This blog was written by Reese Hrannarsson, who volunteered at Results while visiting the UK as part of her degree programme at Florida State University.

As of this year, nearly 4.4 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) around the world – that’s more than 12,000 a day. Today on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, these numbers are a stark reminder of the urgent action needed if we are to meet global targets to end FGM by 2030, in line with SDG 5 to achieve gender equality.

What is female genital mutilation (FGM)?

Female genital mutilation is the act of removing or injuring part or all of the external female genitalia, a procedure that is extremely painful with no health benefits. FGM is internationally accepted as a violation of human rights, and the impact on survivors’ physical and mental health is often extremely devastating. Considering the harmful consequences of FGM on the rights of women and girls, it is common to assume that the practice would be rare. Yet, over 200 million girls and women are currently living with the consequences of FGM in 30 different countries. In the UK alone, this number reflects 137,000 FGM survivors.

FGM is often fuelled by social acceptance within communities that consider the practice a tradition marking the transition into womanhood. According to a study by the US National Library of Medicine, women receive acceptance and approval from their family and community after undergoing FGM. With this immense pressure, women may undergo the procedure out of fear of being rejected from their community.

What is being done to contribute to the end of FGM?

Education is a critical propeller towards eliminating FGM and many grassroots organisations work within their communities to shed light on the harmful practice. The I-Rep Foundation is one such organisation educating women and girls in West Pokot County, Kenya. Founded by Domtila Chesang, who put aside her career as a teacher to champion the end of FGM in her community, the I-Rep Foundation works to educate girls about the harmful implications of FGM. The organisation also focuses on sending girls to school, a leading factor preventing child marriage and FGM. Girls and women who have a primary education are 30% more likely than those with no education to oppose FGM, and with a secondary education, they become 70% more likely to oppose it. Further, alongside the charity Beyond FGM, the I-Rep Foundation has created an alternative way of initiating young girls into adulthood and in this week-long girls’ camp, they hold events and classes to educate the girls about FGM and empower them to transition into adulthood without the dangerous procedure.

However, societal pressures around FGM mean that education on its own is sometimes not enough to break down the long-held tradition in certain communities. Many mothers, despite disagreeing with the procedure themselves, have it done to their daughters out of fear that it will cause social repercussions. If a girl has not undergone FGM, it is believed that men may not want to marry her and she may be shunned from her community. In 2019, Kenyan activist Tony Mwebia founded the Men End FGM Foundation, dedicated to dismantling societal pressure by creating anti-FGM (as well as other sex-based discrimination) male allies through mentorship and sensitization. Men End FGM engages elders in discussions around FGM, recognising their position as custodians of culture and the influence this has in local communities. They also engage men in training activities to create fathers, brothers, and husbands who understand the importance of ending FGM. They recognize the importance of sensitising religious and traditional leaders who hold the key to dismantling FGM because of their stature in their community. Men hold much responsibility and power in the continuation of FGM and by creating allies out of them, they contribute to the end of this traumatising procedure.

Are we on track to end FGM by 2030?

The world has been making significant progress towards the ending of FGM, notably the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme across 17 countries. In 2022, over 1.2 million people participated in public declarations to eliminate FGM, over 400,000 boys and men engaged in activities promoting gender equality, and 49,000 community, religious, and traditional leaders publicly denounced FGM. Over 650,000 girls participated in sexuality education and programmes that promoted the end of FGM as well.

Here in the UK, the Government pledged £50 million in 2018 to end FGM by 2030. The money has been distributed to community programmes and grassroots campaigners in affected countries across Africa to support those working in women’s organisations and schools to end the harmful practice in their communities. In 2022, the UK government renewed its funding of Support to the Africa-Led Movement (ALM) to End FGM/C. This five-year initiative aims to support and build the capacity of the ALM to end FGM by working in partnership with UN agencies, civil society organisations and women’s and girls’ movements.

However, despite some progress, the world is still not on track to end FGM and achieve SDG 5 – gender equality for all – by 2030. In 2023, only 15.4% of countries were on track for this goal, and a further 61.5% were at a moderate distance from achieving the gender equality indicators set by the United Nations. In fact, it is estimated that progress needs to be 10 times faster if we are to reach these global targets by 2030. 

As we pass the midway point to the 2030 deadline for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we must accelerate action to end the harmful practice of FGM, and ensure the rights and dignity of women and girls around the world are upheld. This means supporting locally-led organisations, following the expertise of grassroots movements, and placing women and girls at the centre of programmes to end FGM and gendered violence.

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