Today is the International day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Sponsored by the UN, it’s a day for raising awareness of the practice and calling for an end to it.
What is FGM/C?
FGM/C refers to several harmful practices that involve the deliberate cutting of the female genitals. It is estimated that around three million girls worldwide, most under 15, are ‘cut’ each year. FGM/C is most prevalent in Africa, some countries in Asia and the Middle East, but it is also practised all over the world including countries where it is illegal. In is estimated that in the UK around 23,000 girls are cut every year. There has recently been some debate as to whether legislation is an effective way to end the practice.
FGM/C has no basis in any religion and no health benefits and can be extremely harmful. The World Health Organisation (WHO) outlines some of the possible short and long-term consequences here. To find out more, watch this TEDx Talk with leading anti-FGM activist (UK) Leyla Hussein.
I first learned of FGM/C when I was at university and someone shared their personal experience with me. I was horrified by the very idea of it but in an attempt to understand why it continues, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those women who allow it to happen to their daughters. I wrote a poem but did nothing with it until recently, when I posted it here.
Although the poem suggests that this is an ongoing cycle, it doesn’t have to be. I believe that it is women who can and eventually will break the chain. The key lies, as it so often does, in education. The United Nations Volunteer programme works tales a community-based approach, working to combat FGM/C via education and awareness-raising. There are also several charities and organisations across the UK dedicated to raising awareness of the issue and educating communities as to the health implications of this practice.
What can I do to help?
At this point I’ll hand over to Leyla Hussain, who outlined what needs to happen next in her recent article for the Huffington Post.
You can also support the organisations (by donating, fundraising and/or volunteering) who are actively working to put an end to the cycle of FGM/C.
FGM National Clinical Group, who work with women who have been affected
Photo credit: Orchid Flower by pakorn at freedigitalphotos.net