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Practiced in 28 African countries, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

FGM prevalence rates vary widely across countries. In places like Somalia, Egypt and Ethiopia, the prevalence of FGM is as high as 98 percent, whereas in other countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Togo and Senegal, the rate ranges from 25 to 50 percent. It is more accurate to view FGM as practiced by specific ethnic communities.

According to the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (FORWARD), an African Diaspora women’s campaign and support charity based in the UK, immigration and refugee movements due to the numerous civil wars in these underdeveloped regions have spread FGM to other parts of the world, including Canada, the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. FGM also has a history in the Middle East and in Asia, where Bedouin women, Ethiopian Jews and Bohra Muslim communities used to practice FGM, although it is unclear whether or not they still do.

Usually performed by elder women with no medical expertise, FGM is particularly dangerous and can cause serious health problems. The procedure, which rarely includes anesthetics or antiseptic treatment, consists in the ablation of the female genitalia and is mostly carried out using basic non-medical tools such as knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades. Herbal remedies are then applied on the wound to facilitate healing. Depending on the degree of mutilation, complications can include wound infection, psychological trauma, urine retention, severe pain and shock, considerable damage to the reproductive system, uterine, vaginal and pelvic infections, sexual dysfunction, complications during pregnancy and child birth, and even immediate fatal hemorrhaging.

Generally performed on girls aged from four to ten, there are many reasons explaining the practice of FGM. Sociologically, many ethnic groups believe that preventing sexual desire by removing the female genitalia can guarantee the family’s dignity by avoiding pre-marital sex and adultery. In certain communities, FGM is so widely practiced because many women believe “that FGM is necessary to ensure their acceptance by their community; they are unaware that FGM is not practiced in most of the world.” Indeed, FGM is the heritage of traditional rites of passage to adulthood at the beginning of puberty. Although aware of the risks associated with FGM, many families feel obligated to do it to their girls because they fear social exclusion and rejection by going against traditions that are mainly transmitted by the community’s elders, who are usually the most respected. Finally, FGM is sometimes practiced for religious reasons, although it is not part of the dogma of the three main monotheist religions.

Since its creation in 1983, FORWARD has been fighting to prohibit FGM and avoid unnecessary deaths. Its “End FGM Campaign” has been raising awareness about the issue in the UK and on an international level, with the ultimate goal of banning FGM worldwide. Despite efforts to raise awareness about female excision, it remains an under-stated issue; many people do not even know what FGM is.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: Forward UK, Excision, Parlons-en
Photo: Global Envision

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In discussions about female genital mutilation (FGM), the communities which traditionally engage in the practice are often depicted as unwilling to end it, or unaware of the dangers of it.

Yet recently, in a heartening display of commitment to progress, nearly 14,000 villagers from various communities in Niger gathered to publicly vow to end the tradition. In the ceremony, a pit was dug in the village square and participants threw knives, scissors and blades into it before it was symbolically filled in.

Though Niger officially outlawed FGM in 2003, it remained common in certain communities.

A health issue as well as a social one, FGM leaves women with a myriad of medical problems including infertility, incontinence, pain, cysts, and infections. It is nearly always done on young girls, before the age of 15. It has been decried by the WHO as a practice which “violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

The issue of FGM is not merely an issue of the practice itself, but is inextricably tied to the status of women within the communities. To ensure success in stopping FGM, women must be elevated through education and increased access to their rights.

While the rate of the practice has decreased – slipping from 5% to 2% of girls in Niger, according to UNICEF – it has proved very difficult to eradicate entirely. It has deep roots and a strong cultural presence, with many seeing it as the proper way to raise a young girl and discourage promiscuity. It also falls in line with local ideas of femininity and chastity, with certain parts of the female anatomy seen as “male” and “dirty”, with removal becoming a necessity. There is also the simple but powerful social pressure of subscribing to tradition.

These are all attitudes which need to be changed within the local communities, rather than coming from international intervention. The very public display of support from ordinary citizens is a great step forward for seeing the end of this primitive practice against the communities’ most vulnerable members.

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Source: Yahoo News
Photo: Tribe

Women UNICEF 2_opt
140 million women across the globe have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, otherwise known as female circumcision. The age-old practice could involve removing the clitoral hood, clitoridectomy, or the removal of the inner labia or outer labia, ensuring pre-marital virginity as well as preventing extra-marital sex. February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, an observance that raises awareness of the harmful effects of this practice.

This year marks the 10th commemoration of the declaration of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting since the first conference was held in Addis Ababa in 2003. In 2000, USAID officially introduced the eradication of FGM to its development agenda. Significant development has occurred since, but there is much more to be accomplished.

USAID acknowledges the incredible progress that has been achieved thus far. In 2004, UNICEF presented an important publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting,” providing extensive facts and information on the practice while promoting change.  In 2008, UNFPA and UNICEF joined hands to create “Accelerating Change”, a program that strives to fund and implement official policies to affect change. Last year, the UN General Assembly called for states to denounce harmful practices against women and girls, specifically FGM.

Despite the progress made, every year 3 million girls remain at risk of this cruel procedure. The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation serves to remind us to work towards ending this cruelty that had been disguised as the norm in many societies.

Pimrapee Thungkasemvathana

Source: USAID

Photo: eLearning Africa