Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is a deeply entrenched social and cultural norm in many places. It is internationally recognized as a human rights violation.

Globally, it is estimated that some 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. Although FGM is declining in the majority of countries where it is prevalent, most of these are also experiencing a high rate of population growth – meaning that the number of girls who undergo FGM will continue to grow if the practice continues at current levels.

In African countries, more than 90 million girls and women over the age of 10 years are estimated to have undergone FGM, and some 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure each year. The practice of FGM has been reported from all parts of the world, but it is most prevalent in 28 countries in Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East. As a result of international migration, the practice of FGM and its harmful consequences also concerns a growing number of women and girls in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

An estimated 68 million girls are at risk of being mutilated by 2030. Protecting them will take a significant push to accelerate the abandonment of this harmful practice. To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights and gender equality. They must also address the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.

About 1 in 5 girls who have been subjected to FGM had the procedure performed by a trained medical professional. In some countries, this number is as high as 3 in 4 girls. FGM can never be “safe” and there is no medical justification for the practice. Even when the procedure is performed in a sterile environment and by a health care professional, there can be serious health consequences immediately and later in life. Medicalized FGM gives a false sense of security. Trained health professionals who perform female genital mutilation are violating girls’ and women’s right to life, right to physical integrity and right to health. They are also violating the fundamental medical mandate to “do no harm,” and it represents a threat to efforts to abandon the practice. The practice can cause short- and long-term health complications, including chronic pain, infections, increased risk of HIV transmission, anxiety and depression, birth complications, infertility and, in the worst cases, death. It is internationally recognized as an extreme violation of the rights of women and girls.

FGM violates human rights principles and standards – including the principles of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex, the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the rights of the child, and the right to physical and mental integrity, and even the right to life.

In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the first-ever resolution against female genital mutilation, calling for intensified global efforts to eliminate the practice. In 2015, FGM was included in the Sustainable Development Goals under Target 5.3, which calls for the elimination of all harmful practices.
Yet the practice remains widespread. In 2019, it is estimated that 4.1 million girls are at risk of FGM. And because of population growth, this number is projected to rise to 4.6 million girls in the year 2030, unless efforts to end FGM are intensified. If FGM continues at the current rates, an estimated 68 million girls will be cut between 2015 and 2030 in 25 countries where FGM is routinely practiced and relevant data are available.

In every society where it is practiced, FGM is a manifestation of deeply entrenched gender inequality. It persists for many reasons. In some societies, for example, it is considered a rite of passage. In others, it is seen as a prerequisite for marriage. In some communities – whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim – the practice may even be attributed to religious beliefs. Because FGM may be considered an important part of a culture or identity, it can be difficult for families to decide against having their daughters cut. People who reject the practice may face condemnation or ostracism, and their daughters are often considered ineligible for marriage. As a result, even parents who do not want their daughters to undergo FGM may feel compelled to participate in the practice.

Collective abandonment, in which a whole community chooses to no longer engage in FGM, is an effective way to end the practice. It ensures that no single girl or family will be disadvantaged by the decision. Many experts hold that FGM will only end through collective abandonment. The decision to collectively abandon FGM requires a process in which communities are educated about FGM, and then discuss, reflect and reach consensus on the issue. The health and human rights aspects of FGM should feature prominently in these dialogues, and local and grassroots organizations should play an important role in raising awareness and educating communities. When communities choose to abandon the practice, they often participate in a collective public declaration to keep their girls uncut, such as signing and circulating a public statement or hosting festivities to celebrate the decision. Neighbouring communities are often invited to these events so they can see the successful process of abandonment, helping to build momentum for collective abandonment elsewhere.

To end FGM, we need a strong political will and funding to ensure the development and sustained implementation of policies, guidelines, and laws. This can be achieved by building strong advocacy support for investment in supporting the abandonment of FGM, engaging political leaders, other leaders, parliamentarians and government ministries. Secondly, we to mobilize and coordinate the efforts of key stakeholders to support a national policy against the medicalization of FGM. This includes parliamentarians, healthcare providers, legal experts, human rights groups, government ministries, political leaders and parties, professional organizations, religious and community leaders, including leaders of migrant communities, and other persons of influence. Lastly, we need to advocate for sustained and coordinated planning, budgeting and actions for key stakeholders and also, advocate for the establishment of a sustainable, co-coordinated public and private partnership in financing FGM-abandonment programmes.

Let’s End FGM Now!!!

By Augustine Kumah