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Let's examine effectiveness of current anti-FGM interventions

Opinion
 Somalia has the world’s highest number of women who have undergone FGM. [iStockphoto]

Seven-year-old Masooma’s grandmother asked her to accompany her on a walk as a little girl in the city of Mumbai in India.

Happily, she hopped along but Masooma Ranalvi didn’t know that this walk would be one of the most painful she had experienced. She was taken to a place where a stranger undressed her and cut off part of her genitals, leaving her with scars that would last a lifetime.

As a Nguvu Change leader, Masooma converted her pain into purpose and has since launched a nationwide campaign in India against the painful, dangerous and patriarchal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

Due to her campaign and her collective of survivors of FGM called “We Speak Out”, India woke up to the shocking reality that FGM was being practised in the country. The Indian government and the Supreme Court were forced to acknowledge and engage with the issue.

The story of FGM and the birth of women-led movements to end this human rights violation of girls and women is mirrored across many parts of the world.

Nguvu Change Leader in Nigeria, Victoria Augustine, often hears the painful screams of young girls being cut up in her neighbourhood where FGM is prevalent. Nigeria has the world’s third highest number of women who have undergone FGM with 19.9 million survivors out of over 200 million survivors globally. With an intention to end it, Victoria has started a campaign and made it her mission to abolish FGM in Nigeria. 

In Kenya, Naomi Kolian, from Narok County, is a mother of five and a survivor of FGM, early marriage, and domestic violence. As a little girl, she was deceived by her family and told that they were going for prayers in the morning. “At 5am, several women and girls in the community forcefully undressed me, tied my hands and legs and started cutting me.” 

In many pastoralist communities, FGM has no specific method. It depends on the number of women present at that moment, so Naomi was cut in different ways which led to her bleeding for long periods until she lost consciousness. Today, Naomi runs an organisation called “Eselenkei Enkayioni Empowerment Group” and rescues young girls from FGM and early marriage.

FGM exists in communities around the world. At the heart of FGM is a system that believes women do not deserve pleasure, autonomy, and dignity. This is connected to practices that deny women the right to their bodies; underage and early marriages of girls. Fundamentally, it comes from a deep fear of women having control over their lives, bodies, and minds.  

What solutions do we have?

Out of 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, the majority of girls and women in 23 countries want FGM to end. A growing shift in prevailing attitudes towards FGM is resulting in powerful collectives emerging in many countries, led by survivors themselves or women allies who are advocating for this gruesome practice to end.

There are some strong laws against FGM around the world. A study by Equality Now in 2020 shows that laws against FGM are most common in the African continent with 55 per cent of total laws globally coming from the 28 countries in Africa.

Disappointingly, in Asia and Latin America, not a single country has enacted a specific legal prohibition against FGM despite consistent efforts by campaigners seeking legislation. In the Middle East, only Iraq (Kurdistan) and Oman have specific laws or legal provisions banning female genital mutilation.

However, strong laws have not addressed the problem. Of the 92 countries where FGM is still practised, 51 countries have specifically prohibited FGM under their national laws - which shows that this practice is still strongly prevalent even though it is illegal and has strong national legislation.  

For example, in 2015, the Nigerian government signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act into law, listing FGM as a criminal act. A combination of an ineffective criminal justice system and low awareness in rural communities where FGM is performed has led to little or no FGM convictions over the past decade since the VAPP Act came into effect.  

As we commemorate the International Day to End Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, governments across the world need to take stock of the effectiveness of their existing interventions in stopping FGM. As they strengthen the relevant policies and institutions where necessary, it is crucial that they actively seek feedback from FGM survivors on what gaps they currently experience in the system, and use it to inform their future interventions. 

At Nguvu Collective, we believe long-lasting positive change can only be driven by those who are closest and most impacted by the problem - like Masooma, Victoria, and Naomi who are converting the abuse they faced into their lives’ purpose of stopping FGM now and protecting millions of girls in this world from this cruel and inhumane practice. It is each one of our responsibility to support them. 

And for women and survivors of FGM who are reading this, we, as humanity, are sorry for the abuse you experienced. Your truth needs to be heard and the change you want to drive in this world is important. We salute you.

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