Thursday, 6th February, marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a procedure that partially or totally removes a female’s external genitalia, causing irreparable and irreversible harm, as well as life-long health and psychological complications. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that about 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM. The practice is a global problem and, in Africa alone, 50 million girls are at risk of FGM if political leaders don’t take decisive action to ensure its demise.1 Africa is home to 29 of the world’s FGM practicing countries, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Of these countries, 10 are members of the MenEngage Africa Alliance – Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Cameroon. It is important to note that while FGM is only traditionally practiced in communities of 10 MEA countries mentioned above, the practice has been observed in other parts of Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, due to migration across the continent.
Of the 29 countries in Africa where FGM is endemic, 26 have laws prohibiting the practice, but these are mostly inadequate and are seldom enforced; prosecutions are rare, and penalties are sometimes too light to act as a deterrent. Penalties range from monetary fines to a minimum of three months to life in prison.2 This laxity in laws has led to newer trends including medicalisation and cross-border FGM practices, among others.
There is no medical or scientific basis for the procedure. It violates the human rights of women and girls, leaving in its wake sexual reproductive and health challenges for the survivors, including complications during child birth, painful sex, menstrual and urination disorders, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, fistulae, infertility and even death in some cases.
We need urgent action to prevent the continued brutalisation of more girls and women through this practice that is steeped in archaic cultural and religious beliefs. As an alliance that believes that men and boys are crucial in efforts to make gender equality a reality, we also believe that there must be an increased mobilisation of men and boys against this practice.
“After all, women and girls are mutilated ostensibly for the benefit of men, because of a belief that FGM will increase their chances of getting married. Another reason is the belief that women who have had FGM are clean, better at pleasing men sexually and are not promiscuous,” says Hassan Sekajoolo, chairperson of the MenEngage Africa Steering Committee.
“In many countries, FGM is considered a rite of passage, therefore, shortly after the procedure girls are married off – usually to older men and often before the legal age of marriage – 18. Thus, FGM is closely linked to early and forced marriage – another violation of human rights, depriving girls the right to enjoy their childhood and access to education, hence, it is important that all efforts aimed at rooting out FGM must involve men and boys, not only as the primary intended beneficiaries of this practice, but also as agents of change. As the MenEngage Africa Alliance, we need to accelerate advocacy efforts in collaboration with women’s rights organisations to advance the aims of the African Union “Saleema” campaign to end FGM,” adds Hassan Sekajoolo.
Beyond this, ending FGM requires a multi-sectoral approach that brings together law enforcement agencies, child protection professionals, educators, physicians, traditional and religious leaders, governments and government agencies, activists and survivors.
Our governments have a crucial role to play in rooting out FGM in the continent. They have made commitments under Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to eliminate FGM. MenEngage Africa Alliance, therefore, calls on African governments to take their commitments seriously and follow through on their intent to make FGM a thing of the past.
We call on our governments to:
- Find strategies to enforce laws that ban female genital mutilation within their countries;
- Introduce harsher penalties for those who disobey the anti-FGM laws;
- Allocate sufficient human and financial resources to reducing and, ultimately, ending FGM in our nations;
- Strengthen the implementation of regional co-ordination in the areas of policy and legislation, communication and advocacy, evidence, research and data through regional economic communities to end cross-border female genital mutilation;
- Support efforts by civil society organisations that campaign for the end to FGM;
- Develop programmes to address emerging forms and trends of FGM practice such as medicalisation, reducing the age of cutting, types of FGM as well as religious and traditional justifications for FGM.
Now is the time for action to reaffirm the commitment to ending this practice. Ending FGM is a developmental imperative.
Notes to Editors
MenEngage Africa is part of a global alliance of organisations who engage men and boys to achieve gender equality, promote health, reduce violence and to question and address the structural barriers to achieving gender equality. The global alliance consists of six (6) regions co-ordinated by a regional Secretariat and governed by a regional Steering Committee, which elects one representative per region to the global board. Sonke Gender Justice is the Secretariat of MenEngage Africa (MEA), which consists of 22 country networks spread across East, West, Central and Southern Africa. MEA members work collectively toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice in key thematic areas including Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV) & HIV prevention, Child Rights and Positive Parenting and in promoting peace on the continent.