This article observes the United Nation’s International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, February 6, 2015.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) — also referred to as female genital cutting or female circumcision — is widely consider to be a human rights violation against girls and women, and the rights of children, as it is often carried out on young girls, usually between the ages of their infancy and fifteen.
FGM is performed intentionally for non-medical reasons. Its purpose is to alter or cause injury to exterior female genitals, usually for cultural or religious beliefs. There are serious consequences that affect both the health and well-being of girls and women: excessive bleeding, infertility, bladder infections, and increased risks and complications associated with childbirth.
Most cases of FGM are seen across the African continent, primarily in North-Eastern and Western countries. However, FGM also occurs across the Middle East, South-East Asia, and some European countries. The World Health Organization estimates that “more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated.” Despite these staggering numbers, many activists believe that FGM can be eradicated within our lifetime.
Many groups and organizations have started to speak out against FGM and help raise awareness about the negative health consequences associated with the practice. However, activists must find a balance between focusing on the health risks of FGM without unnecessarily offending those who view it as a cultural practice. Rather than saying that these beliefs are wrong, the focus must be kept on the dangerous medical factors that result from FGM.
Campaigns and Activists
Waris Dirie was subjected to FGM when she was only 5 years old while living in Somalia. Around the age of 13 she left for England, where she was discovered by a modeling agency. Eventually, she began to speak out against FGM, which was a topic not yet widely discussed in public. She founded an agency, called the Desert Flower Foundation, which sponsors young girls across Africa. The program offers food and school fees for young girls whose parents promise not to subject them to FGM. The Desert Flower Foundation’s goal is to save 1 million girls from FGM, and spread awareness about the dangerous practice.
Earlier this year, Dirie was publicly recognized for her work in fighting against FGM. She was given the Prize for Freedom, awarded by Liberal International. This award recognizes individuals who work towards creating positive change regarding human rights and freedoms.
The Guardian has also started a campaign to end FGM. As a major media outlet, they are using resources to spread awareness about the dangerous of this practice, and rally supporters to help create positive change.
Fahma Mohamed, 17, is the face of the Guardian’s campaign against FGM. She has helped raise awareness in schools across the United Kingdom and helped educated youths about the physical and psychological dangers that stem from FGM practices. The EndFGM Guardian Campaign was launched last February, and Mohamed called on the Michael Grove (Secretary of Education at the time) to inform all school teachers, and parents of students, about the negative effects that FGM causes. The campaign was supported by Malala Yousafzai and Ban Ki-moon. A petition was also created online, which gained more than 200,000 signatures in the first three weeks alone. She was awarded Good Housekeeping’s outstanding young campaigner award in 2014 for all of her within the campaign.
Find information about the prevalence and legal framework surrounding FGM by country here, and though the video below.