#EndFGM, say global women’s groups, as practice causes more deaths

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MADRID, SPAIN – 2018/02/03: A woman with a sign that reads ‘200 million victims’ protesting against female genital mutilation. Photo by Marcos del Mazo/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • The death of a young girl within 24 hours of female genital mutilation (FGM) has led to a united call to end the practice from women‘s groups around the world.
  • Despite years of campaigning, the practice is still widespread.
  • A moderate decline in the practice is not enough to prevent a significant increase in the number of women and girls undergoing the procedure due to population growth.
  • An estimated 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM in over 30 countries.

The death of a 21-year-old Maseray Sei of bleeding and shock the day after FGM in Sierra Leone has again shone the spotlight on the practice.

FGM, also known as female circumcision (FGM/C), involves all procedures involving the removal of external female genitalia or injury to female genitalia for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is considered a form of violence against women and girls that violates their human rights. The African Union has condemned FGM/C as a harmful practice that affects the human rights of women in its Maputo Protocol in 2003.

the World Health Organization (WHO) describes four different types of FGM/C:

  • Type 1 is the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the surrounding fold of skin.
  • Type 2 is the removal of the clitoris, the surrounding fold of skin, and the inner folds of the vulva. This is done with or without removing the outer folds of the vulva.
  • Type 3 is the creation of a narrowing of the vaginal opening, also known as infibulation.
  • Type 4 includes piercing, cutting, and all other harmful non-medical procedures.

There has been an overall decline in FGM/C over the past 30 years, but not all countries have made equal progress. Figures released by Unicef ​​show a reduction in FGM among girls aged 15-19 living in Egypt from 97% in 1985 to 70% in 2015. Similar trends were observed in neighboring countries.

In Africa, Sierra Leone has one of the highest rates of FGM – 83% of women and girls have undergone the practice.

Despite its moderate decline, according to UNICEF:

“Current progress is insufficient to keep up with growing population growth. If trends continue, the number of girls and women undergoing FGM/C will increase dramatically over the next 15 years.

The exact numbers of women and girls who have undergone FGM/C worldwide are estimated at at least 200 million in more than 30 different countries, of which approximately 44 million are under the age of 15.

FGM/C is most common in Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia, but is practiced worldwide. There is an estimate 41,000 girls and women living with FGM/C in the Netherlands, and according to the CDCup to “half a million girls and women in the United States have undergone FGM/C in the past or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C in the future”.

It is believed that a mixture of socio-cultural reasons are behind this practice, which will vary by country and region. In most places where FGM/C takes place, it is considered a cultural tradition, for reasons that may include:

  • The fear of community rejection and social pressure to conform.
  • It can be seen as a way to prepare a girl for adulthood and marriage.
  • To ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity – this may increase possibility of marriage in some cultures and countries.
  • It is associated with femininity, modesty, cleanliness and beauty.

In many countries, governments, authorities and leaders have the ability to stop the practice but lack the will be. Indeed, in Sierra Leone, FGM is not prohibited, and despite existing protective laws for women and girls, there have been no known prosecutions related to FGM. In fact, there was recent reports of a Sierra Leonean MP paying for 150 girls to undergo FGM.

There are no health benefits associated with FGM/C, but the removal of healthy tissue leads to lifelong complications.

Immediate complications associated with FGM include severe bleeding and hemorrhage, fever, infections, shock and death.

Longer-term, life-changing complications can include; pain on urination, urinary tract infections, painful periodsdifficulty passing menstrual blood, sexual problems childbirth complications and newborn deaths, the need for repeat surgery and Mental Health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

equality nowan international human rights organization that focuses on changing the law to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world is call for the criminalization of FGM, and more specifically for the government of Sierra Leone”enact and enforce a comprehensive law against FGM to ensure the protection of its women and girls.”

According to at Asenath MwithigahGlobal Head of End Harmful Practices at Equality Now, “130 women’s rights groups around the world have signed the @equalitynow open letter” to date.

In direct reference to Maseray Sei, Asenath Mwithigah called on the Government of Sierra Leone “to honor its commitment to eliminate FGM in line with ‘Pillar 8 on Gender and Women’s Empowerment’ in its Prosperity Agenda and its obligations in accordance with CEDAW and the Maputo Protocol.

“We further demand a full and speedy police investigation and prosecution of all those responsible for the tragic death of this young woman. It is vital that justice be done so that it can be a deterrent to others.

Asenath Mwithigah

During the recentInvest in strategic partnerships and actors on the ground to end FGM» meeting, held on February 10, 2022, she went on to to say: “We need strong and bold innovations to promote action by women and girls who are affected and at risk of FGM.”

She Explain“Today, our common goal of #EndFGM and partnership are more necessary than ever, and our efforts must be strengthened.

The Speaker of Parliament, Very Hon. Dr Abass Chernor Bunduat responded that he shares concerns about FGM and that “FGM be banned”. He says that “the good traditions had to be preserved while weeding out the bad ones”.

Furthermore, he agreed to present the letter to parliament on behalf of anti-FGM activists.

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