"I felt I was in grave danger and almost dying." These are the words of Mary, a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM) from Tanzania, recalling the day she was cut aged 14 years old. Mary lives in a Maasai community in the Arusha region where 58% of women undergo FGM (Country Profile: FGM in Tanzania, 28 Too Many). Mary was not prepared for the trauma of her cutting and there was no pain relief. She was confused, in great pain and felt betrayed by her parents. Mary now campaigns against FGM, educates women on the health risks arising from FGM and helps to protect the next generation of girls being cut.
Each year the 6th February is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM and therefore it is especially poignant to think of Mary today and the millions of other women whose lives are irreversibly changed by FGM. Whilst many people associate FGM only with Africa, this horrific practice takes place across the world and cases are increasingly being reported across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.
It was through hearing stories like Mary's that I first became aware of the terrible harm caused by FGM. Globally it is estimated that 125 million women have undergone FGM and a further 3 million girls in Africa will undergo FGM annually if current trends continue. Think about those numbers for a minute. This means that if we think about this in terms of girls being cut each day, even today on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, over 8,000 girls in Africa will be cut. Most will suffer lifelong consequences and some will die as a result of the FGM. This is truly shocking and is why I founded 28 Too Many to help end FGM.
Over the last year 28 Too Many has completed in depth profiles of FGM in 4 countries in Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. From this research we are able to understand where, why and how FGM takes place as well as documenting what is being done in each country to tackle FGM and where progress is being made against the practice. Our aim is to produce reports on each of the 28 countries in Africa where FGM is traditionally practised yet even from the 4 countries in East Africa that we have already profiled, common themes are emerging of what can be done to bring about positive change including:
• working with communities where FGM is practised and adopting culturally relevant programmes
• facilitating education and especially ensuring girls' access to education
• improvements in access to health facilities
• health education and managing health complications of FGM
• increased law enforcement
• recognising the role of faith-based organisations and encouraging them to act as agents of change.
Later this week I am travelling to East Africa and I will spend a month meeting with anti-FGM campaigners, representatives from governments and non-governmental organisations working on development programmes and/or violence against women initiatives. During our research we have already identified more than 350 organisations in East Africa currently involved in the campaign to end FGM. There is drive and commitment to bring about lasting change and I am looking forward to sharing our research findings as well as learning more about the work being done in East Africa and how we can work together to make faster progress to end FGM globally.
Each year, Zero Tolerance to FGM Day is a good time to reflect on what has been achieved over the last 12 months, to remind ourselves why this is so important and to ensure we are clear about what needs to be done to ensure future generations of girls live free from the pain and suffering of FGM. In 2013, we can be proud of achieving an enhanced international voice against FGM, a major programme launched by the British Government and good progress in many countries around the world. However, FGM remains a deeply entrenched practice in many places and continues to devastate the lives of millions of women. We need clear plans, strong leadership and sustained funding to bring about lasting change but, as our research shows, in an increasing number of countries there is already a firm platform of laws against FGM and growing expertise in programmes to end it. This week I return to Africa with my usual overfilled bag of gifts for friends and colleagues but I am also travelling with much hope for a year when we will see significant change towards a world where all girls and women live free from FGM.
Ann-Marie Wilson founded 28 Too Many in 2010, a charity working to end FGM and protect future generations of girls. Please visit www.28toomany.com for more information.
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Ann-Marie is supported by Tearfund's Inspired Individuals Initiative