Men’s involvement & tough action by African leaders needed to stop FGM

Saturday marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) under the theme “No Time for Global Inaction, Unite, Fund, and Act to End Female Genital Mutilation”.  FGM is a procedure that partially or totally removes a female’s external genitalia for non-medical reasons, causing irreparable and irreversible harm, as well as life-long health and psychological complications. The United Nations estimates say about 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to FGM. The practice is a global problem because it is a violation of human rights of girls and women and an extreme form of gender discrimination. In Africa alone, 50 million girls are at risk of FGM if political leaders don’t take decisive action to ensure its demise. Of all the countries that practice FGM, Africa is home to 29 of them, while 11 of these are members of the MenEngage Africa Alliance. 

Of the 29 countries in Africa where FGM is endemic, 26 have laws prohibiting it, but these are mostly inadequate and are seldom enforced; prosecutions are rare, and penalties are sometimes too light to act as a deterrent. Penalties range from monetary fines to a minimum of three months to life in prison. Moreover, the practice of FGM in some African countries has evolved in order to circumnavigate the existing laws. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the average age at which the practice is carried out is falling in some countries, while in others, there is a tendency of cross-border movement of women from a country where the practice is illegal to another country where it is allowed.

We need urgent action to prevent the continued brutalisation of more girls and women through this practice that is steeped in archaic cultural and religious beliefs. As an alliance that believes that men and boys are crucial in efforts to make gender equality a reality, we also believe that there must be an increased mobilisation of men and boys to speak up against this practice. As MenEngage Africa, we are aligning ourselves with the AU Saleema initiative which seeks to galvanise political action to enforce strong legislation, increase allocation of financial resources and strengthen partnerships to end female genital mutilation, particularly within communities most impacted by the harmful practice.

“After all, women and girls are mutilated ostensibly for them. There is a belief that FGM will increase their chances of getting married. Another reason is the belief that women who have had FGM are better at pleasing men sexually. Shortly after FGM, they are married off, often before the legal age of marriage – 18. Thus, FGM is closely linked to early marriage of girl children. This constitutes the enablement of rape as they are forced into sex with, often, much older men. 

Furthermore, when they become wives, girls are forced to leave school to look after households, serve their husbands and bear children – condemning them to lives of misery. 

These are all benefits for men – hence, it is important that all efforts aimed at rooting out FGM must involve men and boys, the primary intended beneficiaries of this practice. 

We need more advocacy efforts by men as well as collaboration between men and women’s rights organisations to advance the aims of the campaign to end FGM. These are important interventions towards the abandonment of FGM,” says Hassan Sekajoolo, chairperson of the MenEngage Africa Steering Committee. 

“FGM is inhumane and it affects the realisation of sexual and reproductive rights of young people. It is important that we work with young people through global, but also national and local advocacies to challenge this harmful traditional practice which continues to put women and girls in cages. There is no justification for FGM and the youth is the generation we must work together with to put an end to this heinous tradition wherever it happens”, adds Jude Thaddeus Njikem, Co-Ordinator of MenEngage Africa Youth.

Ending FGM requires a multi-sectoral approach that brings together law enforcement agencies, child protection professionals, educators, physicians, traditional and religious leaders, governments and government agencies, activists and survivors.

Our governments have a crucial role to play in rooting out FGM in the continent. They have made commitments under Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to eliminate FGM. MenEngage Africa Alliance, therefore, calls on African governments to take their commitments seriously and follow through on their intent to make FGM a thing of the past.  

We call on our governments to:

  • Pass laws and polices banning FGM and find strategies to effectively enforce these laws within their countries;
  • Introduce harsher penalties for those who disobey the anti-FGM laws;
  • Allocate sufficient human and financial resources to reducing and, ultimately, ending FGM in our nations;
  • Strengthen the implementation of regional co-ordination in the areas of policy and legislation, communication and advocacy, evidence, research and data through regional economic communities to end cross-border female genital mutilation;
  • Support efforts by civil society organisation that campaign for the end to FGM; and
  • Develop programmes to address emerging forms and trends of FGM practice such as medicalisation, reducing the age of cutting, types of FGM as well as religious and traditional justifications for FGM.

We call on Africa and the global community to reimagine a world that enables girls and women to have voice, choice, and control over their own lives.

The scale and the impact of FGM in Africa are well documented. Now is the time for action to reaffirm the commitment to ending this practice. Ending FGM is a developmental imperative and it is a life-saving intervention. 

MEA remains committed to working tirelessly with our partners to ensure that the sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) agenda is advanced in our region and we contribute to see the end of FGM.

/Ends. 

FOR COMMENTS AND FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT: 

  1. Hassan Sekajoolo, Chairperson, MenEngage Africa Alliance, hsekajoolo@gmail.com+256-703-983-298.  
  2. Mpiwa Mangwiro, Campaigns & Advocacy Specialist, MenEngage Africa Alliance, mpiwa@genderjustice.org.za, +27- 82-480-2223.

NOTES TO EDITORS:

MenEngage Africa is part of a global alliance of organisations that engage men and boys to achieve gender equality, promote health, reduce violence and to question and address the structural barriers to achieving gender equality. The global alliance consists of six (6) regions co-ordinated by a regional Secretariat and governed by a regional Steering Committee, which elects one representative per region to the global board. 

Sonke Gender Justice is the Secretariat of MenEngage Africa (MEA), which consists of 22 country networks spread across East, West, Central and Southern Africa. MEA members work collectively toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice in key thematic areas including sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV) & HIV prevention, child rights and positive parenting and in promoting peace on the continent.

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