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Top Ten Facts about Living Conditions in Sudan
Since the start of the new year, Sudan has received a flurry of media attention. What started as students protesting rising wheat prices escalated into civil unrest quickly spread across the country as thousands of activists call for President Omar al-Bashir’s resignation. The government’s response has received widespread condemnation, with Amnesty International reporting the death of 40 protestors and thousands of arrests.

The unrest sweeping through Sudan is complex, rooted in social, political and economic instability. For decades, living conditions across this African nation have fostered an environment that leaves behind vulnerable citizens and perpetuates poverty. The following top 10 facts about living conditions in Sudan are intended to unpack these factors.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Sudan

  1. Much of Sudan’s geography is defined by the Nile river and its tributaries, winding through the country’s expansive plains. The Sahara desert sweeps across the north, rendering much of the land arid and unusable. However, in the Southern Savannah, especially the Southeast regions, summer storms deliver nearly 30 inches of rain each year. These fertile grasslands allow communities to fish, grow crops and raise livestock.
  2. Sudan has been plagued by one of the longest and deadliest civil wars in the world. For the past 27 years, President Omar al-Bashir has clung to power in a brutal fashion, including the 2003 genocide in Darfur that drew international condemnation. Fighting between the Sudanese government and southern rebels finally cooled in 2011 when an almost unanimous referendum granted what is now South Sudan independence. However, the violence within Sudan continues today. The constant war weighs heavy on the civilian population as more than 2 million people remain displaced in Darfur, with a PTSD prevalence of 55 percent in some areas.
  3. The 2011 secession of South Sudan sparked economic turmoil across the nation that continues to affect daily life. Prior to 2011, Sudan saw sustained economic growth from its vast oil reserves. The petroleum industry fueled nearly 95 percent of the country’s exports and was one of the largest areas of employment. Shrinking 2.3 percent in 2018, the economy has been in a downward spiral as 47 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and Sudan has the worlds second highest rate of inflation.
  4. The unemployment rate in Sudan have been slowly but consistently falling over the past two decades. In 1995, unemployment hovered around 14 percent. Today estimates place this rate at 12.5 percent. Conflict continues to afflict labor participation in some regions and the collapse of Sudan’s oil industry left thousands jobless. An unknown number of Sudanese are also engaged in non-wage work, primarily subsistence farming. Therefore, Sudan’s relatively low unemployment rate is not entirely indicative of the country’s economic standing.
  5. Agriculture is a driving economic force in Sudan, employing 80 percent of the labor force and comprising 40 percent of the country’s GDP. With two main branches of the Nile running through Sudan, the country boasts some of the most fertile lands in the region. In the White and Blue Nile plains, some farmers receive government subsidies to operate large scale, mechanized farms. These farms are integral to the economy, sometimes providing entire communities with steady work.
  6. Roughly 70 percent of the nation’s 39.5 million people live in rural areas where the government is unable to provide the most basic of services. Clean water, food and adequate sanitation are scarce in these regions and only 22 percent of rural residents have access to electricity. At 20 percent, rural unemployment in Sudan is almost twice as high as the national average, while the poverty rate jumps to 58 percent outside of urban areas.
  7. Some of the most notable improvements in Sudanese society have been in the education sector. In 2009, 67 percent of children attended primary school, increasing significantly from 45 percent in 2001. Although primary education is free, parent-teacher associations sometimes impose fees to cover the cost of school supplies. This can have a chilling effect on attendance. UNICEF estimates nearly 3 million children between the ages of 5 and 13 are kept out of school, one of the highest rates of out-of-school children in the entire continent.
  8. Hunger continues to impact communities across Sudan. In 2017, 3.8 million people suffered from food insecurity and in 2018, 5.5 million were affected. A staggering 80 percent of the entire population is unable to afford the food they need to sustain a healthy and nutritious diet and roughly 40 percent of Sudanese people are malnourished. Famine and conflict in neighboring South Sudan continue to bring refugees into the country, with only 1 percent of newcomers able to afford the food they need.
  9. Since 2000, the Sudanese government has doubled its annual health care budget, allocating 6.6 percent of its GDP towards health expenditures With only 5.6 doctors per 10,000 people, hospitals across the country are often overwhelmed. Despite much of the population residing in rural areas, most hospitals are located in Sudan’s urban centers and nearly two-thirds of the country’s doctors worked in the capital Khartoum. Malaria, yellow fever and diarrheal diseases are common throughout the country, especially in conflict-afflicted areas that lack public health initiatives and adequate medical supplies.
  10. Some reports suggest 87 percent of Sudanese women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), the highest rate in the world. However, with help from the World Health Organization, over 1,000 communities across the country have denounced FGM. The Sudanese government has also taken steps to address gender inequality, passing the 2008 Electoral Law that mandated 25 percent of parliamentary seats to be occupied by women. Today, women hold 30 percent of Sudanese Parliamentary seats.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Sudan do not paint a hopeful picture for this African nation. But despite the various adversities imposed upon the people of Sudan, many are optimistic when it comes to the future. The historic protests dominating daily life since January indicates people are not afraid to mobilize for change. As pressure continues to mount on President al-Bashir, and his 27-year rule that dictated life for millions of oppressed people, could be coming to an end.

– Kyle Dunphey

Photo: Flickr

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

Examples of Gender Inequality

The fight for gender equality is an ongoing struggle for men and women throughout the world. Many aspects of gender inequality are events that men will never face, but that constantly shape women’s mental health and opportunities. Listed here are the top 10 examples of gender inequality found in the daily lives of women across the globe.

10 Examples of Gender Inequality

  1. Infant Life Expectancy: In India and China, the two most populous nations in the world, there is significant data that shows a survival disadvantage for girls under five years of age. In China, girls have a seven percent higher infant mortality rate than boys, and in India, a study conducted in the first decade of the 2000s found that the risk of death between the ages of one and five was 75 percent higher for girls than for boys.
  2. Access to Prenatal Care and Maternal Mortality: As of 2017, there are 1.6 billion women of reproductive age in the developing world. Of the 127 million women who gave birth in 2017, just 63 percent received a minimum of four antenatal care visits and only 72 percent gave birth in a health facility. Among women who experienced medical complications during pregnancy or delivery, only one in three received the care they or their newborns needed.

    In 2017, an estimated 308,000 women in developing nations died from pregnancy-related causes and 2.7 million babies died in their first month of life. Many of these deaths could have been prevented with full access to healthcare.
  3. Education: Less than 40 percent of countries offer girls and boys equal access to education and only 39 percent of countries have equal proportions of the sexes enrolled in secondary education. By achieving universal primary and secondary education attainability in the adult population, it could be possible to lift more than 420 million people out of poverty. This would have its greatest effect on women and girls who are the most likely to never have stepped foot inside a school.

    Even once girls are attending school, discrimination follows. One in four girls states that they never feel comfortable using school latrines. Girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, harassment and exploitation in school. School-related gender-based violence is another major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls.
  4. Illiteracy: There are approximately 774 million illiterate adults in the world and two-thirds of them are women. There are approximately 123 million illiterate youths and 61 percent of them are girls. Women’s share in the illiterate population has not budged in 20 years. These facts not only affect women but their children as well. A child born to a mother with the ability to read is 50 percent more likely to survive past age five.
  5. Economic Independence: Increases in female labor force participation result in faster economic growth, but women continue to participate in labor markets on an unequal basis with men. In 2013, the male employment-to-population ratio was 72.2 percent compared to 47.1 percent for women, and women continue to earn only 60-75 percent of men’s wages globally. It is estimated that women’s income could increase globally up to 76 percent if the employment participation gap between men and women was closed, which could have a global value of $17 trillion.

    Women also carry a disproportionate amount of responsibility for unpaid care work. Women devote one to three hours more a day to housework than men, two to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly and the sick) and one to four hours less a day to income-based activities. The time given to these unpaid tasks directly and negatively impacts women’s participation in the workforce and their ability to foster economic independence.
  6. Violence Against Women, Sexual Assault and Rape: The mental health effects of sexual assault and rape can have jarring results on women’s stability and livelihoods. Women who have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of their partners are twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to have depression and, in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV compared with women who have not experienced partner violence.

    The prevalence of sexual assault and violence against women is deep and systemic, making it one of the most important examples of gender inequality. Worldwide, around 120 million girls, a number which represents slightly more than one in 10, have experienced forced intercourse or another forced sexual act in their lifetime.
  7. Female Genital Mutilation: At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. In most of these cases, the majority of girls were cut before age five. In these instances, proper anesthesia is rarely used or is ineffective, causing severe pain. Excessive bleeding is also possible, resulting from the accidental cutting of the clitoral artery or other blood vessels during the procedure. Chronic genital infections, reproductive tract infections and urinary tract infections are common.Female genital mutilation is also associated with an increased risk of Caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage and extended maternal hospital stay. All of these subsequent complications along with the shock and use of physical force during the procedure are some of the many reasons why survivors describe the experience as an extremely traumatic event.
  8. Child Marriage: Globally, almost 750 million women and girls alive today married before their eighteenth birthday. Those who suffer from child marriage often experience early pregnancy which is a key factor in the premature end of education. As mothers and wives, girls become socially isolated and are at an increased risk for domestic violence. Child marriage is one the most devastating examples of gender inequality, as it limits women’s opportunities and their ability to reach their full individual potential.
  9. Human Trafficking: Adult women and girls account for 71 percent of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Girls alone represent nearly three out of every four children trafficked. Women and girls are clearly the disproportionate victims of human trafficking with 75 percent trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
  10. Representation in Government: As of June 2016, only 22.8 percent of all national parliamentarians were women. There is growing evidence that women in positions of leadership and political decision-making improve the systems in which they work.

