An estimated 200 million women and girls world-wide are victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Despite FGM being classified as a human rights violation by the World Health Organization, it still happens to thousands of vulnerable women and girls every single day.
Most girls undergo FGM between infancy and 15 years of age. FGM can cause severe pain, infertility, infection, and prolonged bleeding. It can also cause complications during childbirth and increases the risk of new-born deaths. Women who have undergone the procedure, often carried out under unhygienic circumstances, are twice as likely to die during childbirth. The practice of FGM can also cause behavioural changes in women and girls and lifelong psychological damage, as well as reinforcing the misguided belief that women are inferior beings.
Communities practice FGM mostly for cultural reasons. Since it is such a powerful social norm, most families will have their daughters cut despite the health risks and harm. FGM is practiced under the belief that women and girls will remain pure and ensure a proper marriage.
Though FGM is a universal problem that happens all over the world, it is primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East. In European countries, it is illegal, however, with increasing immigration, clandestine FGM is carried out.
A member of the SI Club Bruxelles Doyen is a survivor of FGM in her native country Burkina Faso. Assita Kanko, a journalist and politician, is very outspoken about women’s rights and does not hide her personal experience. In Feb. 2014, she gave an interview for Paris Match about her book ‘Because you are a girl. History of a mutilated life.’
She says: ‘FGM means cutting of relationships, not just cutting of the body.’ She further adds that the deception, being taken by her mother under a pretext to be ‘cut’, completely destroyed her belief in her parents. The psychological damage, the shame, the lack of confidence in her parents, the secrecy, made it extremely difficult to accept what happened to her. Later, when already in Europe, the establishment of a relationship to her husband was very complicated, not knowing when and whether to reveal about her FGM.
She estimates that yearly about 180 000 girls are victims of FGM in Europe, about 2000 in Belgium alone.
What can Soroptimists do?
- We can raise awareness of this practice and its terrible consequences.
- We can invite speakers to inform our club members about FGM.
- We could try to inform migrant populations who might want to bring this practice into our countries, that FGM is a human rights violation and not part of our culture.
- Members of SIE who are in the medical profession should be involved in awareness raising against FGM.
- We can start Fundraising to help support existing projects, some of which are in SIE countries:
Renate Smith-Kubat, SIE Rep to EWL