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

App Fighting FGMFive Kenyan teenage girls have been invited to participate in the finale of the international Technovation Challenge in Silicon Valley in August. They have developed I-Cut, an app fighting FGM, or female genital mutilation.

I-Cut offers help to girls that are in danger of FGM or have already experienced it: it connects them to rescue centers and gives them information about where to get legal or medical help. In situations of immediate risk, girls can also use the app’s panic button to alert local authorities.

FGM was outlawed in Kenya in 2001 already. Its prevalence has since declined: from 37 percent in the late ’90s to 21 percent in 2014. Young women today are less likely to get cut than their mothers.

A 2014 study found that the prevalence of FGM in Kenya gets linked to the levels of education, socioeconomic status and media exposure. Additionally, girls are at a higher risk of being cut in rural areas. The highest prevalence got found in the North Eastern province, where 97 percent of women had undergone the procedure.

FGM does not entail any health benefits, but the risk of numerous immediate and long-term risks to the victims’ physical and mental health. Possible effects include infections, death, urinary and sexual problems, death, childbirth complications, PTSD, depression and anxiety.

I-cut was developed by Ivy and Macrine Akinyi, Cynthia Awuor, Stacy Adhiambo and Purity Christine, aged 15 to 17, who call themselves the “Restorers.” In an interview with Reuters, the girls said they had friends who became victims of FGM, and that they wanted to “restore hope to hopeless girls.”

The team beat nine other Kenyan semi-finalists and qualified for the finale of the Technovation Challenge, an annual event sponsored by Google, Verizon and the United Nations. Technovation challenges girls to create apps that address problems in their communities and translate them into a business. It aims at teaching girls entrepreneurial and leadership skills.

The girls will compete against five other teams of girls from all over the world in the competition’s senior division and hope to win $15,000 with their app fighting FGM.

However, it is not merely about winning. As Owino states, “Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better.”

Lena Riebl
Photo: Flickr

No one knows for sure when female genital mutilation (FGM) began. Egyptians practiced the procedure as a way of differentiating the aristocracy as far back as 2000 years ago. People practice FGM for cultural and social reasons, but there is no evidence that it is based in religion. Neither the Bible nor the Quran mention FGM. There are also no reasons to perform FGM for medical reasons. Here are 10 facts about FGM:

  1. Female genital mutilation occurs when part or all of the female genital organs are cut or removed. In some cases, the vaginal opening is sewn together using folds of the surrounding skin. A small opening is left where urine and menstrual blood trickle out.
  2. The practice of FGM is found mainly within 30 countries of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today, over 200 million girls are alive who have had the procedure.
  3. The procedure is most often practiced on girls between infancy and the age of 15. Belief in the benefits of the procedure varies from culture to culture. Some believe it suppresses sexual impulses, guarantees virginity until marriage or reduces the potential for extra-marital affairs.
  4. The four countries where the highest percentage of women and girls have been cut are in Africa. Those countries are Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Sierra Leone.
  5. The United Nations campaigns against the practice of FGM and believes it is a violation of human rights.
  6. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund created the largest joint program to increase the abandonment of the practice and also to provide care for the consequences. Together these groups published the piece  “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change.” The program’s major accomplishments, as summarized in a report published in 2014, were enacting better policy and legal environments to eliminate FGM, providing greater healthcare and social services and increasing acceptance amongst the population against the practice.
  7. The United Nations passed a resolution in December 2012 that officially banned the practice of FGM.
  8. The U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/67/146 in 2012 to observe February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation to enhance awareness and begin taking steps against FGM.
  9. In 1996, the U.S. passed a law making female genital mutilation illegal. It is also illegal to leave the U.S. for the procedure. However, only 24 U.S. states have enacted laws to make FGM a crime.
  10. In April 2017, two doctors and the doctors’ wives were arrested in Detroit on the grounds of performing FGM. This is the first case in the U.S. of an arrest since the passage of the law.

There is good news to report on FGM. As awareness of the issue has increased, the percentage of girls aged 15-19 that have been cut has declined in the countries where FGM is most prevalent. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening in the U.S. The number of cases of female genital mutilation has tripled since 1990 as the number of people from countries who practice FGM immigrate to the U.S. Efforts must continue to decrease or entirely end this practice.

Jene Cates

Photo: Flickr

Potential of Women in AfricaOver 60 percent of women living in developing countries make a living from working in agriculture. However, only 10 percent of women in Africa own livestock and approximately one percent own their own land.

Women who work in agriculture do not generally receive training or supplies in return for their work. These disparities demonstrate that the potential of women in Africa isn’t fully recognized—although women are responsible for the majority of production, they are not able to influence the policies that affect them.

