NEW YORK – Female genital mutilation (FGM), also called female circumcision, refers to a range of procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedures have absolutely no health benefits for girls and women and often cause a number of harmful effects ranging from severe bleeding, issues urinating, cysts, infections, infertility, complications in childbirth and even death.
These practices are most often carried out on young girls aged anywhere from infancy to 15-years-old.
FGM is internationally recognized as a grave violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is a violation of a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity as well as the right to be free from torture and inhuman treatment. FGM represents an extreme form of discrimination against women and an insidious component of the global epidemic of gender-based violence.
Despite such devastating health consequences and violations, an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide are victims of the practice. Fortunately, governments, NGOs and activist groups are utilizing a number of strategies to eliminate the practice, including those listed below:
1. Bans and condemnations by leaders, governments and legislative bodies
One notable example of this came one year ago when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki moon ushered in a groundbreaking U.N. resolution condemning the practice. The resolution, adopted December 21, 2012, calls on all countries to eliminate female genital mutilation in an “important step towards a world free from violence against women.”
Though laws in and of themselves are insufficient in totally reversing social conventions, they can create safe spaces for victims of the practice and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. Anti-FGM legislation also broadcasts a strong message of support to those who either have renounced or would like to renounce the practice.
2. Engaging with traditional, religious and community leaders
Traditional and religious leaders are highly respected within communities and considered respected agents of change. With their influence, they can build consensus within communities against the practice and influence families’ decisions surrounding their daughters.
3. Working toward de-medicalizing the practice
Given the health issues often involved in traditional means of FGM practices, many opt to have the procedures performed by trained health professionals. This shift has become so prevalent in some areas that FGM procedures are regularly occur in clinics and other health facilities. Currently, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by health care providers and this disturbing trend is only increasing.
This medicalization of FGM wrongly legitimizes the procedures and can contribute to the damaging perception that these practices are beneficial to girls’ health. Yet even under the most sterile conditions with the most modern equipment, FGM procedures willfully damage healthy organs for non-therapeutic reasons and do nothing to reduce the longterm sexual, psychological, emotional and obstetrical complications of the practice.
FGM practices, no matter who carries them out, still represent a major human rights violation.
4. Utilizing effective media campaigns to alter public opinion
Given FGM’s deep entrenchment within local customs and cultural traditions, combating it requires adjusting people’s perceptions about the practice. Thus, the media are a powerful tool in influencing perceptions around FGM and educating people about its realities. From billboards to soap operas and talk shows to internet and radio, there are numerous effective ways of creating a dialogue on the matter and persuading people to move away from the damaging practices.
– Kelley Calkins