Each year over 3 million African girls and women experience genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Why is female genital mutilation performed? How does FGM affect women’s health? Is FGM being prevented? These questions and much more were discussed during the Women in the World Summit. The summit participants discussed global challenges and proposed solutions. Molly Melching is the founder and executive director of Tostan whose mission is “to empower African communities for sustainable development and social transformation in the respect of human rights.” She discussed how they are" changing the fate of African women by helping end female genital mutilation in Senegal.
Why is female genital mutilation performed? Cultural practices, like FGM, are rooted in set beliefs and social behavior patterns of a particular society. There are many theories on why FGM is performed. Aside from religious reasons, FGM may be performed to control a woman’s sexuality, a prerequisite for marriage, initiation into womanhood, or for aesthetic reasons. Without there being one reason, FGM will be hard to prevent if we do not learn more about this cultural procedure. More information on why this procedure is performed can be found at the United Nations Population Fund.
How does FGM affect women’s health? Immediate and long-term complications can occur due to female genital mutilation. During the procedure, one can experience shock, infection, fever and hemorrhage. In some cases, the hemorrhage can be of such magnitude to cause the participant to die during the procedure. Long term complications can include urinary discomfort, painful sexual intercourse and dysfunction, hypersensitivity, menstrual disorders and difficult pregnancies (sometimes resulting in fetal death). More information on health complications can be found at the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.
How can FGM be prevented? Education, research and guidance are the key steps towards understanding and preventing female genital mutilation. The World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are working together to promote increased advocacy for the prevention of FGM. Public policy, research and work within communities are efforts being raised by the WHO locally and internationally. For over 30 years, Molly Melching’s work has created a movement of women empowerment that is spreading through Africa. Today, over four thousand communities have abandoned FGM in Senegal. By 2015, the practice of female genital mutilation will come to an end there.
Like Melching, we can all become involved in preventing female genital mutilation. We can learn more about this cultural practice and educate others about the health risks. We can take action by writing letters to our government and international organizations demanding change to improve human rights. Women at Risk and Amnesty International USA: Violence Against Women an provide more information about support, donations and how to take action in preventing female genital mutilation.
- Samantha Bradbeer
Girl Museum Inc.