FGM ‘not acceptable’ in the 21st Century, but 3 million girls are still at risk each year
Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM which is dedicated to the eradication of female genitalia mutation.
It is estimated that 3 million girls are at risk of FGM each year, with 200 million women and girls having undergone FGM worldwide.
If the levels of FGM continue at their current rate a further 68 million girls will undergo FGM by 2030.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has spoken of the urgency of addressing FGM:
"With the dignity, health and well-being of millions of girls at stake, there is no time to waste. Together, we can and must end this harmful practice."
FGM is prevalent in 30 African countries, Yemen, Iraq and Indonesia. There is also growing evidence that it exists in many more Asian and Middle Eastern countries than previously thought.
Somalia, Djibouti and Guinea have particularly high rates of FGM. For example, UNICEF reports that around 95% of girls in Somalia are victim to FGM, with this primarily being performed on girls aged 4-11.
Girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have experienced FGM, with the highest prevalence among this age in Gambia at 56%, Mauritania 54% and Indonesia where around half of girls aged 11 and younger have undergone the practice.
The practice often takes place in remote rural areas by untrained midwives who use instruments such as knives, razors and glass. The equipment is often not sterilised and performed in unsanitary conditions without the use of anaesthesia.
The practice is underpinned by the belief that it purifies girls, bringing status in the community and preventing promiscuity. Girls who have not undergone FGM can be ostracised from their community.
Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth commented:
“This is not acceptable and this is done in the name of tradition, culture, religion or in the name of ensuring that women are to take on subservient roles to the men they will eventually marry…this is not acceptable in the 21st century.”
FGM can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility and increase the woman’s biological vulnerability to HIV. In addition, the long term sexual and psychological effects of FGM are well documented; it has been linked to post traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Despite being banned in most African countries where the practice is common, law enforcement is weak and prosecutions are very rare. In Mali, Sierra Leone and Sudan FGM is still legal.
The practice of FGM violates several international treaties and in 2012 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of FGM.
UNICEF highlight the importance of addressing the stigma and discrimination faced by girls who do not undergo the procedure. In countries such as Somalia where prevalence levels are around 95% this is a key barrier to its elimination.
Around the world there is a growing movement among young girls who are calling for the end of FGM in their families and communities.
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Image credit: Save the Children