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Female Genital Mutilation Zero Tolerance Day: can the practice ever be eradicated?

Female Genital Mutilation Zero Tolerance Day: can the practice ever be eradicated?
Copyright UNICEF
Copyright UNICEF
By Michael-Ross Fiorentino
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There are more than three million girls worldwide at risk for FGM annually, 180,000 in Europe.


Born on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, a seven-year-old girl was put through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by her mother.

"One weekend, a lady came to visit. I was not informed. I bled so much I fainted," the girl, whose anonymity has been protected, told the NGO Equality Now.

"Now that you have become a woman, I have nothing to feed you, so you will be married," her mother reportedly told her. "You have to respect him and do whatever he tells you.’

This is just one example among the more than 200 million women and girls worldwide who have gone through FGM, a procedure where female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed.

The majority of these cases are performed by traditional circumcisers or cutters who do not have any medical training, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

Addu Abdala Dubba, a former circumciser in a small village in Ethiopia, used to cut girls with a blade that looks no different to a basic kitchen knife and which she'd sharpen with a stone. On certain days, she'd perform several consecutive circumcisions.

To sanitise the blade between each incident, she'd heat it in a fire or dip it in cold water, she told the AP news agency.

FGM is mostly carried out — without anaesthetic — on girls between infancy and age 15. It can be considered a social convention in communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

The act, also known as “female circumcision", is an extremely painful act which has no health benefits and often results in lifelong health problems in women.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), procedures can cause short-term effects such as severe bleeding and problems urinating.

Long-term effects include cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.

Dr Saleh Yusuf Imam, medical director in Ethiopia's Asaita Primary Hospital, explained to AP that they have to perform what's called "de-infibulation" procedures, "by which we make an incision in their vagina to recover the appropriate opening that the FGM removed" making it very difficult for some women to give birth naturally.

According to the NGO Equality Now, this shocking number still seriously underestimates the nature and scale of the problem.

Jacqui Hunt, Director of Equality Now's Europe office told Euronews FGM is a serious human rights violation involving torture and an extreme form of violence and discrimination against girls and women.

Hunt also said the causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. It is often associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, but ultimately, it is a way to control girls’ and women’s sexuality.

Equality Now supports girls in celebrating transitions to womanhood and learn about their culture and community values without the harmful effects of FGM or forced marriage.

WHO estimates there are more than three million girls worldwide at risk for FGM annually. Some of these at-risk girls live in Europe.

Last week, a Ugandan woman became the first person in the UK to be found guilty of FGM over an assault on her three-year-old daughter.


The 37-year-old was convicted after a trial at London's Old Bailey. She now faces up to 14 years in prison for the crime.

FGM has been a specific criminal offence in the UK since 1985, but until now no one had been convicted.

“The guilty verdict sends a clear signal that FGM is illegal and will not be tolerated in the UK,” said Hunt.

Equality Now believes this conviction in the UK could only be the tip of the iceberg of FGM cases in Europe.

Nearly 180,000 women and girls in Europe are estimated to be at risk of FGM, according to the advocacy group End FGM European Network.


In July 2018, a court in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, found a Somali mother guilty of submitting her two daughters to FGM. The young Somali girls were genitally mutilated while living with their mother in Somalia and Ethiopia between 2013 and 2015.

In France, the Commission for the Abolition of Sexual Mutilations (CAMS) was established in 1982 and has played a "civil party" role in some 40 cases of FGM by securing prosecutions, establishing jurisprudence criminalising FGM, and raising awareness of the issue within the legal profession, according to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).


"It is very difficult to bring a case of FGM. Prevention of harm should be the priority rather than prosecutions after harm. If cases are detected, however, prosecutions will remain an important tool to combat FGM," said Hunt.

Hunt told Euronews there is an increasing global commitment to ending FGM and it is only by adopting a holistic, multisectoral approach, and positively engaging affected communities, that we will finally see an end to this harmful practice.

However, the NGO says the fight against ending FGM is heavily underfunded even after the British government invested £50m in an attempt to end female genital mutilation by 2030 in November 2018.


The World Health Organization believes efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation should focus on strengthening the health sector, building evidence and increasing advocacy.

WHO’s goal is to end FGM within a generation by raising educational awareness through publications to unite advocacy tools for international and local efforts.

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