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Female Genital Mutilation in Ghana
Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves any procedure that removes or causes injury to the external female genitalia and is most frequently performed on young girls in rural, traditional communities. In terms of female genital mutilation in Ghana specifically, the Upper East and Upper West regions note the highest rates of FGM, at 13% and 32.5% respectively for females between 15 and 49, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2017/18.

FGM and its Consequences

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes FGM into four distinct types, all of which entail unnecessary harm to the female genitalia.

In addition to being incredibly painful and medically unnecessary, FGM has many severe side effects and outcomes. According to a study led by Evelyn Sakeah that BCM Women’s Health published in 2018, short-term effects include bleeding, shock and increased risk of contracting HIV from dirty knives and razor blades used to carry out the procedure. Long-term effects include infections such as urinary and reproductive tract infections, lasting pain during urination and intercourse, menstrual difficulties, keloids, pregnancy complications and ongoing psychological distress.

Despite all of these significant complications, including many others not listed above, and the lack of medical necessity of the procedures, FGM still occurs in these communities.

Obstacles to Ending FGM

Although 94.4% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 believe female genital mutilation in Ghana should end, the brutal practice still continues. Unfortunately, FGM has significant ties to culture and tradition within these rural Ghanaian communities, which makes the procedure difficult to stop outright.

Within these communities, locals view FGM as a critical aspect of teen pregnancy prevention and marriageability. Community members see the removal of external female reproductive organs as a means to reduce sexual activity among girls and prevent premarital sex as communities consider premarital sex extremely taboo. Communities believe that the removal of the clitoris, in particular, decreases sexual sensitivity and arousal, and therefore, decreases the likelihood of sexual engagement, which in turn, prevents teen pregnancy.

Additionally, these communities see FGM as a means of feminization. Society considers the clitoris the feminine equivalent of a penis; communities believe it produces masculine personality traits, such as aggressiveness and anger. As a result of this, the removal of the clitoris is viewed as pivotal to introducing desired feminine traits, such as obedience, to ensure suitors and greater society deem a girl marriageable.

The Good News

Despite the seemingly never-ending battle to end female genital mutilation in Ghana, the country is making significant progress. Between 2011 and 2018, the prevalence of FGM in women aged 15-49 decreased almost twofold to only 2.4%. When breaking down the information further, it became evident that FGM among the youngest age group studied, women aged 15-19, dropped down to only 0.6%.

In 2007, Ghana made an amendment to the Criminal and Other Offenses Act of 1960 to prohibit ‘female genital mutilation’ specifically and increase the severity of penalties. Strong governmental support to end FGM manifests in agencies specifically devoted to ending the practice, such as the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. This agency organizes events involving local governments and groups that raise awareness about violations of women’s rights and the health implications of FGM. Many other organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, also aim to fight against FGM through tactics ranging from legal action to community education.

Organizations Ending FGM

Two NGOs, 28 Too Many and Orchid Project, combined their unique experiences and expertise in April 2022 to present a more comprehensive, unified front against FGM.

28 Too Many is an England and Wales-based charity that Dr. Ann-Marie Wilson founded in 2010. For more than a decade, Wilson has undertaken extensive research and provided community members and activists with the tools and information to end FGM.

In addition to collecting and interpreting research and data, 28 Too Many also adopts both a top-down and bottom-up approach to ending FGM: engaging with influencers as a means to advocate for change and spread information about FGM and developing advocacy materials and tools that local organizations can easily implement. This two-pronged approach of action and education allows for 28 Too Many to achieve the greatest impact possible.

The Orchid Project is another U.K.-based NGO that Julia Lalla-Maharajh OBE founded in 2011. Lalla-Maharajh OBE built her charity on the premise of partnering, sharing and advocacy. The Orchid Project primarily partners with grassroots organizations around the world, giving them the materials and support necessary to make a larger impact. The NGO shares key knowledge and the practical tools needed to accelerate change while also advocating among governments and global leaders to prioritize the ending of FGM.

Through research, communication and discussion with members of these rural Ghanaian communities, activists are able to glean key information as to why FGM is still occurring, allowing them to better target key community members in a culturally sensitive way and provide better, safer alternative options to prevent teen pregnancy.

– Bryn Westby
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in the Central African Republic
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM has no health benefits, and in fact, it can lead to extreme health complications. This includes severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts and infections as well as complications in childbirth and the added risk of newborn deaths. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced mutilation in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About three million girls per year are at risk of undergoing FGM before their 15th birthday without interventions to combat the prevalence of FGM. Female genital mutilation is a common practice in the Central African Republic.

The Prevalence of FGM in the Central African Republic

FGM is widespread in the Central African Republic. The average portion of women undergoing FGM in the Central African Republic is 24% but can range from 3%-53% depending on the province, according to UNICEF. Of those cut, 52% of girls underwent the procedure between the ages of 10 and 14.

The Orchid Project’s Work to End FGM

The Orchid Project is an NGO that focuses on ending FGM throughout the world. It does this by “catalyzing the global movement to end female genital cutting,” particularly by advocating among global leaders and governments to make sure that the elimination of FGM is a priority. The Orchid Project has a goal of eliminating all FGM by 2030. The project spreads awareness of the dangers of FGM through its website.

