Writing for Her Rights: The role of the media in ending FGM in West Africa - Equality Now
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Writing for Her Rights: The role of the media in ending FGM in West Africa

An estimated 55 million girls under the age of 15 in 28 African countries have experienced or are at risk of experiencing female genital mutilation (FGM). Despite laws against FGM in parts of West, East, Central, and Northern Africa these laws are often inconsistently enforced and implemented. 

FGM is a human rights violation, and for almost 30 years Equality Now has been committed to protecting the rights of women and girls and working to ending the practice. 

For change to be achieved, public awareness about the lifelong, and too often life-threatening, consequences of FGM must be raised. Media professionals, including journalists, editors, broadcasters, and producers, all play a critical role in shaping public discourse and influencing policymakers. 

Writing for her rights

The media has a unique power to help protect the rights of women and girls and to educate those who still believe that FGM is a rite of passage for a girl, hygienic, or a prerequisite to marriage. Here at Equality Now, we are committed to supporting journalists in the region in their work to share the truth about FGM because we know that these truths have the power to change perspectives and change lives. 

Earlier this year, with a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with the Anti-FGM Board, Kenya, and the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Equality Now released a toolkit to support media professionals in the region in their efforts to report on FGM. 

Thanks to the generosity of a grant from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under the Spotlight Initiative, Equality Now has had the opportunity to host a series of workshops for West African journalists who are courageously reporting on FGM and its prevalence in the region.

We are delighted to share conversations with two of the journalists who attended our training in West Africa. They reflect on their experience at the workshop, the challenges of covering FGM, and what the international media can do to help ensure millions more young girls' bodies, health, and futures are not put at risk.


Mary Kabay, Sierra Leone - The Calabash Newspaper

What made you want to become involved in Equality Now's training on ending FGM in West Africa?

FGM is a sensitive topic and a traumatic one that needs to be addressed widely. Equality Now’s passion for ending FGM will help me to do this since government officials and other community stakeholders frown upon discussing it.  Many organizations have tried their best to ending FGM, but most of these efforts literally amount to nothing. At some point, the leads on these campaigns shy away or are threatened by the political actors, but I’m ready for the fight to end this inhumane treatment women and girls are facing, especially in rural communities. 

Why is FGM an important issue for journalists in West Africa to cover? Are there many other journalists covering the topic?

FGM is an important issue for journalists to cover because it deprives girls and women of their rights in society. Although many journalists shy away from reporting on this issue, I see it as a chance to advocate for the rights of girls and women, especially in more rural areas. Some of the reasons the issue remains underreported in West Africa are:

  • Some female journalists are already part of the culture or custom, so they might not want to betray their loyalty
  • Some are also afraid to report these stories because they may become outcasts for doing so; this is especially true for those in or with ties to rural communities
  • Others think people can’t accept the facts about FGM, so they would rather not waste their time reporting on it 
  • Media editors do not see the story as a good use of time, space, or resources 

What role do you see the media playing in ending the practice of FGM?

Social media platforms are very helpful in raising awareness of the issue. Before social media, many people were not aware of the negative impact of FGM, but social media and the media have helped to raise awareness about the dangers associated with it and its implications for girls’ and women’s futures. 

Have you had the opportunity to interview or speak with girls or women who have undergone FGM? 

Lately, I've been speaking with survivors and the experiences they’ve shared are heart-rending. Some are ignorant of the consequences of FGM and others hate the experience so they resist talking about it. 

Do you see a role for the international media in reporting on the issue of FGM and contributing to the end of the practice?

Yes, there is a need for international media and that will boost awareness of local media outlets. The likes of BBC, CNN, and Al Jazeera reach large audiences and spur more local media outlets to recognize the gravity of this topic.


Kangaye Sangaré, Mali - Bénbéré Bloggers platform

What made you want to become involved in Equality Now's training on ending FGM in West Africa?

Above all, I wanted to gain more knowledge to better fight against FGM in West Africa.

Why is FGM an important issue for journalists in West Africa to cover? Are there many other journalists covering the topic?

Journalists who are sensitive to the problem should talk about it because awareness must be continuous to achieve positive results. It’s important to talk about FGM because it is a public health problem. FGM-related topics are usually classified as taboo and few journalists dare to cover them. Even if the topic is not totally taboo, many journalists still hesitate to take an interest in it, probably because of the barriers of culture and/or religion. Victims themselves rarely agree to speak out with their faces exposed. 

What role do you see the media playing in ending the practice of FGM?

The role of the media should be to denounce these practices, to highlight their harmful consequences, and to put forward the primary people concerned, that is to say, the survivors of FGM.

Have you had the opportunity to interview or speak with girls or women who have undergone FGM? 

Yes, I have had the opportunity to interview survivors of FGM. What struck me the most is that in most cases these survivors do not know that their “ailments” are due to FGM until a doctor tells them about it. These survivors continued to defend the practice because they did not want to feel inferior to women who had not undergone FGM.

In your reporting, what have you identified as the major roadblocks to ending the practice of FGM?

Raising awareness among survivors is essential to break the cycle of harm. Health specialists also need to be involved to convince the population about the harms of the FGM, but survivors are the first line of defense, as are communications with excisors [who perform FGM], to better understand the barriers culture and religion present.

Do you see a role for the international media in reporting on the issue of FGM and contributing to the end of the practice?

International media can change their approach to how they cover FGM so that survivors do not feel assaulted or marginalized. More can also be done to reach out to survivors to show them possible resources to cope with the physical and psychological damage they often experience. 


If you want to learn more about our work with the media to end FGM, explore Reporting on Female Genital Mutilation: A toolkit for journalists and editors, released in March 2021 in collaboration with the Anti-FGM Board, Kenya, and the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) with the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

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