Health and Education’s contribution to FGM

This topic was part of a hub eDiscussion and is now CLOSED. It ran from 18 July to 19 August. The final report is available here in pdf form
FGM is globally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted gender inequality, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. It is usually carried out on minors and as such is a form of child abuse. FGM also violates many other human rights including rights to security, to be free from torture and in too many cases the right to life.
Female genital mutilation or FGM (sometimes called female genital cutting or circumcision) is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a harmful practice comprising all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA, 1997). A number of terms are used to refer to the practice with “female circumcision” or “cutting”, being key among these. The Term FGM encompasses a broad range of procedures and practices including the use of herbs or chemicals and is the mostly widely accepted term among policy makers. The hub accepts that different terms are used in certain contexts and to describe the same or similar procedures and/or practices.
It has existed for more than 2,000 years, and is usually carried out on girls under the age of 14 but can be performed on girls of only a few days old, up to just before marriage. It is traditionally practiced by non-medically trained women, in unsterile conditions and without anaesthetic. FGM has no known health benefits and causes lifelong physical and psychological harm. It not only harms those who undergo the procedure but also affects family, community relationships and economic development.
It is widely acknowledged that there is no tool for development more effective than the education and empowerment of women. A lack of gender equality and girl’s education can suppress the voice of women who otherwise could contribute more fully to the well-being of the whole community.
In parts of the Commonwealth where these harmful practices are widespread, the impact reverberates way beyond the individual and impacts negatively on the community. Aside from great suffering, FGM impacts negatively on women’s ability to fulfil their potential and reinforces cycles of discrimination and poverty. Despite being illegal in most countries, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced FGM and at least 3 million girls are at risk. One girl is cut every 10 seconds across the world. This fosters greater gender inequality and the abandonment of these practices is key to reaching developmental and education targets.

1. What are the social and historical reasons for FGM being practiced in your country?

2. What policy responses are effective in reducing the health and wider social burden of FGM? Both to seek to reduce the practice itself as well as dealing with the consequences?

3. FGM is often mistakenly seen as a positive health intervention by those involved. How should the education and health systems work to deal with this issue?

4. FGM is a complex issue affecting all in society not just the women directly affected.

What other issues do you see as connected to this issue and how could dealing with them be part of the solution?

A short version of the film, Nancy, a one girl revolution is available online. Nancy Tomee was sponsored through secondary school in Kenya from 2011 to 2014 by the Commonwealth Girls Education Fund (CGEF).

This film was made to amplify the impact of the change one girl demanded for herself! It opens discussions on the many barriers that girls face to education such as FGM, child marriage and bride price. In oral traditions in particular storytelling can be used to dismantle taboos, shift social norms, inspire young girls and parents to know their legal rights, encourage opinion formers to speak up and promote awareness of health issues as well as the benefits of girl’s education. Nancy demonstrates that change is possible and that the desire for it is rising from within the women themselves at the grassroots.

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Discussion Moderator: Louise Robertson

Louise is an independent consultant and campaigner for girls’ and women’s rights. For the last four years she worked with anti-FGM organisation 28 Too Many, helping to establish it internationally and managing communications and campaigns.