10-18 to create an app that solves problems faced by their communities,” according to CNN.

Regardless of whether or not they receive the prize, the young inventors of the female genital mutilation protection app are content that the app gives young girls a way “to decide their own destinies.”

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr