A Multi-Faceted Approach To Ending FGM In The Region

Image of a blade in a woman's hand

According to UNICEF, about 25% of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases globally are reported from East Africa. Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia between them have almost 50 million young women who have undergone the cut.

Although FGM is illegal in Kenya, it is still being practiced by many communities living along the border. A report by UNICEF and UNFPA reveals that young women and girls are being taken across the border to undergo the procedure in a bid to avoid detection from law enforcement in their own countries. The problem of cross-border FGM is well-known to the authorities, who are striving to eliminate it. They recently held a Regional Inter Ministerial Meeting to End Cross-Border Female Genital Mutilation, where ministers from Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya signed a declaration to commit to ending the practice. The declaration outlines an action plan that aims to research, understand, and ultimately eradicate cross-border FGM.

Despite these efforts to end FGM, the practice still persists in many of these communities due to deep rooted social and cultural norms. Eradicating FGM will require a multi faceted approach that will address the various dimensions of the issue.

Educational:  Raising awareness and knowledge about the harmful effects of FGM among girls, boys, parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other community members is an important strategy to change attitudes and behaviors towards the practice. Ensuring that women and girls are educated generally is very important.  Education will enhance their self-esteem and confidence and it will  improve their decision-making skills. Educated women will have more opportunities to pursue their aspirations and dreams. It also means that they will be able to contribute to their families and societies in many ways that are not solely dependent on their marital or reproductive status. Educated women are the most likely group to drive the fight to end FGM in a given community. They would be best placed to break the cycle and stop their daughters from going through what they did.

Cultural: Respecting the diversity and identity of different communities while challenging the harmful traditions and beliefs that justify FGM is very important. FGM is often seen as a marker of cultural or religious identity. It is considered as a source of pride and belonging for many in these communities. It is therefore critical that efforts to end the practice are sensitive and respectful to the cultural context. Forcefully imposing external values and judgements needs to be avoided. What can be done instead is to focus on any existing positive aspect of the culture, like applauding the fact that values such as respect, community and family are honored. The communities can be encouraged to redefine their traditions in ways that do not harm girls and women. Alternative rites of passage that celebrate girls’ transition into womanhood without cutting them can be found.

Legal: Enacting and enforcing laws that prohibit FGM and that protect the rights of girls and women is an essential step to end the practice. However, these laws need to be effectively implemented and monitored. There has to be an allocation of resources and a political will to ensure enforcement. In order for them to be effective, these legal reforms need to be accompanied with other interventions that promote the social change necessary to protect women and girls’ rights. Civil society organizations need to work with law enforcement agencies in raising awareness about the new laws and its implications. Support and protection need to be provided for those who report cases of FGM or those who resist the pressure to undergo it.

Medical: Providing quality and accessible health care services for FGM survivors is another crucial aspect of addressing the issue. FGM can cause severe physical and psychological complications, such as bleeding, infections, chronic pain, infertility, obstetric fistula, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Health workers need to be trained on how to respond to FGM. They need to know how to provide comprehensive care and counseling to the affected girls and women. Health workers can also play a key role in educating communities on the harmful effects of FGM and dispelling myths that associate it with hygiene, beauty or morality.

FGM is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a holistic and collaborative approach to combat. These sectors should work together in a coordinated manner, involving all relevant stakeholders at the national, regional and local levels. By strengthening these systems, we can create an enabling environment for girls and women to exercise their rights and choices, and to end FGM once and for all.

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