“I only wish I'd known then what I know now: I could have spared so many girls.” Anita Keita performed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) at ceremonies across Guinea Bissau for more than 20 years. Now she works with Plan to advocate against it.
As we reach the tenth International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on 6th February 2013, Plan is continuing to raise awareness within African communities about the dangers of the traditional practice – and change minds.
FGM, sometimes performed on girls as young as six, has many serious health risks: it violates the rights of girls to be protected from harm and often leaves women fighting for their lives. But in many communities it is a cherished tradition, defended by men – and women. The traditional practice is believed to prepare and ‘cleanse’ girls for marriage, but often causes complications during intercourse and childbirth that can lead to death – and the process itself can be fatal.
Bringing about change
FGM affects about 140 million girls and women globally, and more than three million girls are at risk every year. In Africa, an estimated 92 million girls who are 10 years old and above have undergone FGM, and about three million girls on the continent are at risk from FGM annually*. We take a range of approaches, tailored to different communities and countries to bring about change.
Despite a law passed in 2011 making FGM illegal in Guinea Bissau, over 90 per cent of girls in the Bafata and Gabu districts have undergone FGM, and nearly 50 per cent nationwide. We are now targeting 80,000 people across 40 communities, including religious leaders, community leaders, young people and parents. Crucially, it also focuses on the FGM practitioners, like Anita. “Women in my family had practised with the knife for generations, and it was a source of pride. But then I learned of the dangers and now I am 100 per cent against this practice.”
And in Mali, the tide is also turning. Many parents no longer believe that this tradition is a benefit for their daughters. This change of attitude comes as a result of a five year awareness campaign launched by local organisation ERAD supported by Plan. Through discussions, debates and dramas, the number of people speaking out against this traditional practice is growing stronger each day. In all 10 villages in the district of Tingolé, communities are no longer reluctant to address the issue of FGM - in two villages the practice has been banned.
In Egypt, through local partners, Plan supports girls’ and women’s groups to openly discuss issues like FGM. And the role of men and boys in reducing FGM is extremely important. Our ‘New Visions’ project encourages the development of life skills and increases gender sensitivity and reproductive health knowledge among boys and young men aged 12-20.
The same concept is used for girls through ‘New Horizons’ which aims to increase girls’ self-confidence and demystify and communicate essential information on basic life skills and reproductive health. Together with the Directorate of Health in Assiut, Plan has provided training on reproductive health and harmful traditional practices like FGM to newly graduated doctors.
Read more about why FGM is practiced, its consequences and Plan’s work. Find our more and donate to a relevant project.
* Source: World Health Organisation