|Orchid - Photo by J. Stahl|
Last tuesday (06.02.2013) was the International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation. Every year, Three million girls and women are subjected to FGM. That means every eleven seconds, a girl is harmed by FGM. That's 8000 girls per day.
The practice of FGM violates:
- Right to physical and mental integrity
- Right to highest attainable standard of health
- Right to be free from all forms of discrimination against women (including violence against women)
- Right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
- Rights of the child, and
- in extreme cases, right to life
Long-term consequences can include:
- recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections;
- an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths;
- the need for later surgeries. For example, the FGM procedure that seals or narrows a vaginal opening (type 3 above) needs to be cut open later to allow for sexual intercourse and childbirth. Sometimes it is stitched again several times, including after childbirth, hence the woman goes through repeated opening and closing procedures, further increasing and repeated both immediate and long-term risks.
WHO: Female genital mutilation
In various cultures there are many "justifications" for these practices. A girl who is not circumcised is considered "unclean" by local villagers and therefore unmarriageable. A girl who does not have her clitoris removed is considered a great danger and ultimately fatal to a man if her clitoris touches his penis.
One of the most common explanations of FGC is local custom. Women are often heard saying that they are unwilling to change these customs since they have always done it this way and are not about to change. Oftentimes the practitioners are kept ignorant of the real implications of FGC, and the extreme health risks that it represents.
Family honor, cleanliness, protection against spells, insurance of virginity and faithfulness to the husband, or simply terrorizing women out of sex are sometimes used as excuses for the practice of FGC.
FGM Definitions of Types
FGM/C is a fundamental violation of the rights of girls. It is discriminatory and violates the rights to equal opportunities and health, and the right to live free from violence, injury, abuse, torture and cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment. In addition to this, it violates the right to protection from harmful traditional practices, and the right to make decisions concerning reproduction. These rights are protected in international law.
With Heart against FGM
It is only relatively recently that FGM has been recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
Sweden was the first Western country to outlaw FGM, followed in 1985 by the UK.
In the United States it became illegal in 1997, and in the same year the WHO issued a joint statement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) against the practice. FGM is a crime in many countries now.
On November 26th, 2012, in a resolution sponsored by 110 of the United Nations' 193 member states, a UN committee called for member states to ban the practice of FGM.  On December 21st, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution banning the practice of FGM. 
Worldwide, the battle against FGM is far from over. It is also being fought by Jawahir Cumar from her new home in Germany. She became a victim of FGM at the age of five in her homeland, Somalia. Today, in the German city of Düsseldorf, she counsels women who have suffered a similar fate. "These women suffer pain during sexual intercourse, while urinating, during menstruation; they endure pain every single day."
Jawahir Cumar's organization is called "Stop Mutilation" and offers women victims a gynaecological examination free of charge. Cumar also works to increase public awareness of the negative effects of FGM.
Deutsche Welle: Fighting female genital mutilation in Africa
"In Somalia, it's taboo to go against female circumcision. But when I came to England I started to realise that the kind of tradition we were abiding by is not the path that human beings should follow," she says.
Supported by her teachers, first at her secondary school and now at her sixth-form college, she is speaking out to her fellow students about the horrors of FGM, as well as using articles such as this and Facebook to raise awareness.
"There are thousands of girls living in the UK who have undergone FGM. Much more needs to be done to raise awareness about this and prevent it happening to more girls," she says. "I want to help other girls who might be at risk of FGM by condemning it as much as I can."
The Guardian UK: Female genital mutilation: 'I want to help other girls'
Midwives could be asked routinely to raise the issue of female genital mutilation with pregnant women from communities where the practice is prevalent.
The Department of Health is looking at gathering data on the numbers who have been illegally mutilated in an attempt to safeguard children and potentially increase the number of prosecutions.
Campaigners applaud the move, pointing out that often women are not examined during pregnancy and so the first time NHS professionals are aware that a woman has been cut is during childbirth, when it may be too late to give her the help she needs.
It is also hoped that collecting the data will help to identify the baby girls at birth who may be at risk in the future.
The Guardian UK: Female genital mutilation questions could be raised by midwives
“Empowered women and girls are key to breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and for the promotion and protection of human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA. “Working with governments and civil societies, UNFPA and UNICEF have successfully implemented a human rights-based and culturally sensitive approach to ending FGM/C.”
The UNFPA and UNICEF Executive Directors noted that if the political will expressed in the General Assembly resolution is translated into concrete investments, FGM/C – a serious violation of the rights of girls and women – could become a vestige of the past. They echoed the resolution’s call for a coordinated approach that promotes positive social change at community, national, regional and international levels.
Fewer girls threatened by Female Genital Mutilation
I first heard of Waris Dirie on ABC News 20/20 "A Healing Journey: Waris Dirie" several years ago. I am not entirely certain, but I believe she also did an Oprah interview and a Reader's Digest interview, prior to authoring three books and having a movie made about her. Below are two interviews with Waris about FGM. I have the utmost respect for Waris... and I'm forever glad for her bringing FGM to the forefront of western women's minds.
Stop FGM Now
Stop Mutilation e.v. (German)
Women of Vision
Desert Flower DVD
Waris Dire's Books: Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, Desert Dawn and Desert Children
Do you know of any other helpful links to educate others about FGM, or books dealing on the subject? Feel free to leave a comment below.