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

5 Organizations That Empower Women
Women’s empowerment in the developing world is a major tool that countries can use to alleviate socioeconomic issues like poverty and corruption. Here are the top five organizations that empower women.

5 Organizations That Empower Women

  1. Women’s Global Empowerment Fund
    The Women’s Global Empowerment Fund (WGEF) is an organization committed to creating opportunities and addressing inequality, strengthening communities and families and using political, social and economic programs to support women. WGEF’s programs provide frameworks for women to create opportunities for themselves at the grassroots level. As of January 2017, WGEF’s Credit Plus Program provided more than 10,000 microcredit loans, which help women create and expand sustainable, viable businesses in developing countries. That same year, many of the WGEF’s clients applied for their fourth or fifth loans to further grow their businesses. Since its inception, WGEF’s literacy program reached more than 1,500 women in rural or poor communities, and 416 women were reached in 2016 alone. The literacy program takes place twice a week over the course of six months and costs $80 per person annually. Ten of WGEF’s clients, many of whom benefitted from the literacy program, ran for local and regional offices during national elections in 2016.
  2. Panzi Hospital
    Panzi Hospital is located in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since its founding in 1999, it has served as a general hospital for local residents. Still, the hospital has become a well-known organization that empowers women because of its efforts to help victims of sexual violence and women suffering from complicated gynecological issues. Panzi Hospital is now comprised of four departments: obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, internal medicine and pediatrics. In 2012, the team at Panzi Hospital implemented a project to provide cervical cancer screenings to patients, the first of its kind in the region. Patients at Panzi Hospital also have access to psychological care, socioeconomic assistance and legal assistance. From 1999 to 2015, Panzi Hospital served 85,864 women. As of the end of 2015, 48,482 of the hospital’s patients were victims of some form of sexual violence. Forty to 60 percent of the women treated at Panzi Hospital cannot return to their home communities because of conflict and the stigma surrounding sexual violence and reproductive injuries. These women are housed at the hospital’s aftercare center, Maison Dorcas.
  3. Her Farm
    Her Farm is located in Nepal and supports women in the rural areas at the base of the Himalayas. The organization’s mission is to provide women with the tools they need to be self-sufficient, including access to healthcare, economic opportunities and education. Her Farm is owned and operated by women and for women; the women freely farm the land and make all the decisions regarding Her Farm themselves. Currently, Her Farm provides employment and safe living conditions for 30 women and children, and they educate 12 children daily. As a result of Her Farm’s efforts, 300 people have access to an emergency center. Annually, Her Farm has 150 visitors.
  4. Orchid Project
    Orchid Project is an organization battling female genital cutting (FGC). FGC refers to a practice that involves removing parts or all of a girl’s external genitalia, or any injuries associated with the practice. Usually, girls go through FGC before the age of five, but it can occur at any time between birth and adolescence. The practice of FGC is largely cultural; there are no religious obligations associated with FGC. Globally, the practice of FGC impacts over 200 million women and girls, with 3.9 million girls at risk annually. Today, FGC occurs in at least 45 countries worldwide. The practice is internationally recognized as a violation of human rights. Orchid Project, like other organizations that empower women, focuses on education and advocacy to eliminate FGC. The organization partners with other nonprofits like Sahiyo and Tostan on the ground in countries where FGC is still practiced to host knowledge-sharing workshops within impacted communities. This approach recognizes that FGC is a cultural phenomenon and allows the members of the community to come together and choose to abandon the practice. From 2015, Orchid Project has held 12 workshops across Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Somaliland.
  5. Equality Now
    Equality Now is committed to changing laws to promote socioeconomic change for women and girls around the world. The organization’s network of lawyers and activists are currently fighting to end female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage and gender inequality. In 2017, 11 laws that Equality Now had been fighting for were changed or strengthened. The organization also provided training to 50 lawyers and judges and its supporters sent more than 21,300 advocacy letters.

Without empowering its women, no country can hope to eliminate issues like poverty. These 5 organizations that empower women are committed to ending inequality in the developing world.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Flickr