Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the cutting, or partial or total removal, of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious, or other non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and ten. It is also called female circumcision.
According to WHO, 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.
Furthermore, due to migration, surprising numbers of cases of FGM are coming to light in other parts of the world as well. There is a need to raise awareness of the prevalence of FGM among healthcare providers in these settings to offer appropriate care for women with FGM, and to eliminate this practice.
The 6th of February is celebrated worldwide as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. Now, when we look at the statistics, we begin to wonder if we could ever someday affirm that the practice can be or has been eradicated!
According to this recent fact sheet by WHO, the global statistics of this shameful, humiliating, and harmful practice seems to be decreasing in most communities. However, in other communities, including Europe and North America, the prevalence of FGM is increasing due to immigration. A 2013 BBC news report, equally attest to the increase of the practice in Europe (in this case Scotland) by African Immigrants.
Today, what was hitherto practised only by traditional circumcisers, is increasingly being performed by health care providers (18% of cases with an increasing trend). This is both alarming and outrageous. This article published in the ‘L’avenir’ paper, tells of the prevalence of the outrageous practice right here in Belgium, despite FGM being illegal.
FGM is a global issue that cuts across several Millennium Development Goals.
- It impacts the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment (MDG 3)
- FGM contributes to child mortality because victims of FGM have a greater risk of having still births of losing their babies early into delivery (MDG 4)
- It slows down efforts to improve maternal health (MDG 5)
- FGM is a practice that exposes girls and women to other diseases, which affects efforts to combat HIV, Malaria and other diseases (MDG 6)
- In addition, victims of FGM will more often be amongst the poor or unfortunate who are likely to be uneducated thus linkages with MDG 1 and 2 on the eradication of poverty and access to universal education.
I had the traumatizing and humbling opportunity to carry out a study/campaign on the practice in one of the villages of my Fondoms in Cameroon, where the practice is most rampant. I was greatly disturbed.
Yet, there is hope in the struggle. I think the increasing technological revolutions demand that we accelerate our knowledge of and use of social media tools in transmitting and collecting data and applying various resources in any approach.
The above video illustrates the pervasiveness of the practice, but equally emphasizes the stronger resolve of the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training on Human Reproduction (HRP) to tackle and hopefully obtain the effective eradication of FGM. HRP is the main instrument within the United Nations system for research in human reproduction, bringing together policy-makers, scientists, health care providers, clinicians, consumers and community representatives to identify and address priorities for research to improve sexual and reproductive health.
The HRP successfully campaigned for the adoption by all member states of the resolution declaring FGM to be a violation of human rights and is today a global leader in reproductive health research. Such are the laudable efforts that need to be multiplied.
Therefore, for an effective fight against FGM, campaigns have to be more aggressive and global. Desensitization has to be stepped up so that suspicious activity is promptly reported to the authorities and sociocultural stereotypes and practices have to be repeatedly shunned and discouraged.