FGM is illegal in Canada. With diaspora communities from across Africa and the Middle East, it is estimated that over 80,000 women and girls are living with the effects of FGM in Canada. They may have immigrated having already undergone FGM, been subjected to it on trips to their homeland, or even illegally in Canada.Read more
While ensuring that girls and women are protected from FGM by the law is key, the law alone cannot eradicate this practice. Activists, community leaders, educators, health care providers, and law and policymakers are increasingly working together to end FGM.
In countries and regions where FGM has been reduced or abandoned altogether, the decline has often resulted when the human rights of women and girls were reinforced and legally protected and a multi-sectoral strategy was used to end FGM. Such an approach fully engages families, community leaders, educators, lawmakers or enforcers, health care and social service providers to play an active role. Research shows that if practicing communities themselves decide to abandon FGM, the practice can be eliminated very rapidly. Law provides an excellent opportunity to have important dialogues within communities and serve as an effective tool for prevention (and when necessary, prosecution).
Strong laws alone cannot end FGM.
To ensure the law is implemented governments must enact a comprehensive set of measures including the provision of adequate organizational, human, technical and financial resources supported with appropriate measures and tools, such as regulations, policies, plans, and budgets.
We must address the fundamental inequality in attitudes and perceptions of the role and place of women and girls in society. To move forward in efforts to eradicate FGM, every one of us needs to commit to engaging in discussions around gender equality and discrimination at all levels, within our communities, and our families, as well as at a national and international level.
Increasing women’s access to education can help to curb the incidence of FGM, as it opens women’s and girls’ minds to considerations beyond the traditions of their communities. Women and girls with more education are also less likely to choose the practice for their daughter, in addition to being less likely to have undergone FGM themselves. Many women are not aware that many of the physical and psychological difficulties they experience are the result of FGM. The medical community can play a key role in discussing and treating the symptoms and helping mothers make a different choice for their daughters.
Coupled with greater knowledge about the damaging effects of FGM, educational initiatives, such as school-based anti-FGM campaigns, community-wide campaigns, and media campaigns utilizing theater and other entertainment sources, can lead to a greater understanding of the importance of having and enforcing laws against FGM.
Female genital mutilation is a human rights violation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation, a form of violence and discrimination against girls and women. It is most often carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, though adult women are also subjected. FGM has no health benefits, only harm.
FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is commonly broken down into four types, as outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO):
- Type I — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
- Type II — Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
- Type III — Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
- Type IV — All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.
FGM is a global issue
FGM occurs across all cultural, religious and socio-economic groups. It is practiced on every continent except Antarctica.
Every year, at least 3.9 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation globally. FGM is a difficult issue to quantify, partly because the nation-wide prevalence of FGM is measured in only 31 countries and that data relies on women self-reporting (or providing information regarding their daughters) having undergone the practice. Due to population growth in areas of the world where the practice is most common, there is also a concern that the number of women and girls subjected to FGM could rise in the near future.
In some countries, such as Indonesia, FGM may be offered in hospitals alongside vaccinations as part of a “birth package,” while in other countries, such as Kenya, the practice is most commonly carried out on girls between the ages of 12-18. In some contexts, girls undergo FGM to prepare them for marriage.
From India to Liberia to the United States, FGM can have lifelong implications for women and girls who are subjected to it.
Why is FGM a feminist issue?
FGM is carried out for a number of cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities which vary from context to context.
It is largely rooted in the desire to control women’s sexuality and bodily autonomy. It is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean.”
FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behavior, linked to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM often reduces a woman’s sexual pleasure and is in many communities believed to reduce a woman's libido and therefore believed to help her resist "illicit" sexual acts.
Often seen as a rite of passage into womanhood, it can be an immediate precursor to child marriage.
Celebrating cultural values and heritage is important, however, girls should be able to celebrate transitions to womanhood and learn about their culture and community values without the violence and lifelong physical and mental effects of FGM or forced marriage.
Equality Now notes the tremendous social pressure that supports the continuity of these practices and the fact that many girls undergo FGM for many reasons. However, the social and economic pressures to undergo FGM do not negate the violation of human rights or violence inherent in the practice. Compelling or forcing a girl or woman to undergo FGM in order to maintain social and economic status is itself part of the human rights violation.
What are the consequences of FGM for a woman or girl?
FGM often results in lifelong health problems, increased risks during childbirth, psychological trauma, and even death. At the time the practice is carried out, risks include severe bleeding, shock, infection, other serious injuries, and even death.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over the course of her life, a girl or a woman who has been subjected to FGM faces difficulties with menstruation, such as pain and difficulty passing menstrual blood or urine, urinary tract infections, pain during sex, less or no sexual pleasure, and increased risk of complications during childbirth, among other risks to her physical and mental health.
Who performs FGM?
The practice is commonly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, there is increasing medicalization of FGM, and in some countries, FGM is almost universally carried out by health care providers.
FGM and the law: national and international
FGM violates various human rights under international and national law, including women’s and girls’ rights to equality, life, the security of the person, dignity, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
The following treaty monitoring bodies have all interpreted FGM as a human rights violation in breach of those treaties, with some including medicalization as well:
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
- the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,
- and the Convention against Torture
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) banned FGM in 2003 (Article 5).
All 193 countries of the United Nations committed to eliminating all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030 within Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
How Does Equality Now work to end FGM?
Equality Now has been at the forefront of efforts to end FGM, pushing for laws that protect girls and criminalize the practice, and supporting grassroots activists working to end FGM in their communities.
- We are working toward a world where women and girls are protected from harmful practices by the law and are surrounded by social attitudes and behaviors that enforce women’s equality.
- We are also working to ensure that women and girls have access to justice when their rights are violated.
- We push for states to be accountable in line with their international obligations, and ensure they enact and effectively implement laws that prohibit harmful practices.
FGM is global, but so is the movement to end it.
This manifesto, calling for FGM to be eradicated worldwide by 2030, was delivered to the UK Prime Minister to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM 2020 by ACTION: FGM, a coalition of FGM survivors, medical professionals, academics, think-tanks, and other organizations, including Equality Now.Read more
Ahead of International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on February 6th, we spoke to young activists from across the global movement to end FGM.Read more
What is FGM?
FGM is often rationalized as a rite of passage into womanhood. In reality it is an extreme form of violence used to control women and girls’ sexuality.
It has serious and far reaching consequences on the health, psychological, and emotional well being of women and girls. It denies women and girls the full enjoyment of their rights and liberties, takes away their right to bodily autonomy, causes lifelong health problems, increased maternal and infant mortality during childbirth, psychological trauma and even death.
How prevalent is FGM in Burkina Faso?
According to UNICEF, 76 percent of women in Burkina Faso aged 15-49 have undergone FGM. The majority of the girls undergo FGM before the age of five, with prevalence ranging from 22 percent to 87 percent depending on ethnicity.
The main reasons for performing FGM include social acceptance, preserving virginity, better marriage prospects as well as religious reasons even though FGM has not been cited in any religious texts.
Is FGM against the law in Burkina Faso?
Yes. In November 1996, the parliament passed a law outlawing FGM in Burkina Faso.
The law was amended in 2018 – 2019 to provide stiffer penalties. Article 380 of the Penal Code defines and criminalizes FGM while Articles 381 and 382 provide penalties for FGM including FGM carried out by a medical practitioner.
The Ministry of Education has committed to integrate teaching the consequences of FGM into formal and informal education curriculum.
In 2016, the parliament further adopted the 2016 - 2020 ‘National Strategic Plan of the Permanent Secretariat of the National Council for the fight against the Practice of Excision’ (Le Comite National de Lutte Contre la Pratique de l’Excision) a blue print used in the implementation of anti-FGM efforts.
Why is FGM still affecting girls in Burkina Faso?
While Burkina Faso has strongly enforced their anti-FGM law, cross-border FGM remains a challenge. Citizens often cross the border to countries where anti-FGM laws do not exist or where such laws are weakly enforced.
Burkina Faso borders Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin which have laws against FGM. It also borders Mali, which has a prevalence of over 90%, and does not have an anti-FGM law.
How can we end FGM in Burkina Faso?
Equality Now is calling on:
- The government to ensure that women and girls are fully protected from FGM;
- The judiciary to uphold the current sentencing law on the perpetrators;
- The government to increase budgetary allocation to support the enforcement of the anti-FGM law;
- The government to ensure accountability across all law-enforcement structures in order to accelerate implementation of the anti-FGM law; and
- The government to ensure capacity-building of institutions responsible for the implementation of the anti-FGM law.
At Women Deliver 2019, we came together as civil society organizations, champions, survivors & grassroots representatives at Women Deliver 2019 around a global effort to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by 2030.
This is our Call to Action. Read it. Share it. Together, we can create a world free from FGM/C.Read more
We want to live in a world where every woman and girl can make her voice heard. Tell us about the world you want to live in with #TheWorldIWantToLiveIn on social media.Read more
Sierra Leone does not presently have any national law that explicitly prohibits and punishes the practice of FGM. Previous efforts to criminalise it have not materialised.
Women and girls who have not been cut are often frowned upon and prohibited from taking part in certain community functions. The practice is for the most part carried out by traditional cutters (soweis) who yield a lot of power and control over the country’s social and political functions.
In 2014, the government of Sierra Leone placed a countrywide ban on FGM to control the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease. Individuals found guilty of carrying out the procedure were fined and although this led to a drastic reduction in the prevalence of FGM at the time, the ban was not effected long term. The practice of FGM resumed and has since then been going on uninterrupted. Reports of women and girls being kidnapped and forced to undergo the cut are therefore common.
Due to the lack of political goodwill; failure by the State to outrightly condemn FGM; and remarks from various political leaders justifying the practice, this human rights violation continues unabated.
In this regard, Equality Now calls on President Julius Maada Bio, the Ministries of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs; Internal Affairs; Health and Sanitation; and the Sierra Leone Judiciary and law enforcement mechanism to:
- permanently ban FGM by enacting and enforcing a comprehensive anti FGM law.
- Support educational outreach to relevant communities and local chiefs on the harms of FGM.
- Protect women and girls who are uncut, from intimidation and abuse.
We further call upon the First Lady Fatima Bio to take FGM as part of her Hands off Our Girls campaign that seeks to protect girls from various human rights violation such as child marriage and sexual violence that are greatly interlinked with FGM or happen as a result of FGM.
These actions will ensure that Sierra Leone honours its national, regional and international duty to protect the rights of women and girls.