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Ending Female Genital Mutilation in Africa

FGM is prevalent in 28 countries in Africa. Dedicated activism has resulted in the decline of this harmful practice over the past two decades. However, in some countries, this violation still remains widespread. 

Commitments to end FGM by governments vary with some prohibiting the practice and investing in efforts to enforce the law, while other countries are yet to criminalize FGM. 

While the existence of anti-FGM laws is commendable, most countries do not implement them effectively leaving many women and girls at risk of this harmful practice. 

In East and West Africa where laws have been promulgated, practicing communities have devised ways of circumventing the law, with the medicalization of FGM and cross-border FGM on the rise in the continent. Women, girls, and cutters are often ferried across borders to countries with no laws or with weak enforcement for purposes of FGM.

What does the law say?

FGM violates various human rights of women and girls under international, regional, and national laws, including the rights to equality, life, the security of the person, dignity, the highest attainable health, as well as freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Internationally, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) contain legally binding obligations that relate to the elimination of harmful practices.

Regionally, the Maputo Protocol prohibits FGM in Article 5. Furthermore, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child calls on all State Parties to take appropriate measures to protect children from harmful cultural practices in Article 21.

What is Equality Now doing?

FGM and child marriage are often interlinked. In some contexts, FGM is a rite of passage into womanhood and an immediate precursor to marriage. We continue to collaborate with partners across Africa who are working on ending child marriage while at the same time advocating for governments to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years with no exceptions.

Since its establishment in 1992, Equality Now has been at the forefront advocating for laws that protect women and girls by criminalizing FGM and child marriage and supporting grassroots activists and women’s rights organizations working to eliminate these harmful practices within their communities.

Across East and West Africa, we are holding governments to account for their obligations to protect women and girls through engaging regional and international human rights mechanisms. 

In 2017, a petition was filed in the High Court in Kenya by a Kenyan public health professional challenging the constitutionality of Sections 5, 19, 20, and 21 of the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act (2011). Equality Now, as the first interested party to the case, collaborated with the state actors and other CSOs and coordinated the legal strategy to defend the anti FGM Act. In March 2021, the High Court of Kenya upheld and validated the constitutionality of the Act.  We also led the media advocacy of the litigation.

In April 2021, Equality Now together with Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), Association Malienne pour le Suivi et l’Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles and Association pour le Progrès et la Défense des Droits des Femmes, filed a case at the ECOWAS Court of Justice seeking to hold the Government of Mali to account on its failure to enact an anti-FGM law to protect Malian girls and women from this harmful practice.

What progress has been made?

The African Union launched the Saleema Initiative which is a continental initiative designed to galvanize political action to accelerate the elimination of harmful practices in the continent.