IN: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures pursuing the objective of partially or completely removing or harming female genitals for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. There are four forms of FGM:
Towards involved people, you should talk about “female circumcision” – the term FGM should stress the severity and irreversibility of the intervention be used for informative purposes.
IN: FGM is a human rights violation against women and children (girls) and frequently concerns minor children (between 0 and 14 years). The decision as to whether or not to circumcise a girl is often taken by the parents. In most of the cases, the intervention occurs without the consent of the child. FGM often causes lifelong physical, mental, and sexual injuries. The direct consequences of FGM include enormous pain and blood loss which could cause a life-threatening shock. If more than one girl is circumcised with the same instrument, additional illnesses and infections like HIV or hepatitis can be transmitted. Frequently, chronic pain and infections and incontinence and sexual disturbances are a durable consequence of genital mutilation. The infibulation can also cause an enormous pain during urination, menstruation and sexual intercourse and represents a very high risk for mother and child during birth. Another possible physical consequence is sterility which in many African regions represents a reason to divorce a woman. In addition, there are psychological problems like traumas, depressions, sleep and eating disorders. Since FGM is often understood as ritual to get an adult woman the girls involved are often victims of premature and forced marriage as well. This makes it difficult to them to go on with their studies to get a good education. For all these reasons, FGM is something we have to struggle against all over the world.
MR: How does the phenomenon look like geographically? How is the situation in Europe?
IN: According to UNICEF estimates, approximately 200 million women are victims of this phenomenon. According to WHO, 3 million of girls per year are victims of FGM. FGM is not only practised in 29 African countries, but also in Arabian and Asian countries. FGM is practised in the countries mentioned above by some ethnic groups. Therefore, the diffusion is not determined by national borders, but according to ethnic groups. FGM is also not limited to the members of a certain religion. In the regions where FGM is traditionally widespread, are Muslims, Christian, partially Jews and members of other religions.
MR: Why is FGM still a taboo and is not fought enough at the political level?
IN: Today, FGM is not a taboo anymore. It is treated very often. This change depends from awareness-raising measures of different kind. In almost all the countries of diffusion of FGM, FGM is prohibited by law. Many countries have signed and ratified agreements like the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and the Istanbul Convention to end FGM. Laws are prevention measures, but do not suffice as the following reasons show:
• Political approaches are often connected with criminalisation. This often causes the secrecy surrounding the practice.
• Some politicians in African countries do not want to deal with the matter because it is part of their culture.
• Other politicians are afraid of losing their election campaign because of FGM.
Therefore, it often happens that many laws against FGM are not implemented even if they were passed.
• Some political approaches like laws or human rights are considered as “Western influence” towards African culture and are therefore criticised.
• Radical movements within the religions mobilise people to engage for the conservation of the practice. This development means a challenge.
• The social and cultural anchoring and the religious interpretation of the practice are in opposition to its official refusal. Legal prohibitions are often just fragmentarily implemented or not applied at all.
For these reasons, laws must be accompanied by national information campaigns and local initiatives. Approaches like information, awareness-raising, dialogue on the direct level of the target groups (for example cultural and religious leaders, women, men), FGM as study theme in integration courses and generation dialogues within communities must be strengthened. Overcoming FGM needs time and long-term engagement on a local, regional, and national level.
IN: TERRE DES FEMMES has been active for 30 years and besides other main subjects (like violence in the name of honour, forced marriage, domestic and sexualised violence and women trafficking) it fights FGM. Our vision is based on equality, self-determination and freedom for women and girls all over the world. TDF implements different strategies to achieve this goal. The most efficient strategies are the ones in which communities are actively involved in the solution finding and at the same time support community empowerment.
Collaboration with communities: In the projects designed and coordinated by TERRE DES FEMMES CHANGE and CHANGE Plus (www.change-agent.eu), co-financed by the EU, we encourage diaspora communities from countries with a high prevalence rate of the practice to end FGM. The objective is to train and strengthen multiplicators, the so-called CHANGE agents within the involved communities. The CHANGE agents sensitise their own communities by contributing to end FGM. At TDF, we combine our lobby and public relations work with community activities in order to represent the voices of the communities and to develop common strategies for sustainable behaviour changes.
Web-based platform for professional groups: As German partner organisation of the EU-financed project “United to END FGM”, TDF is creating a multilingual online knowledge platform with different partner organisation. The platform aims at professional groups who get in touch with involved and endangered girls and women. From September 2017, this platform will be online free-of-charge.