Friday, February 6 was International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Over 140 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM, also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC). FGM results in many health-related and life threatening complications for the women who are forced to undergo this practice.
- FGM is not a religious obligation or requirement.
- FGM is primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, but it is also carried out in Asia and Latin America. The problem is also persistent in Western countries among immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
- The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 6,000 girls undergo FGM around the world every day.
- If current trends continue, about 86 million additional girls worldwide will be subjected to FGM by 2030.
“Each new generation of girls is born with the right to live as a full human being with control over her own body. By irreversibly damaging them in this way, we cripple and stunt their potential, both physically and mentally. And society as a whole is a loser.” —Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director
FGM includes all procedures that alter or injure the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is considered a human rights violation by the United Nations. FGM can cause health complications such as infections, infertility, cysts, difficulty urinating, and complications during childbirth that lead to an increased risk of newborn deaths.
According to an FGM survey conducted by the Edna Adan University Hospital, over 97 percent of the women who come through their doors have undergone some sort of FGM. These mutilations are performed in unsanitary conditions, with girls sometimes left in isolation for days as they heal. The girls who have this procedure forced on them carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Edna Adan has been working to end FGM in Somaliland for decades. The first step in that process was overcoming the strong societal pressure to not discuss FGM. “Of course, like every girl who has been subjected to this, there are complications that remain with a woman throughout her life, as she grows. It continues to live with you. As a well brought up girl, you don’t talk about it. You accept it, you put up with it, everybody has had it done, and you certainly shouldn’t be the one to talk about it. “It stays with you and boils inside of you,” Edna said on a DFID podcast which was released last Thursday.
The reluctance to discuss FGM has made it difficult to combat the procedure. Edna first openly discussed FGM in Somaliland at a women’s health conference in the 1970s. The attendees initially lowered their heads when she brought the topic up.
You are shocked as much as I am shocked, Edna said at the conference. You are embarrassed as much as I am embarrassed to be speaking about it. But we are responsible people who must speak about these things. Do you think we should talk about the difficulty passing urine? Do we need to talk about the difficulty of childbirth?
Now the fight against FGM in Somaliland is focused on changing the minds of men and women. They must be reached so that their daughters and sisters do not have to endure the painful procedure that they were forced to endure, or the lifelong suffering they continue to deal with as a result of this inhumane practice. This includes requiring newly trained midwives to commit to helping to end FGM, involving religious leaders and, most importantly, men in the discussion, and always searching for new ways to confront this issue.