Female Genital Mutilation is not only a third world problem; it is a first world problem too.
Image Credit: UK Charity Today
Why is it happening ?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is part of the cultural, religious and social traditions of certain communities around the world. In the Middle East, South East Asia, and particularly in African countries, its prevalence can be as high as 80%. Cutting female genital organs is believed to have benefits like fertility enhancement, the promotion of hygiene and aesthetic appeal, the assurance of a girl’s virginity before marriage and her fidelity after.
Girls between the ages of four and twelve are the most common victims. However, as a part of culture and tradition, a key in maintaining the honor of one’s family, and a precondition for marriage, it is still a common procedure in many places. For example, in Uganda, when a girl refuses to undergo genital mutilation, both her family and the community rejects her and revokes her right to speak. As such, it is generally a non-refusable practice.
Why does it matter?
FGM is a violation of human rights, going against the ban on torture enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is rooted in gender inequality and discrimination. The importance of ending FGM is highlighted in Goal 5 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. It calls for the elimination of all harmful practices, such as early and forced marriage, sexual violence, and FGM.
FGM poses a real danger to the welfare of girls all over the world. It is harmful, causes severe bleeding, infection, infertility, and in some cases death. For example, Miriam is one of two thousand other girls in the UK who prove this. She was six when she suffered FGM and six years later she was diagnosed with a cyst that had developed as a result of years of period blood that could not exit her body. She is unable to have children. ‘Culture should not be about torture’—which is why FGM is unacceptable. In the Western world the common belief is that FGM only happens in developing countries. However, in the United Kingdom and in the United States over 60,000 and 600,000 women are at risk of FGM, respectively.
What can you do about it?
Changing behaviors in communities that still practice FGM is essential. There is institutional precedent. Numerous inter-governmental organisations, namely the African Union, the European Union, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, together with three UN resolutions already called upon the elimination of FGM. This led to the revision of several legal frameworks, both in Africa and in the Middle East, with growing support in other FGM practicing countries. In Europe, an exemplary project is the Change Plus program. It works towards the elimination of FGM in African communities in Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, and France, through community assessment, capacity development, the exchange of good practices, and the empowerment of community members.
Millennials can take action to end this practice, for instance, by supporting Equality Now. The NGO that pushes for laws that protect girls and criminalize FGM, while also supporting grassroots activists working for ending this practice in their communities. One of the ways of contributing to this organization’s work is by sending letters to the governments of FGM practicing countries. The letters are already written; all is required is a name, e-mail address, the country of origin, and to click ‘take action’. This project has already helped 322 800 women, and supported 1090 community-led projects. To learn more about this issue, UNICEF publishes its work towards the elimination of FGM, as does the Change Plus Project.
Ágata F. Swiatkiewicz briefs from Lisbon, Portugal. She is a candidate for a Master of Science in Global Cooperation and Security. Connect with her via LinkedIn.