Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful practice that affects millions of girls and women around the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM. At least 30 countries are affected in Africa, with a few others in the Middle East and Asia. If the current trends continue, a worrying 15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 will be at risk of undergoing FGM by 2030.
The practice is rooted in harmful gender norms and beliefs about femininity and purity. It directly violates the rights of women and girls to health, security and physical integrity, freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.
It is crucial to raise awareness about FGM and work towards its eradication. FGM is, indeed, a violation of human rights and has serious consequences on the physical and mental health of those affected.
The consequences are severe and long-lasting. According to the WHO, women who have undergone FGM may experience a range of health issues, including infections, complications during childbirth, and psychological trauma. FGM not only violates the rights of women and girls but also perpetuates cycles of inequality, discrimination and oppression in our communities.
Africa has one of the highest rates of FGM globally, with about 48.5 million being from East Africa. While significant progress has been made in some countries to end FGM, much more needs to be done to achieve zero tolerance. A major challenge that most African countries have to deal with is not only to protect currently at-risk girls but also to ensure future generations are free from the harmful practice. Governments, civil society organisations, healthcare providers, and community leaders all play a crucial role in ending FGM. These stakeholders must work together in promoting the following action points.
To make a difference and end FGM once and for all, and aligning to this year’s international day of zero tolerance to FGM, ‘Her voice, Her future’, we must prioritise the voices and experiences of those who have been affected by this practice. We must listen to their stories, honour their resilience, and amplify their calls for action.
It is crucial to engage with the affected communities, raise awareness about the harmful effects of the practice, and provide support for survivors. At Amref Health Africa, through the integration of FGM in developmental programmes such as access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, climate change and health, and education, we ensure that we work tirelessly to amplify the voices of FGM survivors and impacted communities. We believe their cultural knowledge and insights are vital in reshaping narratives and finding solutions to end FGM.
Empowering women and girls is essential to the fight against FGM. By promoting education, economic opportunities, and access to healthcare, we can help girls and women make informed choices about their bodies and futures. Empowered women are more likely to challenge harmful traditions and advocate for their rights. Investing in the dreams and aspirations of the survivors will help break the cycles of poverty and marginalisation that often perpetuate harmful practices like FGM.
The legislation also plays a vital role in eradicating FGM. Many African countries have passed laws criminalising the practice and providing support for survivors. However, enforcement and implementation of these laws remain a challenge.
It is essential to ensure that laws are effectively enforced and perpetrators held accountable. This should also apply to weak cross-border laws that have proven to be one of the biggest challenges to ending the cut in the region. A memorandum to address cross-border FGM signed in 2021 by Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Somalia was in the right direction, and other African countries should do the same. Monitoring the implementation of such action plans is key to addressing emerging challenges in a timely manner.
Prof Tammary is Deputy VC – Academic and Student Affairs, Amref International University