Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a term used to describe the non-medical procedure used to remove or injure female genitalia.
It can cause severe bleeding, complications in childbirth, issues with urination, and much more. FGM kills young girls all over the world — as was the case in September when two sisters aged 10 and 11 died in Somalia after undergoing it.
The practice is often considered a rite of passage for girls in some communities, but it’s also often used as an instrument of the patriarchy to control the lives, bodies, and sexuality of women. It affects 200 million worldwide, with yet another girl at risk every seven seconds.
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But the UK government has decided that such injustice can no longer continue without action.
Britain will invest £50 million over the next five years from its UK aid budget to fight FGM in the most affected countries in Africa. That means vital funding will be attributed to grassroots campaigners and community programmes, as well as girls’ clubs in schools, making it easier to discuss the issue openly.
It is the largest ever single injection of funds from an international donor on the issue, according to the government.
The investment will also be used to urge other governments to ban FGM, improve care for survivors in the most prevalent countries, and dispel the myth that it’s primarily a religious practice.
“I’m extremely proud and excited that our UK government will invest in the safety of our girls,” anti-FGM campaigner and psychotherapist Leyla Hussein told Global Citizen. “FGM has devastating physical and emotional effects. Some of us will live with this for the rest of our lives, but with such investment we can ensure FGM ends within a generation.”
“I hope many leaders around the world make such an investment in girls too,” she added.
The Department of International Development (DfID) has already used UK aid to support over 3 million women and girls to get protection and care since 2013 — convincing communities that account for 24.5 million people to pledge to abandon FGM, and helping to enact bans in Nigeria, Gambia, and Mauritania.
But this fresh funding represents a significant escalation in the battle to end the dangerous practice.
“Somewhere in the world, every seven seconds, a girl is at risk of FGM,” said Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary. “Inspirational, courageous African women are leading efforts to end the practice in their own countries, and thanks to them, more communities are starting to abandon the practice.”
“But progress is at a critical juncture and we must work to protect the millions of girls that are still at risk of being cut,” Mordaunt continued. “We also can’t end FGM in the UK without ending it globally.”
PoResearch published in BMJ Global Health on Nov. 7 revealed a dramatic drop in prevalence all over the world. In east Africa, the study suggested that prevalence was as high as 71.4% in 1995 for girls under the age of 14. But by 2016, it had reportedly fell to 8%.
However, experts have urged caution. The United Nations Population Fund warned that cases could rise to an additional 4.6 million a year by 2030 due to a predicted population boom in affected communities, according to the Guardian.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and women’s rights organisation Equality Now estimates that there are 137,000 women and girls here who live with its consequences today.
The 1985 law was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act in 2003, which extended the jail term from five years to 14 and criminalised “holiday cutting,” the act of taking a girl overseas for the procedure. The FGM Act was then amended with the 2015 Serious Crime Act, which introduced protection orders to temporarily remove at-risk children from their families, allow anonymity of victims, and enforce mandatory reporting for frontline health professionals.
The latter amendments came after a £1.4 million FGM Prevention Programme was announced by former prime minister David Cameron at the 2014 Girl Summit to tackle FGM in the UK.
Global Citizen has previously reported on the stories of FGM survivors in Britain, Canada, Germany, and the US — where a judge ruled on Wednesday that a federal ban was “unconstitutional,” dismissing charges in the country’s first ever trial. Read all their stories here, and watch the video below to learn more about the practice.