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A Critical Ally: Why the Media Matters in the Global Movement to End FGM

Gender-sensitive, accurate, and constructive reporting on female genital mutilation (FGM) can trigger positive outcomes. It can help raise vital awareness of the practice’s harmful effects and the lived experiences of survivors and help inform advocacy designed to hold governments and practicing communities accountable. That’s why we’ve released a series of toolkits on effective reporting on FGM for media professionals such as journalists, news editors, and photographers.  

These resources, containing practical and ethical guidelines that media professionals can apply in their reportage of FGM and why it must end, are essential to making the end-FGM movement more visible and effective. 

Our media training is already having an impact 

We know our journalist training sessions, delivered in 2019 and 2021 across East and West Africa, have benefited 40+ journalists, equipping them with skills to ensure they are interviewing survivors sensitively and appropriately. They also provide journalists with an understanding of the legal framework, nuances around the forms, trends, prevalence, and motivations for performing FGM, the role of journalists in ending FGM, and the ‘Do No Harm’ approach, among others. 

Our toolkits for journalists build on these training sessions to equip journalists, editors, and other media professionals with the skills to report on FGM in a gender-sensitive way.

Understanding the issue

FGM is a serious human rights violation that can cause life-long physical and psychological trauma and, in some cases, results in death. Rooted in gender inequality, it jeopardizes the health, well-being, and prosperity of millions of women, girls, and non-binary individuals and impacts entire communities, hampering the development agenda of nations, especially where prevalence rates are high. Because of this, ending FGM globally has been included as a specific target within the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What can the media do while reporting about FGM?

By accessing resources and training opportunities, journalists and media persons can address their challenges while wanting to cover FGM. The roadblocks to consistent and accurate reporting can be multi-dimensional, including but not limited to misinformation or lack of information, low access to survivor stories, and fears of community reprisal. Finding practical solutions to these concerns and reliable community support can help address the slow pace of FGM reporting worldwide.

Frame it as a global human rights Issue

An informed and responsible media will be able to spotlight FGM as an issue that concerns human rights violations and child abuse. Regular and pointed coverage can consistently push the fact that the issue persists globally and needs to be urgently addressed. 

The data shows that FGM is a global issue, and we know that the movement to end FGM is global, too. We need reporting on FGM to reflect this reality. 

The reportage can also focus on specific geographies to activate conversations. For example, FGM occurs within various communities in Asia and the Middle East, but this remains underreported. Media coverage can bring to the fore the specific cultural and community conversations that drive the practice and keep it hidden from public view.

Center survivor voices

The media can provide an international platform for survivors and activists to make their voices heard by showcasing their experiences and insights through interviews and other features. Sensitive media storytelling can highlight the effects FGM has on the mental and physical health, education, economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive rights, and agency of affected girls, women, and non-binary individuals.

Champion ethical photography

By following ethical practices and promoting sensitive portrayals, photographers and photojournalists can set the standard for how survivors of FGM and the practice itself are depicted and talked about. Application of some fundamental ground rules – like, not revealing the faces or identities of girls who have undergone FGM, respecting survivors’ right to privacy and having access to all information before giving their consent, and not sensationalizing the practice by publishing images of rusty or bloody tools – can ensure that the individuals, families, and communities involved can self-advocate without risking re-traumatization.

Establish intersections

It is critical that FGM be written about and presented as a complex, nuanced issue that is deeply affected by the circumstances and social positioning of the survivors and communities involved. By articulating these connections and analyzing them more deeply, the media can aid policy-making and targeted support. FGM can also be a forerunner to child marriage, a connection that the media can highlight through credible data and quotes.

Build familiarization with trends

Trusted resources and research can inform media persons of the definitions and right usage of FGM-related terminology and trends. Understanding and writing about ‘vacation cutting’, ‘medicalized FGM’, types of FGM, ‘cross-border’ practices, and more can help highlight the complexity and pervasiveness of the practice.

Push for a Multi-Sectoral Approach (MSA)

Intersectional understanding and reportage of FGM will help, ultimately, push the case for a multi-sectoral approach to ending FGM and supporting survivors. The MSA is a crucial strategy for accelerating the delivery of commitments to upholding and advancing women’s rights through the involvement of all stakeholders concerned by any particular issue (e.g. ending FGM). For impactful change and to eliminate FGM, a holistic approach needs to be adopted, ranging from adopting legislation to using a multi-sectoral approach at all levels, that involves relevant stakeholders in the planning and implementation of programs. 

Channel international perspectives

The media can help raise awareness about international human rights laws and frameworks as they are important tools that can be used to hold governments to account for the commitments they have made to protect women and girls from harmful practices. These include, for instance, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Help gather data

Media reportage on prevalence data, laws, specific trends, and the latest developments can prove invaluable in an environment where numbers can be hard to come by because of a lack of government initiative, public reticence, and the complexity of inquiring about details of FGM practices. It is vital that data is gathered and made publicly available by governments, and the media reports on it. This information can push governments to take action and provides a baseline from which the scale and effectiveness of interventions can be measured.

Equality Now’s Journalists’ Handbook on female genital mutilation (FGM) was developed to support media professionals in their efforts to report on FGM as a global issue. Other versions include one focused on Kenya and one on Africa. Please feel free to share, reference, and reproduce the content.