Reversing FGM – Female Genital Mutilation worldwide is an uphill climb

Faiza Jama Mohamed – WNN SOAPBOX

Child orphans in Lwala, Kenya
Girl children stand on either end of this line of orphans in an orphanage in Lwala, Kenya. Unlike the boys, most of these girls will undergo FGM – Female Genital Mutilation at a young age. Image: Nicor/Wikipedia

(WNN/EN) Nairobi, KENYA, AFRICA: Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a severe form of discrimination against girls.  It is an extremely violent act of control and an utterly invasive and destructive assault of the female sexual organs.  It promotes the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with girls, which needs to be changed.  It is often carried out for cultural or supposedly religious reasons, even though it is not referred to in any major religious text.  FGM is most prevalent in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  However, it is a global problem, which has already affected 100 – 140 million women and girls around the world.

One of the most worrying recent developments relating to FGM is the shift towards permitting it to be performed by medical professionals in a supposedly ‘safe’ environment.  We have recently been calling for urgent action in Indonesia, one of the first countries in the world to attempt to ‘legitimise’ FGM in this way.  As Indonesian girls are usually less than six weeks old when this is carried out, they have absolutely no say in this decision, which transforms their entire future.  We are also concerned about recent development in Malaysia, which could see something similar happening there.  The Malay Minister for Health is keen to formalise and legitimise the ‘medicalisation’ of FGM, despite the fact that there is absolutely no benefit or necessity to do so.  This ignores both UN and WHO guidelines, which recognise it as a severe form of violence and child abuse against girls.

Meanwhile, in post-Mubarack Egypt, the new constitution may open the door to the ‘medicalisation’ of FGM on the African continent.  In a recent publication, Dr. Mohamed Kandil from Egypt supports this development by suggesting that “the procedure [clitoridectomy] should be offered to parents who insist on it; otherwise, they will do it illegally”.  This completely disregards the Hippocratic Oath, which Dr. Kandil would have needed to take.  It also ignores the fact that one of the main reasons why the Egyptian ban on ‘medicalised’ FGM came into place in 2007 was the death of a twelve-year-old girl.  Any medical professionals who support FGM in any sense – and in any part of the world – should be removed from the official register.  We are also concerned to hear reports which imply that Egypt may not only be considering ‘medicalising’ FGM, but also a full reversal of its national ban.

Equality Now has been working for over twenty years on eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls.  One of our key areas of interest is bringing about lasting change, which prevents the next generation of girls from undergoing FGM.  The recent UN Worldwide Ban lends support to both legislative and educational efforts to eliminate it from all corners of the globe.  This also adds impact to our efforts at a grassroots level, where we work with local partners to fight for change on a daily basis.

We ask everyone to support our current campaign, which demands that Indonesia should end the government legitimisation of FGM and restore its national ban immediately.  This – as well as any future moves to legitimise FGM in Malaysia or Egypt – ignores international guidelines and puts countless girls in harm’s way.  All attempts to ‘medicalise’ FGM are steps in the wrong direction, at a time when substantial progress is finally being made to eliminate this utterly unnecessary and destructive practice.


A leader for women’s land rights in Uganda, in prohibiting FGM in Tanzania and Mali, as well as stopping forced marriage and rape in Ethiopia and ending sexual abuse of girls in school in Zambia, Ms. Faiza Jama Mohamed is Director of the Africa Regional Office of Equality Now based in Nairobi, Kenya. Faiza is also key organizer of Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), a pan-African coalition of organizations that successfully campaigned for the adoption of, and is now campaigning for the implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Faiza also serves on the Advisory Panel of the African Women’s Rights Observatory (AWRO). In 1996, she co-founded the Coalition for Grassroots Women’s Organizations in Somalia to bring together women across clan boundaries.

Read Faiza’s remarks at the 2008 Africa Prize Gala Award Ceremony.