The COVID-19 pandemic has increased rates of female genital mutilation, especially in African communities. The Orchid Project reported this elevated level after communicating with organizations and activists who are working to end FGM. COVID-19 has certainly negatively affected FGM. Women are prevented from leaving their communities to escape the practice because governments are obliged to implement lockdown measures. The COVID-19 pandemic has also heightened issues of gender inequality. The pandemic has deprived women of essential health services and resources. The lack of access to adequate medical assistance is especially dangerous because FGM practices can lead to serious health consequences.
The Traditional Practice of FGM
According to the World Health Organization, “traditional circumcisers” mostly conduct FGM, but FGM is also often administered by healthcare providers who believe the practice is safer when performed by a medical professional. However, FGM has no health benefits and only harms women and girls. Women undergo FGM because of cultural norms. In many communities, women’s fears of rejection make them more likely to endure FGM for social acceptance. Moreover, some communities believe that FGM increases marriageability, which provides economic reasons for FGM as marrying off a girl means the economic burden on the family is eased. FGM practices also link to “cultural ideals of femininity and modesty.” COVID-19 has increased incidents of FGM because people see lockdowns as “an opportunity to carry out FGM undetected.”
The Severity of FGM
FGM has immediate and long-term health implications such as extreme pain, urinary tract issues, hemorrhaging, sexual problems and even psychological problems. The mutilation of the genital tissue may necessitate further medical surgeries in order to address the damage and resulting complications. COVID-19 has significantly increased the rates and severity of FGM because of restrictions preventing women from leaving communities to seek medical assistance and lockdowns providing an opportunity to carry out the practice discreetly.
The Joint Programme on FGM
One of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals includes the elimination of FGM by 2030. In 2008, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF created the Joint Programme on FGM to support the goal of putting an end to FGM practices globally. The initiative works at all levels to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of FGM and encourage communities, girls and women to renounce the practice. The initiative focuses on 17 key countries where rates of FGM are notably high.
By 2019, the initiative had already “helped more than 3.2 million girls and women receive prevention, protection and care services related to FGM.” Furthermore, 31.6 million people in 15 countries agreed to stop the practice of FGM. The program has led to countries such as Nigeria banning FGM entirely. The Joint Programme on FGM acknowledges that COVID-19 has exacerbated incidents of FGM. To address this, the initiative has advocated for governments and humanitarian organizations to include FGM response and prevention efforts in their COVID-19 response plans.
Female genital mutilation is a culturally entrenched practice requiring interventions to include communities in order to break through cultural barriers. Organizations are working to create awareness of this human rights violation and create lasting change to end female genital mutilation by 2030.
– Ainara Ruano