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 the cultural perception of the practice, programs to improve gender equality and safety for women and girls worldwide.

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr

Female Genital MutilationIn 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.

10 Facts About Female Genital Mutilation

  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 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 type 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