What is female genital mutilation?
Female genital mutilation involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is a practice that is both harmful and unnecessary and has no medical grounds.
FGM has no health benefits for girls or women, and is significantly more likely to end in long-term health risks.
It is nearly always carried out on minors and is recognised internationally as a violation of the rights of girls and women. Right now, approximately 200 million girls around the globe are already living with the traumatising and painful consequences of FGM and 4.6 million more are expected to be subjected to it by 2030.
And worse still, while school closures and isolation have been necessary to halt the spread of COVID-19, these safety measures have the potential to inadvertently cause an additional 2 million cases of FGM by 2030 according to UNFPA.
That’s why we’re working to eliminate female genital mutilation and bring about lasting change in communities around the world.
What are the effects of FGM?
This harmful practice poses extreme risks to a girls’ physical, menstrual and sexual health, including fertility. It’s an extreme violation of a girl’s right to ownership over her body, has the potential to cause devastating psychological trauma.
Some of the extreme short and long term effects of FGM on girls and young women are:
- Severe pain. Cutting the nerve ends and sensitive tissue causes extreme pain. The healing period is also painful.
- Trauma and shock; caused by pain of the practice or by infection. For many girls, this practice can be forced upon them, adding immense trauma to the event.
- Excessive bleeding (haemorrhage).
- Infections; which can spread to other areas of the body.
- Urination problems. These may include urinary tract infections and pain passing urine. This may be due to tissue swelling, pain or injury to the urethra.
Impaired wound healing. Can lead to pain, infections and abnormal scarring.
- In some cases, the practice can be fatal. It can lead to infections or haemorrhage that can lead to shock.
Meet Zainab, the youth advocate speaking out against the practice
Zainab was 13 when she joined a Plan International supported anti-FGM club, and what she learned there changed the course of both her, and her mother’s life.
“For many of us, our parents did not attend school,” explains Zainab, “so they did not know about the dangers of FGM. My mother for example, became a Sowei (the decision makers within Bondo society) when she was very young so she did not have the chance to get an education, and she did not know that FGM was a bad thing to do”
A widow and sole breadwinner, Zainab’s mother Kadiatu had supported her family for more than 20 years through her work as an FGM practitioner. That is, until her own daughter refused to be cut.
Since joining the anti-FGM club, Zainab has gone from being a member, to the leader, and she assists the facilitator Madam Neneh in arranging educational talks and workshops for children and parents alike.
- Explains Zainab.
“Madam Neneh reaches out to the adults, and my friends and I reach out to our peers and the younger children so that they are also informed.”
“We tell them about the child rights act and that children and young people have the right to express their point of view and take part in decision making. That way, they know that if they are not comfortable with what their parents tell them about the Bondo society, then they are allowed to say so and they do not have to be part of it.”
What is being done to stop FGM?
Thanks to the support of our community, Plan International is able to support girls and their communities to end FGM by:
- Working with girls and women to make sure they’re aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This not only empowers them to make choices, it also educates the women who carry out the procedure. And because men and boys tend to have greater power and influence in cultures that practice FGM, we also work with them to change their attitudes.
- Increasing legal protection. Part of our work involves engaging with governments and community leaders to encourage them to enact change in laws around FGM that protect young women.
- Supporting the young women and girls driving advocacy against the practice in their own communities.
- Supporting survivors. Those who have been through FGM often need help and support, so we work with local health workers and the wider community to provide psychological and medical support to survivors.
We know from past pandemics such as the Ebola virus that COVID-19 will put girls at increased risk of violence, discrimination and rights abuses such as FGM. Now, more than ever, we must act to ensure they are protected.
By standing with girls and empowering them to know their rights, speak up and lead, we’re working towards a better, more equal world for all.
Because a better now for her means a better future for everyone.
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