Global Action Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Heats Up International Day Of Zero Tolerance For FGM

As the world gears up to mark the International Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on 6th February, troubling statistics from UNICEF reveal that we have been underreporting the huge numbers of victims worldwide who are cut daily under the barbaric ritual practice of FGM. UNICEF reports that the 2014 statistics did not include some 70 million girls and women.

It is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women today have undergone some form of FGM, with half of them living in three countries: Egypt, Indonesia and Ethiopia.

So far, out of 10 countries who record the highest percentage of FGM cases between girls and women aged 15-49 years old, Somalia has the highest number at 98%, Guinea 97% and Burkina Faso and Gambia come in third and fourth with 76% and 75% respectively.

Under 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.

In Ghana, FGM is mostly practiced 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 its local partner, Belim Wusa 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.

The study revealed that the practice was more prevalent in communities closer to the borders of Burkina Faso and Togo, with parents usually crossing borders to cut their girls for fear of prosecution. This is due to an amendment in Ghana’s Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) in 1994 (FGM Act 494) which outlawed the practice. 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 were 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 COMBAT (Community Based Anti-Violence Teams) 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 their communities.

While the practice still persists, these interventions have reduced the incidence of FGM in some communities. Education and advocacy have also been intensified to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable girls and women in affected communities.

To fight the cross-border cutting, ActionAid Ghana and BEWDA are working with a consortium of Non-Governmental Organisations (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 Ghana 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. Let’s all join the fight.

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