These are 10 of the countless ways in which women are oppressed, abused and neglected. These top ten examples of gender inequality cannot begin to do justice to the discrimination and obstacles that women around the world face each day. Women’s rights are human rights and affect every person in every community.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow

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

Malaysia has made great strides in its economic development in recent decades, becoming a regional economic powerhouse on its way to being a high-income nation. Despite a notable increase in income and quality of life, half of the country’s population is still being left behind — there are still a number of barriers to achieving women’s empowerment in Malaysia.

Malaysia is a diverse and multiracial country where the status of women’s empowerment is complex and may depend on their religion and ethnic background. About 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim Malays, 23 percent are Chinese, 7 percent are Indian and the rest hail from various indigenous groups. The country’s major religions include Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Within Malaysia’s large Muslim community, over 90 percent of women reported undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM), making the country one of the worst offenders in the world for the practice. FGM is spreading in popularity in Malaysia, especially in more conservative Muslim states dominated by religious parties.

While non-Muslim women have equal parenting rights across the country, Muslim women only enjoy those rights in four out of thirteen states. Child marriage is still permitted in Malaysia, and efforts to raise the age of marriage for girls to 18 were defeated in parliament last year.

Despite these challenges, a greater focus has been placed on women’s empowerment in Malaysia, particularly in regards to women entrepreneurs, journalists and politicians. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of imprisoned former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, is the leader of the country’s opposition and may become Malaysia’s first female prime minister at the next elections in 2018.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has a project that supports women’s empowerment in Malaysia by aiding low-income women entrepreneurs in the conservative states of Terengganu and Kelantan, enabling them to succeed in the cottage food industry. Women now outnumber men in universities despite constituting a minority of the total population and participation in the labor force has steadily increased in the last two decades.

– Giacomo Tognini

Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in GhanaUnfortunately, in many countries around the world, women are not treated as an equal to men. Ghana is not an exception, as women are more likely to live in poverty, have less land, are excluded from decision-making, and make minimal income. These existing hardships make it hard for women’s Empowerment in Ghana.

Violence against women is a major issue that women face in Ghana. Women and young girls often face widespread violence, sexual harassment, and abuse in the areas that they populate, which includes their homes, workplaces, the streets, and on public transportation. In many circumstances, women have to constantly live in fear of being attacked and this can lessen their likelihood of living a full life.

The lack of control that women in Ghana have over their own bodies is also extremely harmful. Women and girls are forced to endure dangerous practices that bring great suffering to them. One of these practices is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). At the young ages of 10 through 12, young girls are forced to go through this mutilation. In addition, they may be forced into marriage, sex-selective abortion, dowry-related crimes, honor crimes, and other harmful practices.

An organization, act!onaid, is a global movement that is working in Ghana to help improve rights and reduce poverty. Some of the issues they are working on are bringing awareness to violence against women and girls, bringing women to the forefront of decision making and leadership opportunities, and harnessing women’s economic empowerment and economic justice. They are working to include women’s rights as a priority in developmental policies and advocating for spaces where women’s voices, especially those from poorer backgrounds will be heard.

Dealing with women’s education in Ghana, there are major inequalities when it comes to women’s access. The country is nearing gender parity in primary education, but the gender gap in post-primary education level remains a challenge, although there was a marginal improvement in percentage of girls in senior high school and technical vocational education and training.

To bring about women’s Empowerment in Ghana, act!onaid has adopted strategies and interventions to promote gender equality and women empowerment. They have established the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs through Executive Instrument. They will be initiating and coordinating formulation policies to monitor and evaluate the execution of policies in place to ensure the promotion of gender equality and empowerment.

Additionally, the organization plans to implement gender-responsive budgeting. They plan to use a strategy using the government’s fiscal policy to achieve gender equality and to implement the gender-responsive budgeting in three sectors of the economy; education, health, and agriculture. In addition, they plan to mainstream justice as a policy area for gender equity. The legal reforms will include Constitutional provisions for gender equity under the law to criminalize harmful tradition practices against young women and girls.

The country of Ghana has the help of organizations and a government making changes to alter the hardships the women are facing. If these ideas are put into place, women’s Empowerment in Ghana can exist and these women can live full lives.

– Chavez Spicer

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

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr

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