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Girls & Women

These Color-Coded Stickers Could Help Save Girls at Risk of FGM


Why Global Citizens Should Care:
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of violence that stems from the cultural belief that a girl’s value lies in her virginity. Approximately 200 million girls and women alive today are FGM survivors, and the practice is on the rise in the UK. You can take action here to call on world leaders to #LeveltheLaw and strengthen legislation to protect girls and women from violence.

For most students, summer vacation is something to look forward to — a well-deserved break after a year of studying. But for hundreds of thousands of girls around the world at risk of being forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), the end of the school year marks the start of “cutting season.”

Though the harmful practice is common in Somalia, Djibouti, and Guinea — where nearly all girls and women have undergone FGM, according to UNICEF — FGM is also being carried out with increasing frequency in the US and the UK.

In an effort to combat the practice and rescue girls at risk of FGM, Birmingham Airport has implemented a warning and help hotline system using color-coded stickers in toilet stalls, HuffPost UK reported.

“Don’t want to fly? Tell us why,” the sticker reads.

Take Action: Tell World Leaders to Redouble Their Efforts By Amending Laws to Prevent Sexual Violence

The signs encourage travelers at risk of FGM, human trafficking, forced marriage, and child sexual exploitation to call the West Midlands police. Each bathroom stall and sticker are assigned a color that enables authorities to identify the caller’s location.

Because the medically unnecessary procedure, which often causes lifelong damage, is illegal in the UK, some families take their daughters abroad to have FGM performed. One London-based human rights lawyer, was also told by multiple focus group participants that women have traveled to Birmingham, the second-largest city in the UK, for FGM. That makes the airport a crucial intervention point in preventing FGM.

The official number of people rescued through the initiative — which has been running for two years — is not known. But a tweet from the West Midlands Police account in June said that two girls have been rescued so far.

Read More: 12 Myths About Female Genital Mutilation Debunked

The sticker initiative was intentionally not publicized to prevent traffickers and abusers from learning of its existence, a spokesperson for the West Midlands Police told the Guardian. However, the stickers have recently garnered public attention through social media.

While many have praised the effort online, some have pointed out that the initiative’s effectiveness may now be compromised because of the attention. Others have raised the point that victims of human trafficking and other forms of abuse may not have phones and may not be able to call the number listed on the sticker.

Still, the discreet stickers are an innovative means of preventing these human rights abuses. 

“This is the only scheme of its kind in the country and the stickers have been strategically placed mainly on male and female toilet cubicle doors that are airside, after people have passed security so that exit routes are blocked,” a spokeswoman for the West Midlands Police told HuffPost UK. “It’s been quite successful but we do not have the exact figures.”

Read More: Somalia Will Pursue Its First FGM Prosecution After Death of 10-Year-Old Girl

It is estimated that 144,000 girls in England and Wales are at risk of FGM, globally that figure is much higher with approximately 3 million girls believed to be at risk of undergoing FGM every year. At least 200 million girls and women alive today are survivors of FGM, UNICEF estimates.

FGM is a harmful cultural practice — though it is often mistakenly thought to be a religious practice — that involves varying degrees of cutting and damage to a female’s genitalia. In communities that perform FGM, the procedure is typically believed to preserve a girl’s “purity” and to make her more appealing for marriage.