Female Genital Mutilation (fgm)

The roots of FGM (also referred to as ‘cutting’) are complex and numerous; indeed, it has not been exactly possible to determine when or where the tradition of FGM originated. However, justifications for FGM include:

  • Custom and tradition
  • Religion, in the mistaken belief that it is a religious requirement
  • Preservation of virginity/chastity
  • Social acceptance, especially for marriage
  • Hygiene and cleanliness
  • Increasing sexual pleasure for the male
  • Family honour
  • A sense of belonging to the group and conversely the fear of social exclusion
  • Enhancing fertility

Many women believe that FGM is necessary to ensure acceptance by their community; they are unaware that FGM is not practiced in most of the world. It is estimated that approximately 100-140 million African women have undergone FGM worldwide and each year, a further 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of the practice in Africa alone. Most girls undergoing FGM live in African countries, a few in the Middle East and Asian countries, and increasingly in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Canada.

Short-term health implications include:

  • severe pain and shock
  • infection
  • urine retention
  • injury to adjacent tissues
  • immediate fatal haemorrhaging

Long-term implications can entail:

  • extensive damage of the external reproductive system
  • uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections
  • cysts and neuromas
  • complications in pregnancy and child birth
  • psychological damage
  • sexual dysfunction
  • difficulties in menstruation

In addition to these health consequences, there are considerable psycho-sexual, psychological and social consequences of FGM.

FGM is deeply entrenched in the culture of practicing communities, hence a multifaceted approach to eradicating it is necessary. FGM cannot be tackled solely by drafting laws and repressive measures. The legislative framework is important and provides for an enabling environment to bring about change, but it should always be accompanied by interventions targeting a positive change at individual and community levels. Sport programmes can be strong advocacy and education platforms that already capture community interest and win community trust. Below are tips and proven examples of interventions that aim to change attitudes and behaviours toward FGM among the communities that employ this harmful traditional practice.

Tips: Work with Religious Leaders
Given the importance of religion in the persistence of FGM, one of the most important interventions focuses on involving religious leaders in strategies to change the community’s FGM behaviour. In Somalia and Kenya, FRONTIERS used a religious oriented approach in addressing FGM. They educated the community on the dangers of FGM, both religiously and medically, so that they began to question the rationale for its continuation. This strategy was meant to generate discussion with respect to the correct position of Islam and hopefully build consensus among the religious scholars on this matter. The religious scholars command much respect and influence opinions in the Somali and Kenyan communities, and are therefore instrumental in educating the community. To unearth and correct the misconceptions surrounding FGM and Islam, it is imperative that the religious leaders are involved in sport programming.101

Integrated Learning or Comprehensive Social Development
"Integrated learning” means integrating the issue of FGM into a wider learning package. A comprehensive approach, that addresses aspects of gender and development as well as the social, political, legal, health and economic development of a community, can be an effective means of looking at the “big picture.” This approach views FGM as a social norm, hence the practices can only be abandoned when the decision to stop the practice is supported by whole community.

Invest in Individual Change Agents
Identify individuals who oppose FGM in a community and promote them as role models or “change agents.” Role models may include women and men from ordinary families, teachers, religious leaders, parliamentarians and others who have opposed the practice, urged others to reject it, or publicly declared their opposition to it. The effectiveness of this strategy is enhanced by efforts to document the stories of individuals who reject FGM and how they dealt with confusion, opposition, and taking a stand against the majority. These individuals then recount their experience at community forums or sport tournaments.

Empowering Adolescent Girls
Once adolescent girls understand the dangers of the practice and are equipped with knowledge about their human rights and the law, they can take a stand and refuse to undergo the practice. Through the safe and empowering space of sport, adolescent girls can be educated and also encouraged to publicly voice their concerns and condemn the practice of FGM and other forms of sexual abuse. A peer-to-peer approach can subsequently be used to educate their peers and communities about the problems associated with the practice. Communication, negotiation and refusal skills are important here and can be learned through sport. For example, a girl who builds confidence on the field might be more likely to speak up in her best interest. It is critical that programme designers and implementers understand and control for the risks associated with girls’ protest and balance empowerment and protection.

Engaging Boys and Men
Men’s knowledge and perceptions of FGM and their role in the abandonment of the practice is important in order to inform interventions. Somalia, for example, is a patriarchal society and men are the decision makers. Understanding men’s perceptions of FGM, and their personal experiences of living with wives and daughters who may suffer complications, would help highlight their role in aiding the campaign towards FGM abandonment.

Useful Example – Celebrating the Uncut Girl
Kembatti Menti Gezzima (KMG) is an indigenous civil society organisation founded by Bogaletch and Fikrte Gebre, sisters who grew up in rural Ethiopia where GBV, including FGM, was endemic, impacting virtually 100% of all girls and women until KMG began its work about a decade ago. The KMG model focuses on mobilising a critical mass of uncircumcised girls to celebrate being an ‘uncut’ girl, change social perceptions around being ‘uncut’ and advocate for women’s rights relating to GBV and FGM.

Currently, KMG has about 10,000 ‘uncut’ girls involved in different community development initiatives, challenging the patriarchal attitude against women and shifting gender power relationships. In addition to playing football, girls become advocates in their communities, visiting homes of girls who are in danger of being cut to educate her parents on the rights of their daughter and the dangers of FGM. Each year, KMG hosts an event called ‘Whole Body Healthy Life– Freedom from FGM.’ The event brings together tens of thousands of people to celebrate courageous women who chose not to be circumcised and the courageous men who chose to marry them. Girls take part in football tournaments to celebrate their strength and their decision. Participants also engage in environmental and income generating activities, dispelling a myth that ‘uncut’ girls are restless and valueless.

Adolescent Girl Life Skills: