What is FGM?

This is the tenth consecutive year of International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). While the practice varies, it is widely understood as a form of gender based violence where a female’s genitals are cut off.

The practice is commonly done without general anaesthetic, painkillers or full consent on children as young as seven. It’s often a ceremonial act carried out by a woman on a group of girls that have reached a certain age. It’s often seen as a ‘rite of passage’ and considered to ensure the marriageability of a girl.

However, today the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, among others, condemn the act as a human rights violation. FGM affects a girls’ access to education and her ability to have children. That’s not to mention the high risk of complex health complications that can burden women with health costs that are impossible to meet. It’s estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in some form, and its practice has been recorded in over 30 countries.

Finding out more

Though I’d heard of FGM before, I didn’t learn about it until doing a project on it for my masters. I started my research by watching a video called ‘Born a girl in the wrong place’. It’s a Ted talk by Khadija Gbla, a Sierra Leonean woman who had undergone the practice. Having moved to Australia, she explained what it’s like to live in a developed country after undergoing a practice not widely practiced or educated about in many western countries. This lack of education is also the case in the UK. While many presume this is a far away problem, and though it’s illegal, FGM is still practiced in the UK. In fact the first British conviction was in 2019 when a woman was convicted of performing FGM on her 3 year old daughter in North London.

However the good news is that as we mark the 10th anniversary of this day, progress is being made. But it’s still hard to know how to help with an issue that still feels so big. Furthermore it’s an issue, that for many of us, feels so far removed from our everyday realities. Despite knowing FGM happens near and afar, it’s difficult to know what we can do individually to make a difference. Having read more about the issue, there are three main things you can do today to make a difference:

1. Learn and share

The good news is you’re already doing the first thing you can, and that’s educating yourself and spreading awareness. Sharing articles like this might feel meaningless, but the more it’s known about, the more it can be prevented. It also demonstrates an act of support and solidarity for those that have undergone the practice. This in-turn helps somewhat to remove the shame and stigma around it.

2. Prayer and Petition

Philippians 4:6 says ‘in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God’. So we can pray: for those that have undergone this practice, for a change of heart in those carrying it out, and for those working in communities to educate on the harm it brings and providing support as they move away from FGM as a deeply rooted cultural norm. But we can also petition. With FGM still not legally recognised in parts of British law, petitions like this one, are important to lend our signatures to.

3. Donate

As always, you can donate. There are many charities (Tearfund included) whose development work includes working to end FGM. Tearfund in particular have been working in Mali, Chad and Sierra Leone to mobilise faith leaders and communities to address the issue, as well as with survivors to support them in their healing from the emotional wounds created by this practice.

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