By Karol Alejandra Arámbula Carrillo
Feministing / July 2013
As many as 30 million girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade if current trends persist, says UNICEF in its most recent report on FGM/C.
A total of 125 million women and young girls suffer the consequences of FGM/C as a result of social convention practices which are far from being eradicated. Even though the majority of men and women wish this to end, UNICEF’s report suggest that the number of victims will continue if adequate prevention programs are not implemented.
Currently, 29 African countries continue to practice FGM/C in which over the half of victims who are cut come mostly from Egypt (27.2 million), Ethiopia (23.8 million) and Nigeria (19.9 million). In half of the countries, the majority of victims were mutilated before the age of 5, while in the rest of the countries, cutting occurs between the ages of 5 to 14. Most daughters have had their genitalia cut and some flesh removed by traditional practitioners who are socially accepted, some of them also women and professional medical personnel.
The percentage of girls who are cut can be found across Africa and the Middle East, being the highest Somalia with 98%, Guinea 96%, Djibouti 95%, Egypt 91%, Eritrea 89%, Mali 89%, Sierra Leone 88% and Sudan with 88%. Other countries have showed a decrease, such as Liberia with 66%, Côte d’Ivoire 38% and Senegal with 26%. At the end of the scale Niger with 2%, Cameroon and Uganda with 1% show the lowest FGM/C cases.
Tendencies indicate that FGM/C is becoming less common, while opinions vary within the 29 countries studied by UNICEF. For example, 82% of women and girls who have been victims of FGM/C think the practice should continue, compared to 5% of girls and women who have not been cut. In Chad, 27% of men and boys think FGM/C is required by religion. In Ethiopia, 41% of girls and women with no education support the FGM/C, compared to the 5% of girls and women with secondary or higher education. In other countries such as Kenya, 59% of girls and women who have been cut do not see the benefits to the practice, while in Nigeria, 35% of men and boys and 31% of women and girls report that they do not know what the opposite sex thinks about this practice. Women in the United Republic of Tanzania aged 45 to 49 are approximately three times more likely to have been cut than girls aged 15 to 19, indicating that practices are in fact decreasing.
FMG/C continues to pose a threat to millions of women. As concluded by UNICEF, genital cutting is often assumed to be a manifestation of patriarchal control over women, which suggests that men would be strong supporters of this practice. Marriageability was often position as a motivation for FGM/C; however, relatively few women report this to be the case. Along with this was virginity, which was a common response of boys and men to questions regarding the benefits of FGM/C practices.
International efforts have taken place since 1979, when FGM/C appeared for the first time on the international agenda of the WHO Seminar on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, all the way to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990), the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (2003) and most recently, UN’s General Assembly first resolution calling on States to intensify efforts to eliminate FGM/C (2012) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (2013).
Overall, attitudes that support the practice are declining, even in countries such as Egypt or Sudan. Progress has been confirmed by different initiatives that tackle this issue. Yet measuring aspects of FGM/C will need to continue for at least 20 ears, in both high and love prevalence countries, along with all the necessary efforts to achieve its irreversible eliminations. Political willingness will continue to play a key role in implementing these measures in favor of millions of women and girls.