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Protecting future generations from FGM

Zainab and her mum in Sierra Leone

STAND WITH BRAVE GIRLS AGAINST FGM

Meet the girls working to protect future generations from female genital mutilation

In communities around the world, girls remain at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) – a risk that has increased with the coronavirus crisis. The World Health Organisation defines FGM as the partial or total removal of external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM is a violation of a girl’s human rights that enforces gender inequality. It has no health benefits and leaves girls and young women at risk of emotional and physical trauma, including severe bleeding, infections, complications during childbirth and a greater risk of newborn death.

In countries such as Sierra Leone, Mali and Ethiopia, we’re working with girls who want to make sure future generations don’t have to undergo FGM. We’re supporting them as they educate their communities on the harmful effects of the practice and working with governments and community leaders to increase legal protection for girls and women against FGM.

Infancy to 15 is when most girls are made to undergo FGM

More than three million girls are estimated to be at risk of FGM each year

More than 200 million girls and women globally have been through FGM

2 million more girls could undergo FGM by 2030 as a result of the pandemic

FGM AND THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

Coronavirus is having a devastating impact on rates of FGM around the world, with the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) estimating that by 2030, an additional two million girls could undergo FGM as a result of the pandemic.

The current crisis means girls are spending more time at home and less time at school, increasing the risk of gender-based violence, including FGM. Lockdown restrictions are also forcing awareness-raising programmes to be scaled back or stopped altogether.

What is female genital mutilation?

Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves the partial or total removal of a girl or young woman’s external genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It has no health benefits.

How does FGM impact girls and women?

FGM carries the risk of infection and even death. Long-term, girls may face an increased chance of complications during childbirth and stillbirth, increased susceptibility to infection and psychological trauma.

Why does FGM still happen?

The belief that FGM equates to purity and ‘good morals’ is one reason. In many cultures where the practice happens, it’s believed to be required for a girl to become a woman and get married. Those who don’t undergo FGM may be ostracised and thought of as promiscuous.

Our work to end FGM

We’re supporting young people and their communities to end FGM by:

  • Working with our partners to adapt our work during the pandemic, to continue to raise awareness about FGM – including in Mali and Somalia, where we’ve been broadcasting radio messages about the devastating impact it can have on girls’ health.
  • Working with girls and women, as well as boys and men, to make sure they’re aware of the harmful effects of FGM. This not only empowers girls to make choices, it also educates the women who carry out the procedure. Because boys and men tend to have greater power and influence in cultures that practice FGM, working with them to change their attitudes is also important in creating change.
  • Encouraging community conversations to support changes in harmful social norms such as FGM.
  • Increasing legal protection. Part of our work involves engaging with governments and community leaders to put legal restrictions in place around FGM and making sure they’re enforced.
  • Supporting survivors. Those who have been through FGM often need help and support, so we work with local health workers and the wider community to provide psychological and medical support to survivors.

Isatu's story

There is no benefit. It only causes us pain.

Isatu was 16 when she went through FGM in Sierra Leone. She shares her experiences and the long-term impact the practice has had on her life.

BECAUSE I AM A GIRL

Stand with brave girls everywhere as they take on the fight for equal rights

Fatoumata, right, with her daughter Sanaba and grand-daughter Aissatou.

Generations of change in Mali

"Many girls of 14 or 15 are determined that when the time comes, their daughters will not be cut." – Sanaba

In one village in Mali, ideas surrounding FGM are changing  –  and it’s mothers and grandmothers, like Sanaba and Fatoumata, who are ending the silence surrounding the practice.

Giving girls back their futures in Sierra Leone

Zainab in Sierra Leone
Zainab is speaking out against FGM in her community in Sierra Leone

‘It’s very important to raise awareness’

Zainab was 13 when she joined the anti-FGM club in her school, which is supported by Plan International. Four years later, she leads the club and uses the radio show she hosts to make sure girls are aware of their rights and know how to get help if they need it.

“Now we know the negative effects. It’s very important to raise awareness,” Zainab explains. “As well as the danger of death and bleeding, FGM also causes girls to drop out of school – which in turn leads to early marriage and to teenage pregnancy.”

Sewanatu in Sierra Leone

'I thought it was a tradition that was done to protect me'

"I want to help girls believe in themselves and to see that there are a lot of opportunities out there for them.” – Sewanatu

Sewanatu and Isha* were both forced to go through FGM when they were growing up. Today, they’re determined other girls won’t have the same experience they did – and are raising their voices for girls’ rights and an end to FGM.

*Name has been changed to protect identity

FGM in the UK

While the practice is concentrated in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, FGM isn't just a problem overseas: the issue is a global one. In the UK the practice is illegal but girls remain at risk – in England, one case of FGM is newly recorded every 92 minutes.

A girl holds a sign calling for an end to FGM

Are You at Risk of FGM?

If you think you or someone you know is in immediate danger of having to go through FGM, or of being taken abroad to undergo the practice, you can call the police by dialling 999.

If you’re concerned that a child's welfare is at risk because of FGM, you can call the NSPCC’s free helpline on 0808 800 5000. The helpline offers advice, information and support. Though callers can choose to remain anonymous, any information that could protect a child at serious risk may be passed to the police or social services.

Help change the future for girls