Jane Miller on Female Genital Mutilation

In the short video below, Jane Miller, a Health Adviser for Department for International Development (DFID), discusses the key issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC).

In many African countries, women’s rights have made great progress. However FGM continues to undermine the rights of women and girls. FGM has been proven to have devastating impact on women’s and girl’s emotional, physical, and mental health and well-being. It also limits their opportunities in life as it affects their education, their ability to participate in politics, and makes them less likely to be able to go out and work, meaning they depend more on others.

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In March 2013, the UK Government announced the biggest ever international investment in eradicating FGM. The new programme will work to reduce FGM by 30% in at least 10 countries over the next 5 years. More details of the impact of FGM can be found on the DFID website.

Also in March 2013, the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York with the priority theme being the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.

In February 2013, The World Health Organization (WHO) published Fact Sheet Number 241, which focuses on FGM. It states that the WHO is particularly concerned about the increasing trend for medically trained personnel to perform FGM and strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures. The Fact Sheet also presents some crucial information on this topic, including:

  • FGM refers to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
  • The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
  • Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating.
  • Later in life victims can suffer cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
  • About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
  • FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
  • In Africa, an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.
  • FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The movement to address FGM is making use of technology and social media including micro-blogging site Twitter, where the hashtag #endFGM has increased publicity for the cause.

The DFID blog is also a good source of information on FGM, allowing DFID staff and experts to share their personal experiences, ideas and opinions. One of the blogs, written by Lisa Phillips, describes recent progress that has been made with FGM in Kenya. She refers to her experience of meeting a 13 year old girl in Meru who was encouraged by her community and her parents  to go through an alternative rites of passage ceremony rather than FGM, which, several years ago, half of her friends would have been subjected to.

Another of the blogs, written by Hanna Alder, asks the question, how do we begin to change social norms for FGM? She argues that it is critically important to involve men and boys as change-agents. She goes on to argue that only by engaging them will men and boys recognise that gender equality benefits everyone in society. Traditional constructions of masculinity and femininity that underpin gendered discrimination and violence can then be challenged.

The topic of men and boys as change-agents is also addressed in a recently published article titled ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: The Secret World of Women as Seen by Men’. The authors argue that although FGM is generally confined to the secret world of women, it does not mean that men cannot be influential. Based on research from the Gambia, it is clear that ethnic identity, more than religion, is the decisive shaping factor on how men conceive and value FGM. Traditionally practicing groups showed greatest support towards FGM. A substantial proportion of men intend to have it performed on their daughters, although reporting a low involvement in the decision making process. Very few men made the decision to carry out FGM alone. Worryingly, only a minority of men were aware of FGM health consequences. However, those who understand its negative impact on the health and well-being of girls and women are quite willing to play a role in its prevention.

A recent article by Abdulrahim Rouzi from King Abdulaziz University states that while FGM is still prevalent mainly in Muslim countries, sensitivity to cultural traditions that erroneously associate FGM with Islam is misplaced. FGM existed before Islam and there is no mention of it in the Qur’an. The principle of ‘do no harm’, endorsed by Islam, supersedes cultural practices and logically eliminates FGM from receiving any Islamic religious endorsement. Indeed, Muslim religious authorities agree that FGM should be condemned.

A HEART Helpdesk Report titled, ‘Adolescent Reproductive Health in Ethiopia’ has a section on FGM. It states that while Ethiopia has made progress in improving the health of girls and young women, high rates of maternal injury and death persist due to childbirth without skilled assistance and unsafe abortion. Gender inequalities as well as traditional harmful practices, including FGM and child marriage, contribute to these significant health challenges.

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