Approximately 140 million girls and women have undergone and are living with female genital mutilation (FGM). In Africa, an estimated 101 million girls age 10 and older have undergone FGM.
FGM is an umbrella term that comprises all surgical procedures in which part or all of the external female genitalia is removed for non-medical reasons.
FGM has possible side effects including severe bleeding, difficulties urinating, and later in life, cysts, infections, infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths due to childbirth complications.
The surgeries are typically done by traditional circumcisers, though an increasing number of health care providers are performing FGM. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 18% of all FGM were done by health care providers.
FGM is a cultural practice that can be perceived as a sign of a women’s availability to marry or to conform to her community.
FGM is globally recognized as a violation of human rights of girls and women. It is a sign of inequality between the sexes; discrimination against women; and is usually done to minors, which is a violation of children’s rights.
In 2008, The World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eliminate FGM.
Currently, activist groups are fighting against FGM. Équilibres & Populations and Association Malienne Pour le Suiviet l’Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles (AMSOPT) are working in Kayes, Mali to lower the 98% rate of FGM.
For the past 7 years, Équilibres & Populations and AMSOPT have worked with local villages in the Kayes region to alter popular acceptance of FGM.
Their project’s aim is to develop communities where women who have not undergone FGM are safe from ostracism and persecution. In order to do this, the organizations recognize the need for long-term follow-up; as such they work mostly with communities that are interested in ceasing to practice FGM.
However, the organizations do engage new communities by connecting them to communities that have abandoned FGM through marriage or through another type of link.
Female facilitators are trained to discuss the implications and harmful consequences of FGM with communities through focus groups, home visits, counseling sessions and community radio programs.
These informative talks are directed at community and religious leaders, village chiefs and women’s group representatives who have the most power to influence the discontinuance or continuance of FGM in their community.
More than 20,000 people have heard these organizations speak in the Kayes region.
Sometimes their talks are successful, and other times they are not. This is why the organizations view this as a long-term process which will require follow-ups with communities.
For instance, a village leader told project representatives, “Last June, members of AMSOPT came to my village to present the project. After they left, I gathered my community and discredited everything they had said. I now admit I was wrong. By my lack of knowledge, I misled my people. From now on, this practice will be abandoned in my village and measures will be taken.”
A crucial aspect of the project is the practically free medical care that is provided for health issues that arise due to FGM. 375 women have been treated for FGM complications.
This much needed care illustrated to the community the link between FGM and health problems, and also provided the opportunity for the organizations to work directly with local doctors. Local doctors were taught how to provide care for FGM issues and were dissuaded from participating in FGM.
Due to the efforts of Équilibres & Populations and Association Malienne Pour le Suiviet l’Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles (AMSOPT), 100 out of 250 villages within and around the Kayes region have permanently abandoned female genital mutilation.
– Kasey Beduhn