Over 90% of girls and women in Somalia are subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite the devastating, life-long health impacts, including bleeding, pain, disability, infertility, and even death, the harmful tradition remains a taboo.
What is Female Genital Mutilation?
Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to all practices that remove or damage the external female genitalia or certain female genital organs unmedically.
It is usually performed by traditional healers. However, several studies have shown that health care providers perform FGM more often because they believe that the procedure is safer when medicalized. However, the WHO strongly discourages this practice.
Why Does FMG Exist?
Female Genital Mutilation is violence against girls and women, child abuse, and sexual assault. Most often, it is about controlling a female’s sexuality. The idea of FMG is rooted in a tradition to prepare women for marriage and purify them for their future husbands.
Sometimes it is done to girls because their mother went through it. But mostly without much of an explanation at all. It is worth mentioning FGM is not a religious exercise but a social practice. Victims of this extremely violent act are from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish community, but nothing in the holy books teaches or promotes it.
It is a cycle of social pressure that is hard to break but not impossible. Many mothers who have been through the pain and lifelong trauma of FMG want the practice to end.
Midwives and nurses in Somaliland see FGM from two perspectives. First, they see the emotional and health effects of this harmful practice on girls and women in their work.
However, their understanding of the social norms that sustain FGM as a rite of passage comes from their involvement with the communities, whether from traditional practitioners or health workers.
Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation
Based on data from large-scale representative surveys, FGM is prevalent across a wide range of countries from the Horn of Africa to the Atlantic coast, in places like Iraq and Yemen in the Middle East, and certain countries in Asia like Indonesia, with a variety of prevalence rates. For example, in Somalia, Guinea, and Djibouti, the practice is almost universal, reaching levels of 90 percent, while in Uganda and Cameroon, it affects less than 1 percent.
FGM, however, is a human rights issue that affects women and girls worldwide. Colombia, India, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are just a few places where FGM has been documented. However, the practice varies greatly according to the type performed, context of the practice, and size of the affected populations.
There are no representative data on prevalence in these contexts, and the only available evidence is based on (sometimes outdated) small-scale studies or anecdotal reports.
Covid Pandemic and FMG
The pandemic of COVID-19 profoundly affects the environments in which girls and all children grow and develop, escalating immediate health risks and affecting their long-term wellbeing.
The risks faced by young women and girls living in fragile and conflict-affected settings are even greater, as increased stress from health and economic impacts is exacerbated, as well as deteriorating protection structures.
According to the current status, the United Nations forecasts two million girls to be at severe risk of undergoing the procedure in 10 years. Prolonger school closures are heightening the numbers. Furthermore, the prevailing threat of COVID is hurdling the medical attention girls recovering from FGM need.
The Long Fight
To intensify and direct the effort on eliminating this practice, the UN General Assembly declared February 6th as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.
Over the past three decades, FGM has declined significantly. Around one in three girls aged 15 to 19 today are undergoing the practice, compared to one in two in the late 1980s.
However, the pace of decline hasn’t been equal in all countries, and not all nations have made progress. Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia, Togo, and Kenya have experienced large declines in FGM rates among girls aged 15 to 19.
The End of FGM
Shaking the roots of long-run social practices is tough but not impossible. Yet, determining the safety of millions of girls is important. So, how can we end this cruel practice?
Education is the key. Mothers, doctors, and teachers in the vulnerable regions need thoughts to spot what signs to look for and how to respond to sensitivity.
Cultural Intervention with the survivors of FMG dictating their experience and stories of the practice. Furthermore, laws and policies in countries like Somalia could be the stepping stone from the government’s end to halt the rite. Punishing the offenders and practitioners and introducing policy changes that further deter the practice.
Rights organizations, including the UN, WHO, and Global Citizens, have launched various campaigns to end this years-long practice. But, spreading awareness against the fallacy and global support to bring the FMG to a conclusion worldwide is vital.
“So far, progress has been clear and measurable. Today, girls are one-third less likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation than 30 years ago. In the last two decades, the proportion of girls and women in high-prevalence countries who oppose the practice has doubled.”UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem