A world-wide social media campaign launches today on International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The campaign will be launched today in Dublin and will be led by Somalia born Ifrah Ahmed who survived the traumatizing cultural practise. The campaign will run off the hashtag #MetooFGM, supported by the global #MeToo movement, that acts as a platform for women to raise their voices.
The activism is supported by many high-profile people including Imelda May and aims to mark zero tolerance day. Speaking ahead of the launch, Ms Ahmed said “FGM is the ultimate form of violence against women and children… the forcible removal of a child’s sexual organs to control her sexuality has been going on since the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC) comprises all procedures that involve altering the female genitals for non-medical reasons and has been recognised as a human rights violation of girls and women and relentlessly condemned by the UN and regional bodies since 1952. FGM/FGC inflicts serious physical, psychological and sexual complications on women and girls. According to UNICEF figures, at least 200 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally, with 44 million of these representing girls of 14 years of age or under. In Indonesia, half of girls aged 11 and under have undergone the practise. It is estimated that 98% of Somali women and girls have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation, with 90% of these undergoing the most drastic type (type III or Pharaonic mutilation).
The practise of FGM reflects deep rooted gender inequality and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and young girls. It violates women’s right to health, security physical integrity, freedom from torture or cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and even the right to life in some cases.
Despite the increasing condemnation of practising FGM, as well as some improvements (today a girl is one third less likely to be cut than in 1997), there is still a lot to be done. Coordinated, consistent and systematic efforts are needed to promote the abandonment of FGM and there is a severe need to engage communities in focusing on human rights and gender equality. We should be focusing on societal dialogue and the empowerment of communities to act collectively to end the practise. A large part of the focus on community support boils down to the fact that FGM is seen as a social convention with social pressure to conform to the practise being a strong motivational factor for its perpetuation. FGM is seen as part of the proper raising of a young girl and has strong connotations connected to the preparation for marriage and ideals of femininity and cleanliness. Being a cultural tradition is the main defence for a practise that offers nothing except tremendous pain and health problems for women and girls.
There is also a need to address the sexual and reproductive needs of women and girls who suffer from the consequences of cutting. Without concerted and assertive action, a further 54 million girls are likely to be cut by 2030. The practise has been, and still is a systematic violation of children’s, and women’s rights. Furthermore, this is no longer an “over there” issue, it is an everywhere issue; an issue that affects all countries, not just countries where it is seen as an imperative social practise. 180,000 girls and women are at risk each year in Europe. Often, children whose families have emigrated to other countries seek to continue the practise or return to their home country to have their child cut. Collectively we must advocate and be silence breakers for the girl-children who have not learned to wield their voices or know its power yet.
In the era of #MeToo, FGM must be seen as sexual violence against women, and this argument is often left aside in the FGM debate. That gap in the conversation between FGM perception and FGM reality is detrimental to the fight against the practice. On January 15, 2018, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the charge of a sex crime against defendants in the Detroit FGM trial. The report is a devastating blow for human rights advocates and a win for FGM supporters. A sex crime dismissal was found on the basis that such a charge requires “intent that the minor engage in sexual activity.” While FGM itself does not constitute a sexual activity, the practice is performed specifically toward the aim of controlling future activity by cutting off the sex organ rooted in female desire.
Education is key. This includes changing our language and listening to and empowering communities with knowledge and more importantly engaging with them. Moving forward means working together, which is exactly the motivation behind #MeTooFGM. Speaking about the campaign, Ahmed said “We are calling on all women everywhere who care about women’s rights to support their sisters in 30 countries across the world to call for an end to FGM”.
The strongest communities are those who have the strongest individuals and the first step to building such communities is granting women and girls basic dignity and respect over their bodies without the threat and repercussions of sexual violence.