Kenya suggested a bill for political parties to attempt to reserve 30 percent of parliamentary seats for women, but the bill was not passed. Involving women in these political decisions could significantly improve the economy, since the majority of work is done by women.

The economy of Africa could be improved by involving more women in policy changes or by investing in those who do agricultural work. Gender roles are not only hindering the potential of women in Africa, but they are also hindering Africa’s potential. About 90 percent of the Sub-Saharan Africa’s food is tended to by women who have little say in the economy that affects their work.

While women in Africa do the lion’s share of work, they are not valued the same as men. The potential of women in Africa is great. Women will typically work a day that is 50 percent longer than their male counterparts and in less than favorable conditions. In a society that revolves around men, the women are the force of the economy, though they remain largely ignored.

These women not only deal with harmful pesticides and rudimentary tools, but also suffer considerable abuses at home after their difficult days of work.

The violence against women in Africa includes rape, sexual harassment, forced pregnancy, forced marriage, forced sterilization and much more. A cultural practice called female genital mutilation (FGM) causes infection, injuries, and death in women across Africa.

Approximately 130 million girls have already been subjected to this practice, though measures are being taken to prevent further mutilation. This violation of women’s human rights in Africa is illegal, but often carried out in secret to continue the cultural tradition.

FGM is considered a way for women to be socially accepted and can only be ended by educating those who enforce it and stopping the stigma surrounding the tradition. Linah Jebii Kilimo, the chairwoman of Kenya’s Anti-FGM board, calls this “the worst form of gender-based violence.”

Those subjected to gender-based abuses are forced to stay with their husbands because women in Africa are not financially supported by the vast amount of work that they do. Husbands must provide the necessary financial security. Many of these women are illiterate and uneducated, though women who have received a secondary education are better able to provide for themselves and control their personal lives.

The 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women assisted women and governments in changing abusive practices, but has not been entirely successful.

Many cultures still practice FGM and forced marriages despite laws against such practices. Rwanda’s gender desks at police stations have provided legal assistance to women who are victims of any types of violence, a system that should be expanded to other countries in Africa. By expanding these gender desks, many women would be able to take better action to improve the situation of gender-based violence in their cultures.

Greater investment in the potential of women in Africa could equate to a significant boost for the economy. Countries could benefit by improving conditions for women and improving gender equality as well.

Amanda Panella

Photo: Flickr

In some areas of Africa and the Middle East, girls and women are subjected to the horrors of female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization defines FGM as “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM is typically performed on young girls, from infancy to age 15, and provides no health benefit. Instead, it can result in a variety of complications, such as severe bleeding, cysts, infections and infertility. Later in life, it can lead to problems with childbirth and increased risk of infant mortality. The procedure is often performed by traditional “circumcisers” in the community, but even health care providers have carried out FGM.

FGM is recognized as a human rights violation against girls and women, yet it continues for a number of reasons. Community and religious leaders may uphold the practice due to “cultural tradition,” and families may have girls undergo the procedure because of social pressure to conform to these traditions. FGM is also used as a tool to discourage girls from having premarital sex because many believe it reduces their libido.

Approximately 125 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM. FGM is most widespread in Africa, where it is estimated that three million girls are at risk annually.

In Sierra Leone, about 90 percent of women have undergone FGM. Women in this country are often subject to a particularly crude operation with razor blades or broken glass, carried out by elderly women who have been specifically designated by community leaders as circumcisers. FGM is part of an initiation ceremony, intended to prepare girls for marriage and motherhood. It is has been exceptionally difficult to prove to the people of Sierra Leone that this strongly held tradition is harmful. Furthermore, the country is home to numerous women’s societies with strong political power that still support the practice. The outlook may seem bleak for the women of Sierra Leone, but the nation has recently taken an important step towards ending FGM.

In early July, Sierra Leone’s government ratified the Maputo Protocol, which is intended to protect women’s rights in Africa. It addresses a variety of areas, such as political participation, protection of women in armed conflicts, girl’s access to education, economic and social welfare rights, reproductive health rights, and land rights. But the main objective of the Maputo Protocol is eliminating FGM in Africa. Sierra Leone has not banned the practice, but the ratification is a crucial first step towards doing so, as it shows an official political commitment to gender equality for the country.

Other groups are working to change attitudes towards FGM in Sierra Leone. Amnesty International’s Africa Human Rights Education Program has successfully helped communities such as the Chiefdom of Masungdala to ban FGM. Those fighting FGM must work to reach everyone in society to effectively enforce a ban, and it will take time to completely eradicate the practice, but the future is looking more promising for the women of Sierra Leone.

