North-South Cooperation in Fighting FGM

In recent years, it has become apparent that international cooperation is important in promoting inclusive and sustainable development, especially to achieve global development agendas. African countries recognize the importance of partnerships for enhancing and consolidating the growth of the continent.

Many African states have benefitted from the traditional North-South cooperation, through sharing experiences, technical assistance, as well as the cooperation of other  emerging economies. It is along such lines that the Anti-FGM campaign has picked up much-necessary momentum after years of lip service.

The campaign against FGM has had a long history, but it has been confined to board rooms and workshops, with few targeted grassroots campaigns. For instance, as recently as 2010, Kenya did not have an official policy addressing FGM and relied upon Presidential decrees. However, with the Anti-FGM policy put in place, in 2011, there has been considerable investment of resources and strategies from the North.

The international immigration crisis brought FGM to the doorstep of the developed north. Waves of migrants from nations that practice FGM began arriving and settling, and brought their deep-rooted cultural practices – such as FGM – with them. While the developed north had been known to condemn the practice in principle, the changing dynamics required a more proactive approach, both at home and abroad.

It is in this context that a new impetus to fund anti-FGM work at the grassroots by organizations based in the north came about.  Notably, in 2015, The Guardian Media UK launched the End FGM Guardian Global Media Campaign in Kenya, The Gambia and Nigeria. The Guardian pioneered identifying and training young activists in the use of new and traditional media to work towards ending FGM.

The use of media has been a powerful tool in influencing perceptions and educating people about the realities of FGM. The media has also broadened the platform, reach and visibility of anti-FGM efforts. The use of activists has built upon young people who are already playing leadership roles and have what it takes to be future opinion leaders in their respective communities.

Similarly, The Girl Generation, an African-led global movement aimed at ending FGM within a generation, focuses on building a critical mass for change which helps unlock regional, national and international commitments to increase resources that can sustain and scale up efforts to end the practice.

Other notable strategies include Alternative Rites of Passage (ARPs) spearheaded by AMREF Health, in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. ARPs allow a girl to safely transition to womanhood without undergoing the emotional and physical risk of FGM while preserving a community’s’ culture. ARPs has been adopted by the United Nations as a model of eradicating FGM.

In Djibouti, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Somalia, The Gambia, and Mauritania, is Tostan – a human rights Community Empowerment Program that allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGM and lead their own movements for change. The program also focuses on community public declarations which are critical in the process of abandoning the practice, eventually leading FGM to becoming a thing of the past.

Elsewhere, 28TooMany is consistently working on research around Africa where FGM is practiced (28 countries) and across the diaspora. They also advocate for the global eradication of FGM and work closely with other organizations in the violence against women sector. Research and data is a crucial element that guides Anti-FGM strategies and campaigns.

What these efforts have in common is support from the north, with campaigns being led by local activists, many of whom are beginning to gain attention for their efforts in eradicating FGM in their countries.

The North-South cooperation has resulted in accelerated efforts to end FGM – evident in the recent ban of FGM in countries like Nigeria and The Gambia.  A drop in FGM overall in some countries, and public community declarations in others, are tangible results. Intangible results can be seen in increased reportage of FGM cases, a surge in involvement of young people and institutions in Anti-FGM Campaigns, increased awareness, the launch of regional campaigns such as the Saleema Initiative in Sudan, the Not in My Name campaign in Sierra Leone and the He for She campaign worldwide.

Why I believe the youth can End FGM

Earlier this year, during the 60th Commission on Status of Women (CSW) held in New York with the theme “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development”, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was for the first time included in the global goals under Sustainable Development goal 5. Target 5.3: Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early/forced marriage and female genital mutilation. 

For the millions of girls currently at risk of FGM this new global goal brings the promise of a better future.

Globally, an estimated 100 Million to 140 Million girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM (UNFPA 2015). Unfortunately if the current trend continues, an estimated 15 Million girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to female genital mutilation between now and 2030. Additionally millions of girls are currently suffering from the pychological effects due to the pain and shock as well as the physical effects of FGM such as fistula, difficulty during childbirth,HIV AIDS among others.

Eliminating FGM is a crucial step in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals including targets on health and well-being, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. As the practice of FGM continues, the health/well-being of girls and women is threatened and they are denied opportunities for decent work and quality education.
This provision is also a great platform for the billions of the youth in the world campaigning against the practice.
Why the youth?

According to UNFPA2015, 1.8billion people between the ages of 10-24 constitute to the worlds population. These are great numbers that can push for desired change! I slightly fall out of this age gap but guess what?

