Brave women, girls take a stand against FGM (A UNFPA feature)

New York, US (PANA) - On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), celebrated annually on 6 February, brave women and girls are taking a stand, saying 'NO' to the ghastly practice, an aversion to the human rights of millions which has kept victims from achieving their full potentials.

A good example of such girls is 14-year-old Latifatou Compaoré from Burkina Faso, who learned the spirit of resistance from her mother.

Her mother was subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) as a child in Burkina Faso. “She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had experienced serious problems and died following a haemorrhage that no one had taken care of,” said Latty, as she is fondly called.

According to the UNFPA media channel, FGM can cause a raft of serious health consequences, including not only haemorrhage but also shock, infection and complications in childbirth.

Yet the practice is widespread around the world, where an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have been subjected to the practice. Some 3.9 million girls were subjected to FGM in 2015 alone. And if FGM continues at current levels, 68 million girls will be cut between 2015 and 2030.

But brave women and girls are taking a stand against FGM, sometimes risking stigma and rejection by their families and communities.

Latty’s mother was one of these courageous women.

“When she became a mom, she made the commitment that if she had girls, she would never cut them, and she kept her word,” Latty said.

Latty was 10 years old when she heard her mother’s account. “This story really shocked me,” she said.

“I cannot understand that children can be made to suffer in such a way, that they can be mutilated under conditions with poor or no hygiene.”

She decided to become an advocate for ending the practice. A talented singer, Latty recorded a song about it, called “Excision,” which garnered attention throughout the country, even getting air time on national television and radio stations.

Latty has since recorded two more songs about ending the practice. On a Facebook page she created about eliminating FGM, her videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

But she has also faced backlash. “There are some who congratulate me and encourage me to go forward, but there are others who bother me a lot,” she said.

“I also receive messages that ask me to stop, to mind my own business.”

The opposition does not discourage her, though.

“It is a cause that I will defend throughout my life,” Latty pledged.

Around the world, thousands of courageous girls like Latty are calling for the elimination of FGM in their families and communities.

In Kenya, 17-year-old Sharleen Cherop also said 'No' to FGM.

She managed to escape both FGM and child marriage – which are linked in some places, with one practice considered a precursor to the other.

"My family wanted me to be cut and get married, but I refused,” Sharleen said. She ran away from home and found support and safety at a nearby school. She is now an advocate for children’s rights.

In Egypt, FGM is widespread. More than 90 per cent of women have undergone the practice, according to a 2014 survey. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Eliminate Female Genital Mutilation works with local partners and communities to raise awareness about the harms caused by FGM.

Fatmah’s mother heard some of these messages from a local NGO and taught them to Fatmah. Today, at 13 years old, Fatmah has rejected FGM and is a passionate advocate for its elimination. “FGM is wrong and it has lots of harms,” she said. “I convinced my sister not to cut her kids.”

In Ethiopia, 18-year-old Sofia Hussen experienced both FGM and child marriage. She learned about the harms of both practices from a UNFPA-supported adolescent girls group, and today she uses her own story to call for change.

“I am a living example,” she said of her work.

Latty, too, has seen real change in her community.

“A little while ago, a friend of my mother came into our yard with her 2-year-old daughter. She said that family members were insisting on cutting the little one,” Latty recalled.

She spoke to the woman at length, explaining the consequences of FGM. “She ended up promising us that she would not cut her,” Latty said.

To date, the girl has not been cut, she added.

“We have to fight every day to try to educate as many people as possible,” Latty explained. “That's what I'm trying to do.”

The 2016 Annual Report for the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting provides two perspectives: The main document analyses progress in quantitative terms, provides an account of how our budget was allocated and offers profiles of each of the 17 programme countries.

This companion booklet uses a qualitative and narrative approach to examine more specifically the challenges, complexities and achievements on the ground. It explores the innovative approaches the Joint Programme teams, partners and activists employ to deconstruct the social norms that allow FGM/C to continue in many communities.

In Sudan, Abdullah Ali Abdullah has spent 30 years working with communities in North Kordofan to encourage abandonment of female genital mutilation.

In the early 1980s, Abdullah saw constant infections and childbirth complications while volunteering in a health centre in Sudan’s North Kordofan state. He soon realized many of these issues had the same root cause – female genital mutilation (FGM).

“This was my first experience with FGM,” he recalled recently. “I saw the reality of it through volunteering at the health centre.”

It led Mr. Abdullah – who goes by the name Aljaile – to ask: “Why do people do this to their girls?” - a question he would pursue for 30 years.

In Sudan, many people feel FGM is a religious obligation. But Aljaile researched this idea, and discovered that Islam – the predominant religion in North Kordofan – does not require FGM.

FGM is also performed out of the fear that uncut girls will not be able to marry. But if whole communities abandon the practice together, FGM would no longer be a requirement for girls to marry.

Aljaile began to share these ideas with others, but he met great resistance. Many people were unwilling to even discuss FGM with him.

Aljaile eventually joined the North Kordofan Ministry of Education, where he worked on religious education. There, he had the opportunity to speak with imams and sheikhs about FGM.

Finally, people began to listen. Aljaile became a pioneer in the movement against FGM in North Kordofan.

“I think that speaking to women is more effective than speaking to men,” he said of his experience. “Women can be very strong, if convinced, to start a social movement – much better than men.”

In 2014, Aljaile participated in a UNFPA-supported workshop in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, where he learned ways to encourage communities to change that have proven successful in other regions and countries.

One approach encourages community leaders to use religious texts to endorse the values of mercy and love when discussing FGM. The second approach promotes use of the term ‘saleema’, which means whole or unharmed, to describe uncut women and girls.

Both strategies help communities re-think FGM.

For two years, Aljaile continued his outreach work, with technical support from the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme to Eliminate FGM.

In 2016, he began to host workshops and talks to engage community members on the subject, often with support from UNFPA and the Joint Programme.

He spoke to religious leaders from all over the state. And he began to engage women’s groups on the subject as well.

Today, he hosts regular television and radio segments on FGM. He also works with a team of four – a midwife, counsellor, health worker and religious leader – in his community outreach, helping to address the issue from a religious, health and family perspective.

And they are making real change. At one recent training, a midwife who had spent years performing FGM vowed to discontinue the practice.

Speaking to other midwives in attendance, she said, “All of us need to take this in mind. We all have to stop together or the practice will go on.”

At least four communities in North Kordofan have so far publicly abandoned FGM. And these days, Aljaile is thinking even bigger: He hopes to reach every community in the state.
-0- PANA VAO/MA 7Feb2018

07 february 2018 07:02:13

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