February 6th is Zero Tolerance Day for female genital mutilation (FGM), which is internationally recognized as a gross violation of human rights, a form of violence against women and girls, and a manifestation of gender inequality.
How widespread is FGM really?
According to UNFPA (2018), if current population trends continue, at least 68 million more girls worldwide will face FGM by 2030, with an increase of the current estimates of 4.1 million girls cut each year to 4.6 million per year by 2030.
Even these alarming figures are grossly inadequate as they do not take into account, as outlined in our 2020 joint report, FGM/C: A Call for a Global Response, at least 60 countries where there is no national-level prevalence data available. There is growing evidence that FGM takes place across the world, in numerous countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and North America, among indigenous and/or diaspora communities.
Laws against FGM
Out of the 92 countries with available data on FGM, only 51 have specifically addressed FGM. Officially recognizing FGM as a violation (whether in a standalone anti-FGM law or through specific provisions in existing laws) is the first step to implementing national interventions to eradicate it and protect women and girls.
The Multi-Sectoral Approach
But are laws alone really enough? The use of the Multi-Sectoral Approach (MSA) has been observed as an effective tool for catalyzing efforts towards the elimination of FGM. The UN Women Multi-Sectoral Approach manual in Africa defines the MSA as a strategy for accelerating delivery on commitments for women’s rights through the involvement of different sectors’ stakeholders concerned by the issue. The approach builds on the fact that the implementation and monitoring of progress in the respect, promotion, and protection of women’s rights under CEDAW, the African Charter on Human Rights and its Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol), and other human rights instruments, cannot be delegated only to the national women machinery for the advancement of women.
Equality Now, in partnership with the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition, has been conducting national and regional trainings since 2012, where over 230 state and non-state actors, across 23 African countries, have been trained on using the MSA to implement state obligations under the Maputo Protocol.
In an upcoming desktop review conducted by Equality Now through the support of UNFPA spotlight Initiative Africa regional program, seeking to strengthen the MSA towards ensuring enforcement of global and regional accountability mechanisms on ending FGM, both at a national and regional level; the report documents that one of the key premises on which MSA is grounded on is the promotion of women’s rights and empowerment while addressing FGM as a national priority. This underpins the importance of integrating prevention and response to FGM as part of a country’s national priorities with an aim of ensuring the allocation of resources for the implementation of end FGM campaigns/programs.
During the Covid-19 Pandemic when most women and girls were at risk due to countries adopting restrictive measures, including border closures, curfews, general or partial lockdowns, school closures, prohibition of group activities, social distancing measures, and movement restrictions to curb the spread of the disease; the MSA was the effective mechanism for collaboration with grassroots organizations that are the first point of contact and are more accessible to vulnerable women and girls and have continued to be active and to provide support, to the extent of their capabilities.
In Kenya for instance, the government adopted a national response plan on GBV and harmful practices in the context of COVID-19, in addition to research conducted by the Office of the President, on the impact of COVID-19 on girls and young women. The research was personally ordered by the President, with regards to the increase of violence against women and girls as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. In Sierra Leone, seven government one-stop centers continuously provided multisectoral services to GBV survivors with support from partners.
How does the MSA connect to the law?
This Multi-Sectoral Approach ensures that legal frameworks are put in place to address the discriminatory social norms that threaten the rights of women and girls. The legislation process is necessary to inform the amount of budgetary allocations are to be agreed upon. This however must be informed by the availability of data demonstrating the need for full implementation and institutionalization of laws that criminalize FGM. This process must be anchored on the National Development Plan for its sustainability to be realized. Moreover, the review noted that many African countries have made efforts to strengthen their legislation through the integration of gender-related issues into their national development plan, developed policies, strategies, or action plans to address FGM. In Burkina Faso, for instance, the country has promoted the use of MSA by bringing together 13 ministries, women’s groups, religious and community leaders, law enforcement officials, and magistrates to oversee the implementation of the law to eliminate FGM. This has been effected in the country’s National Strategic Plan for the Elimination of FGM.
In Uganda, the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the National Population Council engaged with Parliamentarians and District Local Governments to integrate FGM interventions into their financial year national, district, and sub-county development plans and budgets. The collaborative process with selected government sectors, CSOs, and faith-based organizations contributed to ensuring that interventions against FGM are systematically implemented at different levels and influence the interventions and support provided by different stakeholders and partners.
What else needs to be done?
In countries where the law is nonexistent, adequate measures must be put in place to ensure that the laws are developed and enforced to protect women and girls from this human rights violation. The World Health Organization study on the economic costs of treating health complications of FGM reveals that a total of 1.4 billion USD during one year (2018) was required in the 27 countries where data were available. This amount is expected to rise to 2.3 billion in 30 years (2047) if FGM prevalence remains the same – corresponding to a 68% increase in the costs of inaction. However, the reports note the urgency to eliminate FGM which would have a significant 60% decrease in the cost of treating the health complications if countries abandon FGM, over the next 30 years.
State and non-state actors must allocate resources to ensure coordination and collaborative efforts geared towards the achievement of gender equality.
Collectively, we must also strengthen the capacities of grassroots organizations, particularly women’s and youth organizations, so that they may contribute better to the MSA, and can facilitate survivors’ access to multi-sectoral support services
What can you do?
Everyone has a part to play in bringing a stop to FGM. Here are some things you can do: