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We are getting close to the 6thof February, which marks the International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM. On this day we focus on a practice that is both considered as a human right violation and also as violence against women: Female Genital Mutilation

FGM is, according to World Health Organisation, the process of partially or totally removing the external female genitalia or other injuries to the genital organs of a girl or woman. Even though we know that the procedure has no known health benefits, and that it can be very harmful to the girl or woman who undergoes it, FGM is still practiced in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in some communities in Asia, Eastern Europe and Central and South America. At least 200 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to this practice.

There are four types of FGM, and all of them are known to cause both immediate and long-term harm for the women and girls who undergo the procedure. In some cases the consequences are deadly. So why is this practice still being upheld by so many? 

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (clitoridectomy).
Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).
Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, for example: pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.Source: Eliminating Female genital mutilation: An interagency statement UNAIDS, UNDP, UNECA, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCHR, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, WHO (2008) 

FGM is not, contrary to what one might believe, a religious issue. It is rather a social convention, making it hard for individuals to break out and oppose the process if their society is among the ones who practice FGM. In these societies, the practice can be seen as a coming-of-age ritual to make sure a girl is ready for marriage, which also makes it crucial for the girl to undergo FGM. Not complying with the tradition can lead to sanctions from the society, such as men refusing to marry the girl who has not undergone FGM. Being the only one who breaks away from a tradition can be very tough, and it requires a lot of strength. The girls and women who are at the front in this fight should not stand alone. A consolidated effort is needed to end the practice. 

The good news is that the prevalence of FGM is declining. The chances of a girl undergoing FGM today is about 1/3rdlower than 3 decades ago. 26 African countries and 33 countries on other continents has implemented laws making FGM illegal. Despite these efforts, FGM still happens, often done in secrecy by traditional practitioners. While young men and women are more likely to think that the practice should not be continued and support ending FGM, the social pressure is still quite heavy. 

If we want to be the generation that ends FGM, we need to stand together. Let us support women and girls’ right to decide about their own bodies by showing our support. How can you contribute? Help us spread awareness and advocate for ending FGM by marking the 6thof February, either by hosting an event in your YMCA branch or participate in our online campaign and Twitter chat. Show your community that you stand against FGM and that you support the girls and women around you. Find a venue, invite champions and experts on the subject to come and talk, advertise your event and engage your local YMCA branch to support you in the planning. Find an angle that fits your community, and become a part of the change. That’s how we become supporters and create safe spaces for girls and women at risk.

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