(Photo: Amref Health Africa)
January 12, 2016 – On February 6 of this year, the world will be marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Cutting. This day has been set aside by the United Nations as a reminder to all that the international community has taken a stand on complete eradication of female genital cutting (FGC).
Amref Health Africa is concerned that contrary to this international position, Sierra Leonean Social Welfare and Gender Minister Mr. Moijua Kaikai recently announced that FGC was a cultural practice supported by the government and would therefore not be outlawed. Sierra Leone is one of the few remaining countries in Africa that have not made FGC illegal.
It is widely acknowledged that FGC, also known as female genital cutting (FGC) includes procedures that intentionally cause injury to and alter the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Today more than 25 million girls and women from 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East are living with mutilated genitals. Most of the victims underwent cutting between infancy and the age of 15.
FGC has acute and chronic complications. Acute complications include pain, bleeding, infection, and sometimes death. As the wound heals, chronic complications set in with serious consequences for maternal health. These include fistula, infertility and inability to deliver vaginally causing obstetric complications and newborn deaths. Women who have undergone the cut cannot have normal sexual relations and pain during sex is common.
It is for this reason that in 1993 FGC was classified as a form of violence against women under the International Human Rights Law. In 2012 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on elimination of FGC. Progress has been made and today 24 of the 29 countries where FGC is concentrated have enacted legislation against the practice.
Amref Health Africa stands for the rights of women in Africa. We believe that sustainable development cannot be achieved unless the rights of women are upheld and until women have equal opportunity in the community to fully engage in development.
“FGC is illegal. It is a form of violence against women. It is against natural justice and the rights of women,” says Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa.
In the course of our work with communities, Amref Health Africa has noted that FGC not only leads to medical problems but disadvantages women, leading to school dropouts, early marriage and relegation to a lower status in the community as far as human development is concerned. From our experience working with African communities, Amref Health Africa has also learned the importance of cultural practices that act as a bridge between adolescence and adulthood. It is for this reason that we support communities abandoning FGC and replacing it with practices that uphold the wellbeing of women.
In Kenya and Tanzania, Amref Health Africa has been working with Maasai community elders to develop an alternative rite of passage for teenage girls to eliminate the practice of FGC. The alternative rite of passage has been put into practice since 2012 and enables girls to transition to womanhood without going through the cut. In Kenya alone, over 8,000 girls have graduated from the alternative rite of passage, thus escaping possible death, injury and early marriage.
In Ethiopia we have been working with multi-sectoral government structures to address FGC. The ‘United for Body Rights’ project funded by the Dutch Government has been running in the Afar Region for the last five years and has led to a significant decline in the practice. In South Omo, a project funded by the Canadian Government addresses harmful traditional practices, including FGC, by seeking to influence behavior and enhance women’s decision-making power on maternal and child health issues.
Amref Health Africa implores the Government of Sierra Leone and stakeholders working to uphold the rights of women in Africa to stand with Sierra Leonean women and condem FGC. Amref Health Africa is available to provide the Government of Sierra Leone with technical support to develop and implement policies and strategies for the elimination of this harmful practice.