Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.
The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, observed on February 6, every year, is an awareness campaign to end a harmful practice that violates girls’ and women’s rights.
The UN first officially commemorated the event on February 6, 2003. It continues to fight against FGM through a range of activities in addition to the observance.
Every year, more than 3 million girls in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and diaspora communities in the West are at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
This year’s celebration was marked with troubling statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that revealed that there have been underreporting of the huge numbers of victims worldwide who are cut daily under this barbaric ritual.
UNICEF reports that the 2014 statistics did not capture some 70 million girls and women. It is estimated that, today, at least 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of FGM, with half of them living in three countries: Egypt, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Top 10 countries
Out of the top 10 countries that recorded the highest percentage of women and girls between 15- 49 who have undergone FGM, Somalia has the highest number at 98 per cent, followed by Guinea at 97 per cent, and Burkina Faso and Gambia coming 9th and 10th with 76 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.
On the theme "Achieving the new Global Goals through the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation by 2030,” this year’s FGM observation draws inspiration from the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to galvanise some campaign energy to increase and sustain the global fight against the practice.
Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM, and if current trends continue, 15 million additional girls between ages 15 and 19 would be subjected to the practice by 2030.
Situation in Ghana
In Ghana, FGM is mostly practised in the Upper East Region, parts of Upper West, and among the Kotokoli people of the Volta Region. However, migration within Ghana makes FGM a national crisis.
ActionAid Ghana and local partner Belim Wasa Development Agency (BEWDA) have been advocating and campaigning against the practice in affected communities in the Upper East Region. In 2012, the two organisations conducted research to ascertain the prevalence level of FGM in some communities and made some worrying findings.
The study revealed that the practice was more prevalent in communities closer to the borders of Burkina Faso and Togo, and parents usually crossed borders to cut their girls outside the country, for fear of prosecution.
The FGM Act passed in Ghana in 1994 makes the practice illegal. However, the practice still persists in some communities.
ActionAid and BEWDA have undertaken several advocacy and public education programmes in some of the affected communities. Some of the activities include:
• Public awareness creation through community durbars/forums. Drama and other cultural displays have been used to portray the negative implications of the practice.
• Radio discussions using health personnel and security agencies to highlight the dangers and legal consequences of the practice.
• Formation and training of Community Based Anti-Violence Teams (COMBAT) in the communities, particularly those along the borders of Burkina Faso and Togo, to monitor and report perpetrators.
• Engagement sessions between traditional leaders, local government authorities and security agencies to support the elimination of FGM.
• Supporting the Paramount Queen mother and 26 divisional queen mothers of the Bawku Traditional Area with funds to conduct quarterly outreach programmes to increase awareness of the dangers of FGM in the communities.
While the practice still persists, these interventions have reduced the incidence of FGM in some communities. Education and advocacy have been intensified to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable girls and women in affected communities.
To fight the cross-border cutting, ActionAid and BEWDA are working with a consortium of NGOs in Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana, to coordinate organisational efforts to eliminate FGM. However, there are challenges in tracking ‘cross-border perpetrators’ and it may also be difficult to invoke the FGM Act to prosecute Ghanaian perpetrators who are caught in Burkina Faso and Togo.
ActionAid is intensifying education and developing new advocacy strategies to fight the practice. Traditional leaders, FGM survivors and victims, and community role models have become effective tools for successful advocacy. All need to join the fight.