We just got a great provision to enable us eliminate FGM in one generation. We are powerful in eradicating FGM since we are the Change agents, we are the revolutionists. A new beginning starts with us and a new world is definitely molded by us.
We are the voice and the driving force behind the developments to eliminate harmful customs and traditional practices within our generation.
We are the pacesetters; we set a trend that the next generation will follow, the future of the next generation is therefore destined in us. We are the blacksmiths of this current and future world, we can shape it the best way possible since we have the power and the ability to advocate for change.
We are the innovators, most creative ideas generate within us. We have the right technology that we can incorporate in our campaign to end FGM.
We have the energy to work, energy to lead, ability to influence decision making, ability to influence policy formation and law enforcement.
We have unique talents: ability to sing, write, draw, dance etc. We can use our various talents to drive Anti-FGM messages home.
We are the future leaders, doctors, midwives, social workers, and teachers. We are therefore supposed to take up the leadership roles now. We are practically the leaders of our nations. Let us use this power to direct and influence change.
It is necessary that we learn now why FGM and early child/forced marriages is wrong so that we can grow in a society that condemns these practices. Do we in the first place really know about the practice? How can we influence change without the knowledge? Let’s start by empowering ourselves with the right information through education. Education is key in eradicating these practices, we need to pioneer for interactive resources that can be used in a classroom setting, both formal and informal education, Mali, Kenya and Burkina Faso has done it. These way children do not accept FGM unquestionably as an inviolable tradition. Through education, young people learn to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves and future families.
We need to realize that we cannot work as stand-alone entities. Let’s come together, tap into available resources, converge all our unique talents and abilities, form a national movement that speaks with one voice and move with synergy towards eradicating FGM and other social malpractices. Let’s create a national dialogue, engage the key players and create relationships with all the activists and organizations campaigning against FGM .Our concerted effort can indeed wipe out the practice.
Let us not focus on teaching young people solely from FGM affected background; it is necessary to educate all young people. FGM is a human right abuse and therefore

“Everybody’s busines

Ending Child Marriage and FGM Saves Lives and Money

This post is co-written by: Rachel, Policy Associate and Salma, Egypt Fellow

Around the world, women’s and girls’ value as human beings is all too often based largely upon their sexuality, rather than their personal and societal contributions.

Disproportionately, girls around the world are pulled out of school, restricted in terms of where and how they can get around and with who whom they are allowed to speak. Many are forced into unwanted marriages. One of the most profound ways girls are affected is they’re often forced to undergo what is known as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). FGM/C is a type of surgery performed on young girls – in a misguided effort – to “preserve their purity.”

This surgery can cause irreparable harm to girls’ health and, in some cases, can be deadly. Take, for example, Sohier Al-Batea, a 13-year old Egyptian girl, who died in 2013 after a trained and licensed medical doctor cut away parts of her external genitalia as part of a FGM/C surgery.

Though universally considered a human rights violation, FGM/C is all too common throughout the world and can be found in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. In fact, the United Nations (UN) estimates that, globally, 15 million girls will experience this harmful practice by 2030. When a girl’s sexuality is tied to both her and her family’s honor, removing pieces of her body that are tied to her sexuality are seen as measures that will both protect her and prepare her for marriage. Medical professionals, however, have said that the practice has no health benefits but rather causes immediate and long-term, acute and chronic physical consequences.

Although there are laws making the practice illegal in most, if not all, of the countries where FGM/C is prevalent, laws alone are not enough. Often, social attitudes view FGM/C as necessary to prevent girls from having and acting upon sexual desires. These views further  encourage parents to cut their daughters, and stigmatizes families who do not. A case in point: the 2014 Egyptian Demographic Health Survey (DHS) showed more than 50 percent of Egyptian women favor FGM/C, viewing it as aligning with their cultural and religious traditions. If we are to end this practice, minds must change along with the proper implementation of laws.

Another harmful practice that robs girls of rights and opportunities, though illegal in most countries, is child marriage, which claims 28 girls every minute. More than 700 million women alive today were married as children, and one in three of them were married before they turned 15. Frequently married to men significantly older than them, child brides experience a lack of control over their own lives, and often experience physical, sexual, and emotional violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws. Girls who marry young are more likely to become pregnant earlier, die in childbirth, have more children, have those children die before they turn five, see an end to their own education, and experience extreme social isolation.

The practices of FGM/C and child marriage are both tied to traditional norms that value girls more as wives and mothers than as girls in their own right. It’s important to note that not all child brides undergo FGM/C, and not all girls who are cut end up marrying before they turn 18. However, both processes are often linked as girls are often cut in preparation for marriage. Both practices stem from the same discriminatory norms and attitudes regarding female sex. It is clear laws and policies alone are not sufficient to end these harmful, and sometimes deadly, practices. Ending both practices would have enormous social, health, and economic impacts on developing nations. Most importantly, it would mean that girls like Sohier would not have to die, and could instead experience a healthy adolescence that will allow her to safely transition to adulthood.

In Egypt, where Sohier Al-Batea died, FGM/C is illegal but remains widespread, and has become medicalized. With licensed doctors performing the procedure, many parents feel safe when putting their daughter under the knife. According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), an estimated 100-140 million women have undergone FGM/C worldwide. UNICEF reports that one in five of those who have undergone FGM/C lives in Egypt, and around 91 percent of the female Egyptian population have experienced some form of cutting.

Al-Batea’s death sparked widespread condemnation, particularly from Egyptian children’s and women’s right advocates. Despite this condemnation, both the doctor and Al-Batea’s family were acquitted of criminal charges, even though the anti-FGM/C law has been on the books since 2008. Laws without enforcement, advocates said, meant little.

