Here in the West most of the schools have broken up for the summer holidays. While for many children this is a time of freedom, to sleep in, hang out with friends and enjoy themselves, for others it is a time of fear. It is believed that there are 200 million girls and women alive today who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Each summer more girls join that number. Families will have their girls undergo FGM during the summer holidays to give them time to heal before going back to school and to ensure their absence is not noted.
FGM is prominent across the central band of Africa as well as in the Middle East and Asia. There are many reasons given for why it happens. Mainly, it is a socially accepted norm which is enhanced by religion. However, it has also been explained by misconceptions about hygiene, ensuring a girl or woman’s virginity, ‘preparing’ her for marriage and for enhancing male sexual pleasure. Many people also see its continuation as a preservation of their traditions and cultures. As more information is coming out about FGM, more pressure is being put on governments and religious and communities’ leaders to put an end to it globally.
Our North Africa team have joined the fight to stop it from happening. A few years ago, in collaboration with UNICEF we produced a short film to show the effect of FGM on the whole family. This has been shown across North Africa, particularly in communities where it is deeply ingrained. Earlier this year we have launched a major campaign around this issue on our online magazine for women, reaching them in at least 10 Middle Eastern countries. This campaign was followed by a major event in one of these countries. We are also now partnering with the relevant authorities and have met with the leading medical professionals about the physical impact of FGM and procedures to reverse the harm caused.
One story that exemplifies the effect of FGM was told by our Communications Manager James Baldock in our latest issue of MEMO. During a visit to our North Africa offices he was invited to join a workshop about FGM put together for writers of our Nisa’a magazine. It was organised because some of the writers being apprehensive to write about the subject. Due to its sensitive nature and cultural connotations, James decided not to attend. However, one of our staff, Sabra, filled him in at the end.
“Thank goodness you didn’t attend! There were tears flowing throughout the workshop. The writers’ apprehension was due to over half of them actually having suffered through the ordeal of having FGM done to them when they were younger.”
FGM destroys women’s and girl’s chances to live a normal life without continuous pain and suffering. But we are seeing changes. After our recent workshop on FGM women shared openly, -
“I have undergone the FGM operation. It is my first time ever to be able to say this out loud. I am not to be blamed for this operation, it was the decision of my parents and it is their responsibility. Around me are thousands of women and girls who have undergone the same operation, they are silent and burying in their hearts an awful pain that has been there for years, and they don't know what to do with it. My thoughts are so confused and my feelings are lost, I blame my parents so much and then I find excuses for them. I ask myself every time I see a campaign against FGM: was I deeply hurt by FGM and will never live my life normally again? I don't even know exactly where I stand. I am I a cold person physically or am I protected from being sinful? Am I destroyed physically or made beautiful as they claim? Will I be innocent or unsatisfied? I am afraid, tired and I hate myself and what happened to me.”
“Thank you so much for shedding the light on deep, and sensitive issues in our society. Your campaign has touched me deeply and I realized the amount of cruelty women face every day.”
As education around FGM is starting to take hold we want to urge us all to be praying for this issue more than ever.
Please join us in prayer this week that:
Women and girls who have undergone FGM would find healing. We pray for healing for the physical and psychological scars this procedure causes.
Parents who are considering having it done to their girls would stop and rethink. We pray family members would speak out against it and ensure protection for the next generation.
Governments and local leaders would advocate against its practise. They would be actively rooting it out and prosecuting those who do it.
Our films, research and writings would reach more people. We pray that as people change their minds about it they would be actively speaking out in their communities.