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Girls & Women

We can end FGM in our generation

Wikimedia Commons

Image: DFID via Flickr

February 6th is a significant day for those working to end gender inequality. Today, we recognize International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation - designated by the United Nations as a rallying cry against Female Genital Mutilation (also known as FGM or Female Genital Cutting).

The ritualistic practice is described by the World Health Organization as the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” FGM causes more than discomfort, it is a procedure that can be disastrous, and result in severe health complications from bladder and urinary tract infections, infertility, or death by hemorrhage.

It may be difficult for me, as a white, Western women to understand why FGM is practiced, but the procedure has deep cultural, religious, and social implications. It’s not as black-and-white as young women being forced into being cut. For instance, picture yourself as a girl in her first years of puberty. You are told that you need a procedure to enter into womanhood. You agree because you want to become an adult, a woman, and please your family. Your elders lie you on a bed and your clitorial hood is sliced off. The procedure is painful, but it is something that your grandmother, mother, and sisters have all experienced. When you have your own daughter, you repeat the ritual on her as a right of passage.

FGM isn’t simply a superficial practice that is done to women in order to achieve some type of ideal. The procedure is deeply ingrained in cultural practices that reflect deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and can be seen as an extreme form of discrimination against girls and women. While the practice primarily happens in 29 countries across Africa and the Middle East, FGM is a global problem existing in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

At Global Citizen, the issue of FGM weighs heavily on our staff’s minds. My colleague, Michael Wilson, produced a powerful photo essay depicting a young Kenysias women being cut. This procedure is not uncommon in the country with United Nations data suggesting that more than a quarter of girls and women in Kenya have undergone FGM.

Despite the horrors of FGM, progress is being made. 2014 was a year of change in advocacy against FGM with campaigns working to end the practice in the U.K., U.S., Gambia, and Kenya. Further, in December of last year, the United Nations called for concrete action against the cutting of girls and women, adopting Resolution A/RES/69/150 in “intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations.” What the resolution does is this: it makes it so that the UN is focused on education towards the elimination of FGM and the importance of including the practice in the post-2015 development goals. Women’s rights are important! And I am happy to see the support of big governing bodies in helping to reach gender equality.

We know that FGM can end, thanks to tireless campaigning by local and international activists. Below, take a look at these amazing advocacy efforts and initiatives of local leaders that demonstrate the progress that’s being made.

1.) Education of FGM in the U.K., U.S., and Gambia is helping to stop the practice

Photo: DFID via Flickr |educational props against FGM

A lot of great education efforts happened during 2014. One such effort was from U.K. student Fahma Mohamed and her colleagues at Integrate Bristol. The group began a campaign to get information about FGM into schools. The end result? Fahma and her team were able to gather the support of more than 230,000 people through a Change.org petition! …..And girl power is contagious! Inspired by Fahma, Jaha Dukureh, a resident of Atlanta, began advocating in the U.S., lobbying the government to carry out the first study of FGM in the U.S. She then returned to her home country of the Gambia, holding the first youth summit to fight FGM.

2.) Girl Summit = Girl power!

Photo: Flickr via DFID| Girls Summit 2014

Allow me to introduce you to Girl Summit 2014: the UK's first conference dedicated to tackling female genital mutilation and forced marriage, co-hosted by the Government and UNICEF. In London, global dignitaries gathered at the Girl Summit, hosted by prime minister David Cameron, and nations pledged to deal with the issues head on. As a feminist, a believer in the end to patriarchy, and an advocate to awakening gender awareness, I am buoyed to see countries stepping up to end an outdated practice that puts womens’ lives at risk.

3.) Doctors are beginning to be prosecuted for the practicing FGM

Photo: Flickrvia DFID| anti-FGM bracelet

The first FGM trial of Doctor Dhanuson Dharmasena, and another man who has gone unnamed will start in January 2015 at U.K. crown court. A similar case against FGM is taking place in Egypt. It’s a landmark legally, as the doctor is the first doctorcharged. Unfortunately, in the case of the Egyptian doctor, the trail ended in his acquittal, but it is still an important case in criminalizing FGM. The law must step-up to bring justice to survivors of FGM. No doctor should be performing medically unnecessary procedures, particularly when they put the patients’ lives at risk.

4.) U.S. President Obama announces commitment to understanding FGM in the U.S.

Photo: DFID via Flickr| women at FGM presentation in Burkino Faso

During 2014, the Obama administration announced it will carry out a study to establish how many women are living with the consequences of FGM and how many girls are at risk within the United States. This is extremely important as FGM has been on the rise in the United States with the increase in diaspora from African nation’s the practice the procedure. Remember - FGM is not an issue that simply happens in remote areas. It occurs everywhere.

5.) The UN to give money to support media campaigns against FGM

Photo: Wikipedia | Anti-FGM sign in Uganda

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a joint UN Population Fund–Guardian programme to change how FGM is reported. Five international reporting grants will allow journalists in Kenya to report on FGM, which the Secretary General believes will act as a template for other African countries. The grants are expected to help form how female genital mutilation is reported and perceived across the world - with the ultimate goal of ending the practice.

6.) Despite the horrors of Ebola, the epidemic has decreased FGM in affected areas

Photo: Flickr via DFID|Young women in Burkino Faso

It’s a slim silver lining, but the Ebola outbreak has unexpectedly brought female genital mutilation (FGM) to a standstill with FGM practitioners refusing to do the procedure due to fear of Ebola transmission.The news brings respite to thousands of girls who would have been otherwise subjected to the centuries-old practice, but it is unclear what will happen once the epidemic subsides. While the tragedy of Ebola is certainly immense, it is interesting to see that the disease has curbed cultural and ritualistic practices.

7.) Exciting FGM Resolution passed at the United Nation!

Photo: Flickr via UN | Young women praying

It’s got an unimpressive name, but resolution A/RES/69/150 will have major consequences in ending FGM. The UN resolution seeks to intensify global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations. This is excellent news, as the eradication of FGM needs the backing of the international community.


The task of stopping FGM is difficult, but not impossible. Chinese foot-binding was eradicated over the course of a generation, and so can FGM with the support of the international community. As always, education is everything. First people must understand the consequences of FGM, and recognize that its deeply harmful to the psychology, reproductive, and sexual wellbeing of women. As global citizens, let’s take inspiration from the progress that has already been made and campaign for our global leaders to stop the practice.

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Kathleen Ebbitt