The Murua Girl Child Education Program

The Murua Girl Child Education Program is an organization that raises awareness of child rights and promotes children’s protection from harmful practices like FGM. Seleyian Partoip, the program’s founder and director, gave a speech at the International Conference on Population Development in Nairobi, Kenya. She says, “Every time I speak about FGC [female genital cutting], I speak as a survivor of the practice… My daughter will never speak as a survivor.” The program’s vision is to preserve, promote and protect cultural practices while stopping harmful traditions. It does this by reaching out to schools and communities and educating them on the dangers of harmful practices like FGM, while also teaching people about proper hygiene, their bodies and their rights. The program is based in Kenya but also reaches out to youth in other African countries.

28 Too Many’s Work to End FGM

28 Too Many is an organization that spreads awareness of female genital mutilation in the Central African Republic and other African countries. “The more we talk the better . . . [b]ut to fully eradicate FGM we need to have the authorities on our side enforcing the law,” said Marguerite Ramadan, president of the Central African Republic Committee of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices. 

Female genital mutilation is prevalent in the Central African Republic, but, the Orchid Project, the Murua Girl Child Education Program and others are working to end it. With the right education, outreach and awareness, communities will abandon the practice of female genital mutilation. Thanks to donations, these organizations can continue working toward their goal of eliminating the practice of female genital mutilation by 2030.

Neve Walker
Photo: Flickr

Female Genital Mutilation in YemenFemale genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure that is still being performed in parts of Yemen and is rooted in social concepts of femininity. Female genital mutilation is a practice that is inhumane and has many adverse side effects. In Yemen, 15% of women have been mutilated. However, humanitarian organizations are proactive in alleviating the tradition of female genital mutilation in Yemen by raising awareness.

Cultural Pressures for Women

The justification for female genital mutilation stems from a long-held social belief backed by gender inequality practices. The procedure intends to help maintain a woman’s clean, feminine and virtuous ways. The World Health Organization claims FGM is “associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine and male.”

However, female genitalia mutilation has costly effects for women in both the short term and long term. It is excruciatingly painful in the short term, causing excessive bleeding and urinary problems. In the long term, women experience an increased risk of vaginal cysts, wound infections, menstrual issues, childbirth complications and reoccurring pain.

Although Yemen has outlawed female genital mutilation in medical facilities, it is a practice within homes. The woman of the family usually performs the act using a razor blade or scissors. This usually occurs a few days after a female is born, but records show that girls have undergone the procedure as old as 15. Unfortunately, since FGM is illegal in medical facilities, families cannot provide further care to the girls if it is necessary.

Finding Solutions for Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen

UNICEF estimates that 19% of females in Yemen have experienced female genital mutilation. However, the Yemen Demographic Mother and Child Health Survey of 1997 shows that 48% of Yemen’s population believes it should be against the law.

The resistance to outlaw this practice traces back to a lack of education for young girls. DVV International studies show that 60% of Yemen women are illiterate, while 70% of men know how to read and write.

It will take time and education to criminalize female genitalia mutilation in Yemen to enlighten the practice’s truths. Without a full grasp of the pain of female genitalia mutilation, women cannot understand why the procedure is criminal. By utilizing the community and educational tools, knowledge about female genitalia mutilation will increase and awareness spread.

Raising Awareness for Female Genital Mutilation in Yemen

As said by Moroccan human rights activist Khadija Ryadi on the opposition to outlaw FGM, “This is because these laws require that society prepares for them. Society cannot prepare automatically, as these are the responsibilities of governments and civil organizations. Governments must work harder to change the attitudes, customs, and the inequality of women.”

However, there is a growing awareness of the practice in Yemen. Many women are advocating for laws and regulations to end female genital mutilation. However, there are no other bills within Yemen’s republic that protect women from gender-based violence or child marriage. A 2020 report by 28 Too Many found that since the onset of civil war in 2015, Yemen has seen a 63% rise in violence against women. However, because of the lack of government protection, the women of Yemen are vulnerable.

Looking Ahead

The World Health Organization has made February 6 Zero Tolerance Day for those affected by female genitalia mutilation. This showcases that more than 200 million women worldwide have seen the direct effects of female genital mutilation, thus bringing more attention to the issue. With growing knowledge and awareness around this act of abuse, there will be reform and change.

– Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr

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

About Togo

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

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

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

Togo Women and FGM Practice

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

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

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

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

Laws Against FGM

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

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

Strategies

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

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

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

– Thomas Williams
Photo: Flickr

Treating Female Genital MutilationWith female genital mutilation (FGM) victimizing more than 200 million women and girls worldwide, organizations across the globe are combatting and treating the practice through surgery, awareness, education and mental health treatment. FGM – a non-medical procedure that involves cutting, sewing or removing parts of a woman’s genitalia – creates serious health issues for women who undergo the procedure including menstrual/urination/vaginal problems, complications with sex and childbirth, mental health issues, HIV infection and in serious cases, death.

