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Ending FGM is Essential to Give Girls Control Over their Own Lives

In a world where power and choice are determined by gender, millions of girls are robbed of their childhoods, education, health and aspirations every day by the harmful practices of child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). In many communities, early marriage and FGM go hand-in-hand because they believe that cutting a girl increases her marriageability.

Over 200 million women and girls alive today in 31 countries have undergone genital mutilation, although small-scale studies, media reports and anecdotal evidence suggest FGM may be present in more than 90 countries.

In 2021, 4.16 million girls and women around the world are at risk of genital mutilation. What’s more, because of COVID-19 disruptions, there could be as many as 2 million additional cases of FGM by 2030 that would otherwise have been averted.

FGM entails the ‘partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ and is normally carried out between infancy and age 15. It has no health benefits, but immediate and long-term health consequences are numerous: including infections and abnormal scarring, debilitating pain, or death.

On International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February, here are just five survivors and activists demanding voice, choice and control for every girl and woman over their own lives and bodies.

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Kenyan Court Upholds Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

The Kenya High Court on Wednesday refused to allow female circumcision for consenting adults, saying unlike the male cut it does not have health benefits and reduces the wellbeing of the woman it is performed on and in some cases can lead to death.

The ruling by three High Court justices against the petition filed by Tatu Kamau said evidence presented showed women in the communities that practise female circumcision – widely referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) because of its adverse effects – do not have a choice.

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International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights, the health and the integrity of girls and women.

Girls who undergo female genital mutilation face short-term complications such as severe pain, shock, excessive bleeding, infections, and difficulty in passing urine, as well as long-term consequences for their sexual and reproductive health and mental health.

Although primarily concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, female genital mutilation is a universal problem and is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America. Female genital mutilation continues to persist amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively and disproportionately affected girls and women, resulting in a shadow pandemic disrupting SDG target 5.3 on the elimination of all harmful practices including, female genital mutilation. UNFPA estimates additional 2 million girls projected to be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation by 2030. In response to this disruption, the United Nations, through its UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme, has been adapting interventions that ensure the integration of female genital mutilation in humanitarian and post-crisis response.

To promote the elimination of female genital mutilation, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights, gender equality, sexual education and attention to the needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.