In the Central African nation of Cameroon, many women go about their daily lives as one might expect to see in most other cities across the world. From Douala in the southern region to the capital city of Yaounde, all the way up north toward the smaller, old historical city of N’Gaoundéré, life is beautiful, diverse and unique. However, the practice of female genital mutilation remains a prevalent risk for far too many women. This affliction affects women of varying ages across different tribes, regions and nations of Africa. The performance of female genital mutilation is a crime in Cameroon. Despite this, the country has not completely eliminated the practice, although women in Cameroon live in safer environments than most of their continental neighbors.
Rates of FGM in Cameroon
Female genital mutilation has a long history across different parts of the world, including Africa, Asia and Australia. Groups across these regions generally practice its application for sociocultural, sexual, possessive or coercive purposes. Its function remains a cruel blight upon the estimated 200 million people it afflicts and disfigures globally. Today, FGM most commonly exists across various African nations. Girls between the ages of 5 and 9 years old routinely experience the practice.
Yet, Cameroon’s FGM numbers are markedly better than its neighbors. This is especially impressive for a nation with approximately 27 million people with a median age of just under 19 years old. One reason for Cameroon’s lower FGM numbers in comparison with other nearby nations is that it has made efforts to diminish FGM since the 1980s. However, FGM is still a prevalent issue in Cameroon that requires attention.
The Persistence of FGM
Cameroon established the National Action Plan to combat FGM in 2011 and founded the Department for the Promotion and Protection of the Family and Children’s Rights in 2012. Meanwhile, it also instigated the 2016 passage of the civil, “Penal Codes of the Republic of Cameroon.” However, neither mandate nor legislation exists to truly stop the practice of FGM. Non-governmental organizations, international pressure and awareness campaigns, as well as natural human development, have driven initiatives against FGM.
The practice remains accepted in specific cultures and regions. FGM is generally more popular in the southwest of Cameroon within tribes such as the Ejagham community or particular Muslim groups like the Fulbe, Haoussas and Arapshouas in the north. Surveys have shown that up to 20% of women in the most affected communities have experienced FGM, and 85% of FGM in Cameroon is Type I or Type II. This is improved from the country’s rates in the mid-1990s, which were closer to 40% of women. Meanwhile, surveys estimate that only about 1% of the national population now suffers the burden of this practice, which is similar to the estimated percentage roughly 20 years ago.
The Resurgence of FGM in Cameroon
While the fight against FGM continues, the COVID-19 crisis, civil conflicts, economic downturn and resource scarcity-related issues have hindered efforts to decrease FGM. In addition, cultural superstitions and dogma have proven to be rigid obstacles in the campaign to end FGM. Warning of these hurdles, 100 young women traveled to Yaounde in late January and early February 2021 to discuss the COVID-19 related resurgence of FGM. The people of the city and international human rights advocates were quick to listen to these women’s stories. Kousseri, a city to the north, is a barometer for this. It has recently witnessed an increased 8% of women who have suffered from some form of genital mutilation. As work and capital have been difficult to come by during the pandemic, some blame these economic conditions as severely as cultural ones for the national and regional increases in FGM.
Organizations Fighting to Eliminate FGM in Cameroon
While the United Nations and various humanitarian organizations are continuing to make an impact, there is still room for improvement. Long-time Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his government must continue to receive pressure to officially define, illegalize and constitutionally denounce FGM. Groups like the Orchid Project have been fighting the practice of FGM, while actively working to educate, donate and promote legislative innovations. Additionally, No Peace Without Justice formed in 1993 to combat various international atrocities, including this type of violence against women.
The Orchid Project secured the first-ever governmental commitment to end FGM globally from the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development, while No Peace Without Justice founded the Ban Female Genital Mutilation Campaign. This campaign successfully pushed for the U.N. to adopt Resolution 67/146 on Dec. 20, 2012, to increase global efforts to end FGM. This work has been critical in uniting and catalyzing different nations and peoples toward action and empathy and has pushed the U.N. for ever-increasing global action against this violence.
Cameroon has made progress regarding female genital mutilation over previous years, yet much of it has stagnated in recent years. Despite the negative impact of COVID-19, the nation is continuing to fight for progress. In order for Cameroon to reach its full potential, all of its citizens will have to receive equal respect, appreciation, love and empathy. This is what ending female genital mutilation in Cameroon will achieve. Only then will Cameroon be able to function as it should domestically and within the international community.
– Trent R Nelson