Each year, the 6th of February is marked as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This day is a call to action to end FGM and bring global attention to the issue and the fight against it. It's an opportunity to raise awareness of its risks and consequences and promote its abandonment. Girls Talk has worked diligently since it was established in 2018 to mark this special day and continue fighting to end FGM daily. As a refresher, this article aims to inform readers about FGM, its risks, and its statistics. Furthermore, we outline some of our efforts to end FGM in The Gambia and worldwide.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of gender-based violence involving the partial or total cutting of the external female genitalia and other forms of injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organisation. It is often motivated by beliefs about gender roles, indoctrination of women’s sexuality, and attempts to control women’s behaviour. FGM violates the human rights of girls and women and can cause serious physical, psychological and social harm.
Types of FGM
FGM is classified into four different types. Using Type I, the clitoris is partially or entirely removed. This procedure is called clitoridectomy. As part of Type II, the clitoris and labia minora are removed, either alongside or without the labia majora removal. Alternatively, it is referred to as excision. The vaginal orifice is narrowed with a covering seal in Type III. Cutting and/or repositioning the labia minora and/or labia majora form the seal. This procedure can be performed either with or without removing the clitoris. Type IV includes any action which injures the “genitalia of a female for non-medical reasons, such as pricking, piercing, or pulling” (UNFPA 2022).
Figures on FGM
UNFPA estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is practised. In The Gambia, 76% of girls and women aged 15-49 years have been subjected to FGM.
Why does FGM occur?
In some cultures, FGM is seen as a way to protect a girl's virtue and is a prerequisite for marriage. It is also believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore her inclination to engage in extramarital activities. It is also believed to increase a man's sexual pleasure during intercourse. Finally, it is seen as a way of preserving a girl's beauty and is often associated with traditional notions of beauty. Unfortunately, the belief that FGM is a beneficial cultural practice is rooted in gender inequality and discriminatory power dynamics. It is often seen as a way to control a girl’s sexuality and is used to reinforce patriarchal norms and gender roles.
What you need to know about FGM
FGM is not a religious practice! Although it is practised in some countries where Islam is the dominant religion, it is not part of Islamic teachings. In fact, FGM predates Islam and is also practised in some non-Muslim countries.
FGM does not only happen in Africa! In fact, it is practised in some countries in the Middle East, in parts of South America and in some countries in Asia. It is a cultural rather than a religious practice, and it is important to be aware of its existence in other parts of the world.
FGM is not only performed on adult women! In fact, girls as young as 5 years old have been subject to FGM in some countries. It is also sometimes practised on newborn babies, which is incredibly dangerous and puts their health at risk. It is imperative to spread awareness of this issue in order to put an end to the practice.
FGM has no health benefits! FGM has no medical or religious justification. It has been found to cause psychological trauma, severe bleeding, infections, infertility and even death. It violates the fundamental human right to physical integrity and health.
FGM is still very common! Even though it is illegal in many countries, it is still practised by some cultures because of traditional beliefs and customs. It is also perpetuated by a lack of access to education and information about the health risks associated with the practice.
What are we doing at Girls Talk to end FGM?
Engaging Girls and Young People: Our Girls Mentorship Program, school outreach activities and advocacy efforts are aimed at raising awareness about the health risks associated with FGM and supporting girls who may be at risk or have already undergone the practice. Our efforts also extend to reaching out to young people, including boys and men, in an effort to end FGM. By engaging young people in our programs, we are looking to create a sense of shared responsibility for ending FGM and to create an environment where young people can actively participate in the process of ending the practice.
Educating and empowering communities: As part of our community engagement programs, we provide accurate information about the risks associated with FGM and alternative methods of female empowerment. We also work to create spaces for open dialogue and discussion about the topic. This is so communities can come together to make decisions about their daughters' health, well-being, and future.
Social Media Advocacy on FGM: We have several social media-driven campaigns to end FGM and other harmful traditional practices. This allows us to reach a wider audience and start conversations on the topic. We create content that educates people on the dangers of FGM and other harmful traditional practices, and we use data and research to back up our claims. We can create a culture of acceptance and understanding by providing a space for dialogue.
Partnerships: We believe that partnerships are essential to reach our goal of ending FGM in The Gambia. As part of our efforts to raise awareness of the practice, we have partnered with various organisations. In 2022, we carried out several activities supported by UNICEF Gambia to reach a wider audience. Our goal this year is to continue our impactful work through more partnerships.
We want to conclude this article with a challenge: help end FGM today! This can be done by educating yourself and others on the harms of FGM, advocating for the enforcement of laws protecting girls and women from the practice and supporting organisations working to end FGM. Take action today and make a difference.