FGM Is Not 'Cultural': It Is Violence against Women and Girls

We are heartened by this month's announcement by DFID of up to £35 million to address the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) overseas and strongly commend the department on its new initiative.

With: Nimco Ali, Co-Founder, Daughters of Eve

The DFID Initiative

We are heartened by this month's announcement by DFID of up to £35 million to address the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM) overseas and strongly commend the department on its new initiative. From speaking with affected Diaspora groups and the dozens of local women's organisations we work with, we know that they welcome this too. However, although few details of the funding have been made available, in recent weeks we have been increasingly unsure if all parties are being listened to. Some recent newspaper articles such as this piece in The Times and this in the Huffington Post have implied that an 'abandonment' model, which only considerations educational measures, is being considered over other more comprehensive options. Meanwhile, experts in the field agree that FGM can only be effectively eliminated through a broad framework of both legislative and educational measures.

Between the two organisations, Equality Now and Daughters of Eve have been working to eliminate FGM in the UK and globally for over 30 years. We have been tirelessly fighting to break the cycle of abuse through recognising FGM as a serious form of violence rather than something which is 'cultural' and which needs to be 'abandoned'. Referring to FGM as 'cutting' or 'FGC' - as the 'abandonment' model does - contradicts the seriousness of this form of sexual terrorism. It also insults survivors, who know that FGM has very little to do with ignorance and everything to do with controlling the sexual organs of women and girls. Governments should only use the term 'FGM' as they otherwise risk sending out a very damaging message, which links it with culture and which suggests that it should not be dealt with in the same way as other forms of extreme violence.

Efua and Nimco giving evidence at the International Development Committee

Synergy of Legislative and Educational Measures

To successfully eliminate FGM, a synergy of actions is needed, including partnerships between government and civil society. This brings together community education, protection measures, justice outcomes and the provision of services to address the health complications.

FGM does not occur in a vacuum and millions of women who have undergone it have also experienced other forms of violence. Efforts to eliminate FGM which do not consider its root causes are not enough. Furthermore, allowing perpetrators to take the lead and ignoring the fact that FGM is rooted in gender inequality means that the foundations for all other forms of VAWG are not dealt with effectively. Our objective is to ensure a world which is free not only of FGM - but in which all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls are eliminated.

We Can End FGM in a Generation But Not Through the 'Abandonment' Model

The DFID Initiative aims to end FGM in Africa within a generation. This is a challenging goal given the fact that FGM is widely practised in several communities in the African region and that previous UN targets and pledges to end FGM within a generation have failed. However, what is perhaps different this time is that a substantial budget is pledged to support FGM elimination. And, luckily, DFID is not starting from scratch. For decades, countless local groups have been working to accelerate the prevention of FGM in the UK, in the African region and elsewhere. Valuable lessons can be drawn from this. With further technical support - and with an adequate level of funding for local activists and support for governments who wish to tackle the issue, there is optimism that FGM can be significantly reduced - if not totally abolished - within a generation. However, existing expertise will need to be used to ensure that this can happen.

Where FGM is Being Reduced

The good news is that overall trends on FGM in the African region show that FGM is reducing in a number of countries, when we compare the prevalence between older and younger women. According to the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys data on the prevalence of FGM, the countries which have shown significant reductions in the prevalence of FGM between older and younger women are Kenya (30.50%), Burkina Faso (27.50%), Ethiopia (19.1%), Cote D'Ivoire (15.7%), Egypt (15.7%), Tanzania (14.5%), Eritrea (14.3%) and Nigeria (12.2%). Out of these, the Burkina Faso Model stands out as one which offers a sustainable path for other African countries - and for the UK - to follow when addressing FGM. We urge DFID to strongly consider this more comprehensive model. It is not only a proven way of holistically dealing with FGM in the context of violence against women and girls, it is also the best option for directly tackling its root causes.

The Burkina Faso Model

Burkina Faso has a national plan on FGM and employs multiple strategies including:

  • Political will: The government of Burkina Faso has had a policy to end FGM since 1983 and continues to advocate strongly against the practice. At national level, it has created a secretariat, which is government-funded, to oversee work on FGM. It has a specific law banning FGM, which is enforced.
  • Multiplicity of interventions: In addition to the enforcement of anti-FGM laws, there is involvement of several advocates from several sectors - religious leaders, members of the police force, medical professionals, teachers, youth and women's organisations. This has ensured that messages on FGM are broadly disseminated to reach the wider public. Most importantly, FGM messages are mainstreamed within existing development and reproductive programmes.
  • Outreach: A range of resources and outreach programmes - including awareness-raising campaigns by the police and army teams, information, education, and communication projects, media exposure and a free Child Line hotline for both the public to report suspected cases of FGM and for survivors or other affected parties to receive counselling.
  • Clinic: In addition to integrating FGM into reproductive health programmes, Burkina Faso is developing a specialist clinic to address the complications of FGM.
  • Data: Unlike the UK, Burkina Faso has up-to-date information on the prevalence on FGM, so is able to monitor trends and other behavioural factors influencing FGM through the periodic DHS surveys. It also uses these to fine-tune and continuously improve its actions.

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