Fighting for girls across the globe: Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation
In 2012 the United Nations declared February 6 the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM with the goal to increase awareness and take concrete actions against female genital mutilations (FGM)1. This was an important milestone, but it is still too often treated as a taboo topic. FGM is not an easy subject to talk about, and many of us – understandably – feel uncomfortable doing so. However, knowing the facts can be the first step to join the global fight against FGM and help draw attention to an issue that affects millions of girls and women across the globe.
What is female genital mutilation?
FGM means all procedures that remove some or all external female genitalia or other injuries to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The phenomenon has zero health benefits, and only causes serious physical and often mental harm. The justifications for it range widely, but many of them revolve around misguided ideas about female purity and virginity, controlling her libido and increasing marriageability. Some practitioners cite religious reasons, though no religious text recommends it.2 In most countries the practice is illegal. Furthermore it is performed under horrific hygienic and medical conditions by mostly medically untrained people.
How many women are affected?
The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates at least 200 million girls and women alive today in 30 countries have undergone FGM. Over one fifth of these are girls under the age of 15.3 According to estimates of the World Health Organization, more than 3 million girls are at risk for the trauma every year.4
How does FGM impact women’s lives?
As you can imagine, undergoing FGM can completely change someone’s life. It has been known to cause everything from problems urinating and severe pain to complications with childbirth and even death, not to mention everyday anxiety, depression and self-esteem issues. While effects vary depending on things like the exact procedure, practitioner and hygiene conditions, all procedures and their effects are needless and appalling.5
Where in the world is FGM concentrated?
FGM does not only happen in Africa and the Middle East. It is occurring on every major continent on the globe, including Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. A study by the German government found about 47,000 victims of FGM within its own borders.6 That being said, it is indeed more concentrated in about 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Somalia, Egypt and Guinea.7
What is being done against FGM?
Much good work is being done in this fight, though we have far to go. There are several programs out there that help girls all over the world. One of the largest initiatives has been lead by UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) and UNFPA (United Nations Populations Fund), a joint program fighting FGM across the globe through different measures. Through legislation lobbying, medical professional training, public declarations of abandonment and constant evaluation and research, the program has been hard at work since 2007. Furthermore, it helped establish the International Day of Zero Tolerance to continuously raise awareness for this serious topic. And there are also specific targets set to decrease the frequency of FGM: one goal for instance is to decrease it among girls under age 14 by 40 percent in at least five countries, plus to completely eliminate FGM in one country by the end of 2017.8 These might seem like small steps at first, but they are steps in the right direction that will help numerous girls worldwide. In case you are affected by FGM and seek help or want to get active against this horrific practice, there are several options. A first step could be to confide in a counselor or healthcare provider you trust to provide you with tips for local support. Furthermore, the initiative by UNICEF and UNFPA has several international partners that could serve as a good starting point for you no matter where you live in the world.