UN intensifies campaign against female genital mutilation

** ADVANCE FOR FRIDAY, MAY 25 ** A Masai girl holds a protest sign during the anti-Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) run in Kilgoris, Kenya, April 21, 2007. At least 2 million girls every year are at a risk of undergoing FGM. The cut, which is generally done without anesthesia may have lifelong health consequences. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

By Lerato Ndlovu

The UN General Assembly designated February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, with the aim to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of this practice.

This year celebrating its 9th anniversary under a joint program for the elimination of the female genital mutilation UNFPA-UNICEF and the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC) jointly launch the 2021 theme: “No Time for Global Inaction, Unite, Fund, and Act to End Female Genital Mutilation.” 

During the Covid-19 pandemic there has been an increase in the female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women.

Girls who undergo female genital mutilation face short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as long-term consequences for their sexual and reproductive health and mental health.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic negatively and disproportionately affected girls and women, resulting in a shadow pandemic disrupting SDG target 5.3 on the elimination of all harmful practices including, female genital mutilation. UNFPA estimates additional 2 million girls projected to be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation by 2030. 

In an article, UN Women said “In many communities, early marriage and FGM go hand-in-hand because they believe that cutting a girl increases her marriageability. Over 200 million women and girls alive today in 31 countries have undergone genital mutilation, although small-scale studies, media reports and anecdotal evidence suggest FGM may be present in more than 90 countries.

“In 2021, 4.16 million girls and women around the world are at risk of genital mutilation. What’s more, because of COVID 19 disruptions, there could be as many as 2 million additional cases of FGM by 2030 that would otherwise have been averted”.

To promote the elimination of female genital mutilation, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights, gender equality, sexual education and attention to the needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.

UN Women further stated that continuing the campaigns against female genital mutilation is more important than ever now that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are threatening livelihoods and increasing financial vulnerabilities, contributing to the risk of backsliding on important progress in gender equality.

“Compared to three decades ago, girls today are one third less likely to undergo FGM, but the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be increasing the practice. Not only is it limiting our scope for critical prevention work, but many traditional cutters who are badly in need of an income during the economic downturn have started again, approaching families directly, door to door, in search of work. Without action, by 2030 we could see as many as 2 million FGM cases that could otherwise have been avoided.

“Data from UN Women and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) show that the crisis will push 96 million people into extreme poverty by 2021, something which can lead to FGM and child marriage being used as negative coping mechanisms to ease extreme physical and financial uncertainty. Girls from the most marginalized groups will be at even higher risk of FGM and child marriage. 

“Pandemic-related school closures provide increased opportunities for FGM to be undertaken on girls at home, which only heightens the risk of health complications as well as the transmission of COVID-19. With the crisis putting 11 million girls at high risk of never returning to school, future generations of uneducated women are more likely to support the continuation of the practice.”

“This International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM is a moment to lead change wherever we have a voice and influence; to fund the approaches we know work and support women’s organizations to do so; to demand accountability for community and state actions; to provide essential support for health and social services for survivors of FGM; and to listen to the voices of adolescent girls and young women, and make it possible for them to decide on what happens to their own lives and bodies,” it read.

The United Nations calls on the global community to reimagine a world that enables girls and women to have voice, choice, and control over their own lives.

This year the celebrations will be held virtually with the tag #Act2EndFGM.