“I feel that God made my body perfect the way I was born. Then man robbed me, took away my power, and left me a cripple. My womanhood was stolen. If God had wanted those body parts missing, why did he create them?” Waris Dirie
Friday 6th February 2015 marked the 12th International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. 140 million women and girls worldwide underwent brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); another 3 million are at risk yearly to face the excruciating pain of their genitalia being removed partially or even completely for no medical reason but to obey tradition and social pressures.
The archaic practice to prevent girls from “being ill-mannered and doing bad things, and being badly behaved”, is carried out in 29 countries which are primarily concentrated in Africa and the Middle East. In violation of human rights of women and girls the procedure is generally carried between infancy and age 15.
One quarter of all FGM worldwide is carried out in Egypt; 91% of all married women there have been mutilated and that despite the fact that the practice had been made illegal in 2008. Even though the practice includes many risks including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths, it has persisted for over a thousand years.
The horrific tradition is also kept alive within migrant communities in the United Kingdom. FGM is illegal in the UK since 1895. It is also illegal to arrange for a child to be taken abroad for FGM and if caught, offenders face a large fine and a prison sentence of up to 14 years. However, it is estimated that around 170,000 women and girls living in the UK may have undergone FGM. Reports of the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) suggest that each month up to 500 cases of FGM are discovered in English hospitals.
Prime Minister David Cameron said last year that parents in England and Wales will face prosecution if they failed to stop their daughters undergoing FGM. His government marked 6th of February 2015 by introducing new measures to tackle FGM including £1.6 million for the next stage of the FGM prevention programme and a new national system to allow clinicians to note on a child’s health record that they are potentially at risk of FGM.
Research suggests that with the programmes introduced by now in almost all affected countries, FGM could end within one generation. James McAnulty, United Nations representative for Somalia, a country of similarly high prevalence of FGM as Egypt, stated that, “the global community is starting to see progress and momentum on abandoning FGM is heading in the right direction. The practice has been outlawed in most countries where it still occurs and some countries in Sub-Saharan African has seen a dramatic decline.”
Mr McAnulty’s statement is encouraging. The author and FGM-activist, Waris Dirie shared her own experience of FGM in her book Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad but also expressed the deep hope that “one day no woman will have to experience this pain.” We as a global civil society as well as all community and religious leaders must continue to come forward to make sure that the current positive development results in the complete eradication of FGM throughout the world.
Let the world know that girls are made perfect; say “No!” to FGM.
Rebecca Gebauer is the Director of Diplomatic Affairs of Global Minorities Alliance. She tweets at @RebeccaGebauer