Unity in protecting girl-child key …‘time to end FGM’

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AFRICA remains one of the continents with the most cases of female genital mutilation (FGM).

According to WHO, FGM involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organ for non-medical reasons.

Data released by WHO show that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Female genital mutilation is a social ritual that displays women as victims of human rights violation.

The sad part is, in some parts of Africa, FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.

In other words, there is no room for consent. 

For many young girls, it is the family and society that decide for them.

In most cases, those who practise the ritual are ignorant of the fact that it is a violation of girls’ and women’s rights. 

In a statement on FGM, Dr Rasha Kelej, the CEO of Merck Foundation, reiterated that FGM strips the dignity of girls and women and endangers their health.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a deep-rooted social norm for girls and women in many cultures in Africa, Middle East, Asia and Latin America,” she said. 

“It denies them their dignity, endangers their health and causes needless pain and suffering and many serious complications that they are forced to live with the rest of their lives such as; infertility, infections, stillborn babies and, in some cases, can also lead to death.”

Some women, due to socialisation and cultural practices, have accepted the ritual to the extent of ensuring that over the years, it is being passed from one generation to the other. 

Many women blindly take part in the exercise to avoid stigma.

Some women do it for social acceptance, religious beliefs, hygiene and enhancement of male sexual pleasure.

In 2012, the UN General Assembly designated February 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM with the aim to amplify and direct efforts on the elimination of this practice.

According to the UN data, in the world, one in four women have undergone FGM. 

This is close to 52 million women the world over.

Merck Foundation supports the UN’s cause of putting an end to the practice of FGM by 2030.

According to Dr Kelej: “Taking into account this dire situation, I strongly believe that raising awareness, advocacy building and girl education are the keys to eradicating this practice. 

It is all about improving access to information, health and change of mindset to have zero tolerance to FGM. 

FGM has no health benefit, in fact it only harms women and girls physically and psychologically.” 

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals, UN agencies are also working to eradicate FGM by 2030.

To ensure people are aware of the practice, WHO classifies FGM into four categories which include:

λ partial or total removal of the clitoral glans (the external and visible part of the clitoris, which is a sensitive part of the female genitals, with the function of providing sexual pleasure to the woman) and or the prepuce/clitoral hood (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoral glans).

λ partial or total removal of the clitoral glans and the labia minora (the inner folds of the vulva), with or without removal of the labia majora (the outer folds of the skin of the vulva).

λ type three is often referred to as infibulation. It is the narrowing of the vaginal opening with the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the labia minora or labia majora. The covering of the vaginal opening is done with or without removal of the clitoral prepuce/clitoral hood and glans.

λ type four involves all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation.

In Zimbabwe, there are no national statistics of FGM but there are reports of the practice occurring in some tribes and communities.

Some communities and religious sects secretly practice the ritual to young girls as a prerequisite for marriage.

In a research paper, Darlington Mutanda reveals that FGM is commonly used to subordinate position of women in the Shangani community of Zimbabwe. 

According to Mutanga, it is one of the rituals that are deeply entrenched in the patriarchal establishment of some cultures.

To show commitment and respect, many women are subjected to FGM mainly for reasons of pleasing their male counterparts.

For the young girls under patriarchal societies, the practice is used to celebrate the passage rites to womanhood but it is also early reminder of ‘expected’ gender roles that imply women as sexual objects. 

Also commonly practiced among many women in Zimbabwe is labia elongation or stretching.

It is also listed by WHO under Type four FGM which: “Includes all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising the genital area.”

Important to note is that type one to three classify FGM that involves cutting meaning they are reductive. However, labia elongation is not considered reductive since nothing is cut but the stretching can be considered as modification or alteration. 

There is, therefore, need to consider the right of an individual to choose and consent.

Labia elongation is encouraged to enhance sexual pleasure not only for men, but for women as well.

It is against this background that many women try different herbs and oils to stretch their labia only for psychological benefits.

Although some forms of FGM are culturally rooted, they are also associated with harmful health, psychological and social consequences on individuals.

According to WHO, short-term health complications include, but are not limited to, bleeding, pain and shock, chronic pain, genito-urinary tract infections, damage to genitalia, post-partum haemorrhage, genital tissue scars and kelois, anaemia and, in severe cases, maternal and foetal deaths are known as long-term complications.

FGM has also been associated with serious psychological problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and psycho-sexual conditions leading to bodily identity problems.

For labia elongation, there are some attendant disadvantages too.

Despite bacterial infection, some herbs and oils used can cause swelling and, in some cases, can lead to cancer. 

To achieve zero tolerance to FGM, Dr Kelej advocates a culture shift and educating the girl-child.

“I truly believe that Education is Power and educating girls is empowering them to make their own decisions in the future when they become strong women,” she said. 

“It will enable them to access information, health and economic opportunities and stand up for their rights for themselves and their families, thus helping them to save their girls and preventing issues like FGM even if it is late for them.”

FGM remains one of the top human rights violations, a form of torture and discrimination against women. 

Therefore, there is need for oneness to end it and protect the girl-child.

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