SEATTLE — The World Health Organization approximates that 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). They estimate that three million girls are susceptible to this procedure annually.
FGM, as defined by UNICEF, is “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”. Although FGM occurs worldwide, it is most prevalent in Africa. PATH, an international nonprofit focused on improving global health, reports that 26 of 43 African countries practice FGM.
FGM is by no means a sanitary procedure. Conducted mostly in rural areas, PATH states the procedure is community-led and female circumcisers use tools like unsanitized glass, sharpened stones, scissors and razor blades.
Severe medical complications are common after the procedure. Immediate ones include infection, severe bleeding and death. Long-term complications include painful menstrual cycles, frequent urinary tract infections, painful sex and increased likelihood of HIV transmission. FGM can also lead to an increased risk of child and mother mortality due to childbirth complications and infertility.
Although FGM is undeniably harmful and a violation of human rights, it occurs today mostly because of cultural traditions. PATH reveals that cultures who support FGM do so because it serves as an “initiation” to womanhood, helps provide better marriage prospects for men and prevents sexual indecency.
Thankfully, it seems that the world is coming closer to stopping FGM permanently. Cases in countries where FGM is most rampant are starting to decline as education on the issue spreads and its support withers. The Desert Flower Foundation has played a major role in preventing more cases from occurring.
The Desert Flower Foundation is a nonprofit focused on stopping FGM globally. It was established by Waris Dirie, a model and humanitarian, in 2002. The organization works toward reaching its goal through advocacy, prevention efforts and providing psychological and medical assistance for victims.
Advocacy: Stopping FGM at the Source
The Desert Flower Foundation has been a pioneer in successfully spreading awareness of the ills of FGM. Waris Dirie published the book Desert Children in 2005, which educated people on the issue and proved that FGM was not just an African problem, but a global issue. This initiated many campaigns and government recognition. However, the most recognition came after the release of the movie “Desert Flower”, which was used in the efforts of UNICEF, UNHCR, and embassies throughout the world. More recognition came after the organization released a special mailing address targeted toward supporters and women at risk of FGM. Ten thousand people contacted them within the first year.
FGM Prevention Efforts
The Desert Flower Foundation sponsorship project Save a Little Desert Flower has saved 1,000 girls from undergoing FGM. Donors can sponsor a girl and in return, the girl will be saved from mutilation, sent to school and provided with routine medical checkups. The family is assisted financially to guarantee success. By signing contracts with the family, the organization ensures that all these criteria will be met. In 2015, the organization planned to sign 5,000 more contracts. The organization partakes in further prevention efforts with the “Together for African Women” initiative. Established in 2014, the initiative invested in education and job training for more than 140 African women to create self-determination and lower support for FGM in Africa.
Psychological and Medical Assistance
In 2014 in Berlin, the Desert Flower Foundation established its first support group for FGM victims. The support group allows for victims to connect with one another and receive psychological care. The organization also provides medical services. There is a surgical center in Berlin that provides reconstructive surgery to correct the complications that come with FGM.
The Desert Flower Foundation has been very successful in its efforts and is making huge strides in stopping FGM altogether. Through its compassion and dedication, women and girls everywhere can sleep more soundly knowing that FGM is closer to eradication day by day.
– Mary McCarthy