By Andleeb Haider
February 8, 2019
February 6, has been declared the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Many United Nations (UN) agencies have accelerated efforts to ensure the global abandonment of the practice by 2030 and many young women and girls have actively stood up and spoken publicly about the practice. One of the prime example is Jaha Dukureh! Jaha’s promise is a story of hope, bravery and empowerment. As a result of her bravery, many countries have recognised the practice as a direct violation of human rights of women and girls. Jaha Dukureh believes the Africa Union and other regional bodies should pass resolutions and put pressure on its member states to implement laws and put monetary support behind efforts against FGM in their country budgets. If we see in this context, Egypt passed a bill against FGM in 1995 but 97 percent of Egyptian women are still forcibly mutilated. A misogynistic mindset is the biggest challenge and the greatest hurdle in eliminating this heinous crime.
In addition, health experts believe that FGM has no health benefits for women and girls but may predispose them to further health complications. This includes less sexual pleasure, difficult menstruation cycles, complications in child delivery and a greater risk for mother and baby’s health.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights.
While the exact number of girls and women worldwide who have undergone FGM remains unknown, according to UNICEF2014 more than 70 million girls worldwide have been subject to this brutal torture. Sadly but surprisingly, this practice is also found in pockets of Europe and in Australia and North America which, for the last several decades, have been destinations for migrants from countries where the practice still occurs . According to the European Commission database, up to 500,000 girls and women living in the European Union are affected or threatened by FGM and over 125 million worldwide.
75,000 of them live in Great Britain, 65,000 in France and 30,000 in Germany.4,084 women and girls are victims in Antwerp, Belgium. These are alarmingly high numbers for small pockets of immigrant communities. Though there is a legal punishment for such heinous crimes against girls or women in these countries, too often the matter is brushed under the rug because the victims are migrants.
As of 2017, more than 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have become victims of FGM according to UNICEF and WHO. Despite the recent progress and global condemnation of the practice, many young women and girls continue to fall to the risk of FGM especially in most of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In commemoration of the International Day of Zero tolerance for FGM in the coming Women’s Day, FGM needs to be prioritised. If we analyse this evil practice geographically, FGM is highly concentrated in a swath of countries from the Atlantic coast to the Horn of Africa, in areas of the Middle East such as Iraq and Yemen and in some countries in Asia like Indonesia, with wide variations in prevalence. The practice is almost universal in Somalia, Guinea and Djibouti, with levels shockingly high at around 90 percent.
In Nigeria and nearby countries it is as high as 55 percent while it affects only one percent of girls and women in Cameroon and Uganda.FGM exists in other places including Colombia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with large variations in terms of the type performed, circumstances surrounding the practice and size of the affected population groups. In these contexts, however, the available evidence comes from small-scale studies or anecdotal accounts, and there is no representative data as yet on prevalence. Recently a Pakistani couple was penalized by an Australian court for performing a circumcision on their daughters at home. The incident exposes the traces of this practice in Pakistan as well.
Sadly 2018 doesn’t show any significant diminution in FGM. The United Nations has a goal to eliminate FGM by 2030. International Women’s Day can help to create awareness of this practice and reinforce commitment and pursuit of advocacy and activism towards the complete elimination of this practice for future generations.
Andleeb Haider is a journalist based in Belgium and is a writer, teacher, translator, human activist, focusing on human rights, gender equality and peace