EU states must do more to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM), campaigners say, as the number of those affected by the practice in Europe climbs amid the refugee influx.
End FGM European Network says more girls and women are arriving on the continent’s doorstep scarred by the problem.
It says 26,755 women and girls from FGM-practicing countries sought asylum in the EU from January-September last year. Up to 16,320 of those are likely to have been affected by the practice, according to prevalence rates used by UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.
It is estimated around 500,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in Europe.
It comes as UNICEF – to mark global FGM awareness day on February 6 – revealed at least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM.
It said girls 14 or under made up around a fifth of that total, with the majority of girls being cut before their fifth birthday.
FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation as procedures that ‘intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’.
The European Commission says FGM is illegal throughout the EU via general legislation. But just 13 countries have a specific law against it, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality: Sweden, UK, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Denmark, Croatia, Netherlands and Malta.
Meanwhile just a dozen EU states have signed the Istanbul Convention, the first treaty to recognise the existence of FGM in Europe and commit states to addressing the problem, while just eleven have implemented an EU directive aimed at supporting victims of FGM.
“It’s shocking,” Liuska Sanna, director of End FGM European Network, told Euronews. “The directive should have been implemented. All member states should have already modified their national law in line with the provisions of the directives.
“The EU needs to ensure and monitor implementation properly – the member states are not meeting their obligations.
“Political will needs to be sustained and prevention work needs to be ramped up. The EU has handed the baton to member states, but a co-ordinated approach is needed to tackle FGM.”
Knowledge is key
One of the major problems regarding FGM in Europe is the absence of solid figures – rather than estimates – on how many people are affected.
“Knowing the real numbers affected and reaching those affected is difficult,” added Ms Sanna. “In Europe you have all these communities mixed together and spread out, so reaching them and finding a comprehensive way of working with them takes time.
“EU national governments need to work on collecting data using a common methodology that is comparable. If we do not know the real scale of the practice here, or who is affected and why they carry out the practice, it is very difficult to prevent it.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Rao Gupta, deputy executive director of UNICEF.
She said: “Determining the magnitude of FGM is essential to eliminating the practice. When governments collect and publish national statistics on FGM they are better placed to understand the extent of the issue and accelerate efforts to protect the rights of millions of girls and women.”
Grounds for optimism?
UNICEF highlight some reasons to be positive, despite countries like Somalia having FGM prevalence rates of 98 percent in women and girls aged 15-49.
The children’s fund says there has been a decrease in the proportion of 15-19 year olds affected, notably in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Liberia and Togo.
Nigeria and The Gambia were among countries to announce FGM bans last year.
Ms Sanna said: “There have been strides forward in the last year. The bans were a big step forward and are to be encouraged. But of course it will only make a difference if these laws are correctly implemented.”