Why Practice FGM in the First Place?

FGM is a medical issue, but it is also a cultural battle. FGM’s roots are steeped in patriarchal tradition and gender inequality positioning it as a purely traditional practice with no health benefits or reasoning. Practiced mostly in Africa, the procedure also exists in the Middle East, Asia and several South American ethnic groups. Documentations have also shown that some practice it in the U.S., Australia and Europe.

As a global public health crisis, FGM is highly difficult to eradicate. Females also often undergo the practice without consent. Additionally, if females choose to remove themselves from the practice, they may experience more risk as their community may ostracize them or they may not be able to marry.

FGM is also a direct result of poverty. In largely impoverished and uneducated societies, violence against women is highly prevalent. A United Nations report from 2015 stated that “Half of countries in developing regions report a lifetime prevalence of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence of at least 30 percent” and cited Africa as one of the most susceptible regions for this violence. Developing regions in Africa, Asia and Oceania also are more accepting of wife-beating and domestic violence according to the report. With women deliberately unable to participate in the economy and household decision-making, they often meet with the dominant group’s traditions, including FGM.

While FGM is a largely immovable force in many civilizations around the world, measures of education/advocacy, surgical reconstruction and mental health counseling are helping the practice’s victims.

The On-site Approach: FORWARD

FORWARD (Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) is an African women-led organization that emerged in 1983. It works to end all types of violence against women and girls. FORWARD works on-site in African communities with girls and women to support, speak with and educate them on gender-based violence and women’s issues. In this way, FORWARD utilizes a bottom-up approach to ending FGM. By mobilizing students at a local level, communities can hopefully eradicate the practice due to enough people opposing it.

In just the last five years, FORWARD has educated 36,000 U.K. students “about their body and rights” and has “mobilized” 24,393 African “school girls and boys.” FORWARD is also unique in its quest to educate not only young girls but also young boys, encouraging them to defend the women in their lives and progress their rights.

The Surgical Approach

While one organization does not solely specialize in surgical and counseling solutions to FGM, various medical treatments for survivors are in existence around the world. The most experimental and ambitious procedure is clitoral reconstruction surgery. France’s health care system is notable in its wide-scale endeavors to create a successful surgical procedure for FGM survivors. Since 2004, the country has allowed women to undergo surgery for free.

However, the surgery is still highly complicated and is by no means a widely successful operation. Since the initial process of FGM is so variable (four main types of cutting exist within the practice), the surgical reconstruction results in similarly variable effects.

One of the largest studies and testings of clitoral/vaginal reconstruction surgery took place in France. More than 2,900 women who survived either Type II or Type III FGM received the operation. While “almost all of the women [who returned for post-op assessment] reported improvements with pain,” the effects were noticeably diverse. Some experienced clitoral pleasure while others experienced decreased pleasure. Some experienced minor complications following the surgery and some returned to almost completely normal genitalia.

Though reconstructive surgery is still potentially dangerous and may not be the best option for many women, endeavors to create a solidified and routine procedure prove promising.

The Education and Rehabilitation Approach: Desert Flower Foundation

The Desert Flower Foundation uses education to solve FGM. Its mission statement reads, “Education is the most powerful weapon in the fight against female genital mutilation.” Just as the most impoverished countries in the world are also the most dangerous, the least educated also hold the highest rates of FGM. 

The Desert Flower Foundation has distributed 10,062 “education boxes” to children in various African nations, primarily in Sierra Leone. Complete with workbooks, pencils, rulers and backpacks, Desert Flower furthers women’s education in order to make them more aware of their intersectional roles in health and gendered societies as well as help them question the archaic practice.

In addition to education boxes, Desert Flower is treating female genital mutilation through various campaigns and projects that include opening a Desert Flower School in Sierra Leone and creating a sponsorship program called Save a Little Desert Flower. The organization has also opened various Desert Flower centers in major European cities offering FGM reconstructive surgery and support groups for survivors. Mental health is also a large focus at these centers since women who have undergone FGM can experience depression, PTSD, anxiety and overarching struggles with relationships and self-worth.

The Law and Research Approach: 28 Too Many

28 Too Many emerged in 2010 and is an advocacy and research organization based out of the U.K. The 28 African countries heavily practicing FGM inspired the charity’s name and the organization hopes to stop the FGM practice completely. Through research and law expertise, 28 Too Many uses this knowledge to implement more effective legislation, policy and education systems in these countries.

In 2019, 28 Too Many published individualized reports of 29 countries, complete with extensive research on FGM. It found that a reported 22 out of the main 28 FGM countries have legislation in place banning the practice – but the countries rarely enforce these laws.

28 Too Many is looking to perform more research into how legislation is failing women in FGM countries. It is also actively working towards creating new legislation and education programs in these areas in order to protect women and girls in each country.

The Future

FGM is still a complicated and daunting issue, but advocates all around the world are actively devoted to ending the practice for good. Any of the organizations that this article lists are performing valuable work in treating female genital mutilation. Through their continued work, hopefully, the practice of FGM will reduce and all women and girls will receive the treatment they need.

– Grace Ganz
Photo: Flickr

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