– Jane Harkness

Sources: Amnesty International, Equality Now, Huffington Post, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Flickr

Girl Summit
At the Girl Summit on July 22, 2014, Britain took the lead against combating female genital cutting (FGC) and child marriage on both the domestic and global level. The first-ever summit to address the issues women face around the world is occurring in London and is supported by the government of the United Kingdom and UNICEF.

The meeting includes government representatives, grass-root organization, NGOs and survivors from across the world.

In support of the Girl Summit and to increase women’s rights, the British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged over $2.4 million to help end FGC in the country. A portion of the money is also designated to help support survivors and to better train police on how to handle these cases.

Prevention initiatives are greatly needed throughout the country, as an estimated 20,000 girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure. FGC is a global problem that affects women in both developed and developing nations.

Now, under the enactment of a new law, teachers and health care workers in Britain must inform authorities of cases of FGC. From those reports officials will then prosecute the victim’s family and other parties involved.

FGC involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is normally intended to prevent sexual pleasure. The procedure, a social norm in many African countries, denies a woman the rights over her body. FGC often has severe long-term physical and psychological effects.

In the next 10 years, over 30 million females are at risk of being cut globally. It is estimated that more than 125 million women have already been subjected to the practice.

In the United Kingdom, FGC has been outlawed since 1985. Laws enacted in 2003 also made it illegal for a British citizen to perform the procedure even in countries where it was legal. The government’s new law and monetary support to the Girl Summit initiative marks a continued commitment to end the dangerous practice.

The summit also seeks to address another pressing issue for females: child marriage. It hopes to form an international charter to address early marriage, as over 700 million women across the globe today were married before age 18.

The practice is most prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and those most at risk are girls from low-income families. In India, the issue is especially pervasive, as one in three of all child brides lives there.

Marrying early decreases a girl’s likelihood of attending school, increases her risk of falling victim to domestic violence and increases complications from pregnancy. To combat this, the British government expressed its support of prevention programs that will help to end child marriage in 12 developing nations.

The combined efforts of the UK government, UNICEF and other supporting organizations offer an impactful step in raising awareness about, and challenging the social norms that allow FGC and child marriage. Though the practice of FGC and child marriage is global and extensive, the Girl Summit is leading the fight to end violations of women’s rights.

Kathleen Egan

Sources: Aljazeera, Girl Summit, CNN
Photo: CNN

female genital cutting
The preacher has performed many cuttings like this before. He holds up some broken glass to the light – he will use this to cut out the clitoris of the young girl. No anesthetic will be used. The pain she endures is thought to be a sign of her strength.

The young girl screams out against this horrific abuse to her body.

Over 130 million girls and women have experienced some form of Female Genital Cutting in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where it is most common, according to research from UNICEF.

The charity also estimates that 250 million women and girls alive today have been married since their 15th birthday.

In an attempt to highlight the issues of Female Genital Cutting and child, early and forced marriage, the UK government hosted the first international Girl Summit in London on July 22, co-hosted by UNICEF. Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai attended as well as women from across the world who have been affected by FGC.

The issue of FGC has been a growing concern in Britain where estimates from the Commons Home Affairs Committee reveal that 170,000 women and girls were living with FGC in the UK.

At the summit UK Prime Minister David Cameron revealed a £1.4 million prevention program aimed at ending the practice of FGC. New laws are set to come into effect, making it a crime for parents not to protect their children from female genital mutilation. Although illegal in the UK since 1985, no one has ever been convicted for FGC crimes.

The summit also revealed an “international charter” calling for the eradication of FGC and forced marriage within a generation.

Female Genital Cutting has no health benefits, is extremely painful and often leads to infections and in some cases death.

In its most severe form, the sensitive clitoris is completely or partly removed with crude and accessible implements in order to dull the sexual appetite of the girl. The genitals are then cut and stitched closed making sex impossible. Sometimes corrosive substances are poured in to scar and shrink the genitals.

Only a tiny piece of wood creates an opening so that urine and monthly blood can flow.

When the young girls are able to bear children they are un-stitched – and once the child has been born, stitched back up again.

The Girl Summit aims to raise the profile of this horrific practice which the Prime Minister has called a “preventable evil.”

He hopes that FGC can be ended in a generation. While so many of these types of summit fall short of meeting their goals, the issue of female genital mutilation and child marriage is finally being taken seriously by the international community. The new laws being introduced to the UK and the international charter raise the profile of this crime and may begin the process of eradicating this practice.

Female Genital Cutting Key Facts

· FGC Includes “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
· The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
· Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of new-born deaths.
· More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGC is concentrated.
· FGC is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
· FGC is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
· In December 2012, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution calling for all member states to ban the practice.

– Charles Bell

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 3, UK Government, WHO
Photo: FBNewswire