However, in a landmark conviction in 2015, Al-Batea’s doctor was sentenced to two years in prison, and his clinic was suspended for a year. Her father was punished with three months of house arrest for ordering the procedure. As the first act of enforcing the anti-FGM/C law in Egypt, these punishments were seen as a positive step. Sadly, despite the conviction and fine, the doctor who killed Al-Batea was recently found to not only be out of jail, but still performing FGM/C procedures. Clearly enforcement efforts in Egypt are not sending a very strong message, even to the one man who was convicted of violating the law. Moreover, advocates fear that enforcing policy without combining such efforts with campaigns to change attitudes and norms will drive the practice underground, and will actually increase the number of girls whose lives are at risk from the practice.

When girls’ value is seen by communities exclusively as her potential as a wife and mother, and not for her own unique rights and contributions to society beyond these roles, FGM/C and child marriage are allowed to flourish. As advocates to empower adolescent girls, we cannot accept this fate for girls around the world. When allowed and encouraged to transition safely to adulthood, girls can contribute to the social and economic welfare of countries in a big way.

Combatting social, moral and religious norms can be incredibly tough, but is not impossible. The first-ever Girl Summit in 2014 drew strong pledges to end both FGM/C and child marriage. Now more than a year later, the global community is watching to make sure that countries are held accountable to their commitments to end child marriage and FGM/C. The hope is that girls are in control of their own sexuality, and they are seen as more than the potential wives and mothers they may become, but as the adolescents they currently are.

Cover photo credit: Skhakirov, Flickr Creative Commons

One Year On: #YouthForChange mark the Girl Summit anniversary

This post was originally published on Voices of Youth.

One year ago this month, South London’s Walworth Academy welcomed a group of guests with a unifying belief – that female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) can and must end within a generation. On Wednesday 22nd July, we celebrated the progress made over the past year – #YouthForChange Panel Member and Girls’ Globe blogger Eleanor was there to capture the event.

Girl Summit 2014 was co-hosted by the UK government and UNICEF, and attendees included over 600 campaigners, NGOs, activists, government representatives, civil servants and heads of state. The event marked the moment that the silence surrounding FGM and CEFM was well and truly broken, and done so in front of a global audience.

The Girl Summit Charter has been signed by 43 governments and has led to significant change. Existing laws have been enforced; Egypt prosecuted a case following a death associated with FGM and Kenya has seen 30 arrests, and new laws have been created; Nigeria passed a law to ban FGM in May this year. Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Mali, Yemen and Zambia have started legal reforms to end child marriage, and Malawi has raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18.

In the UK, the Government has funded a £1.4 million national FGM Prevention Programme, introduced new FGM civil protection orders, and plans to carry out a national inspection into the police’s response to Honour Based Violence.

Girl Summit 2014 also inspired a new wave of determination from campaigners, activists and NGOs. Existing organisations such as Girls Not Brides, FORWARD, Care International, Integrate Bristol, The Orchid Project and Rosa have accelerate their work on FGM and CEFM – new movements like The Girl Generation and #YouthForChange used Girl Summit as a springboard to join the fight.

The mood of the Girl Summit Anniversary event was therefore, quite rightly so, one of celebration. Gordon Campbell, Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, set the tone for the evening with a quote from Goethe: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”. Since Girl Summit the government of Canada has provided more than C$1.6million to over 70 grassroots projects focused on CEFM around the world, and has contributed C$20 million to UNICEF.

Secretary of State Justine Greening reiterated the UK Government’s commitment to fighting for and protecting girls’ rights – here in the UK and around the world. She assured the room that girls and women will stay at the very heart of DFID’s work – this reflects her consistent commitment to #YouthForChange over the past year, which we couldn’t be more thankful for!

“We’re going to keep fighting this battle, with a growing number of other countries, with more and more campaigners, until we win it for good, for girls.”

The highlight of the evening were testimonials from my fellow panel members. Fatima, Ifrah, Harry, Muna and Daniel each spoke to the room about their journey before and since the Girl Summit – and about how YouthForChange has made sure that young voices remain at the heart of global efforts to end FGM and CEFM.

Deeply personal – and immensely powerful – each of their stories focused on the fact that Girl Summit provided young people with the chance to be heard. Muna put it simply: “Girl Summit was about giving young people a real, true voice”. Looking forward, Fatima told us that “in working together, supporting and celebrating each other, we can create a ripple effect for lasting change”, and Ifrah outlined the global commitment required from this point onwards: “No one should be able to opt out of education that protects girls”. They spoke with conviction and clarity and proved, just in case anyone had missed the point, that youth voices are invaluable to development conversations.

This event made me feel proud and excited to be part of #YouthForChange. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to reflect on the success and progress of the last year whilst at the same time ensuring that we don’t lose momentum. Without a focused, persistent effort from those with decision making and influencing powers, the number of girls around the world facing a future filled with violence and discrimination will continue to rise. For #YouthForChange, the next year promises to be as difficult and as rewarding as the last.

Make sure you watch this space – we’re only just getting started.

Interested in more information about progress made since the Girl Summit?

Check out Girl Summit’s ‘One Year On’ update report,

Read #YouthForChange Panel Member June’s article for the New Statesman.