Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM, involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitals for non-medical reasons. It is recognised as a human rights violation and form of child abuse. The practice is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 by traditional ‘cutters’ who have no medical training. No anaesthetic is used and often girls are too young to properly realise what’s happening to them.
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. Considered a necessary preparation for womanhood and marriage, FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, including the notion that girls are “clean” and “beautiful” after removal of body parts that are considered “male” or “unclean”.
FGM is a deeply entrenched cultural norm in the societies where it is most commonly practiced. The practice is perpetuated by common myths and misperceptions, such as a belief that the practice is necessary for hygiene purposes, or that it is part of religious doctrine. At its roots is gender inequality and the lower status of women and girls in society.
People often believe the practice has religious support, though no religious scripts prescribe the practice. FGM has no health benefits, and it can lead to severe negative consequences including pain and trauma, haemorrhage, increased susceptibility to infections, an increased risk of problems during child birth and in the worst cases death.
Plan International is supporting the eradication of FGM through education, awareness, advocacy and support. Plan International’s Because I am a Girl campaign has already reached 58 million girls worldwide, advocating to end harmful practices like FGM.
In Guinea Bissau it is estimated that almost 50% of women and girls have undergone some form of FGM, and this has actually increased in recent years. Plan International Ireland’s project is located primarily in the regions of Bafata and Gabu, where the proportion of women and girls that have undergone FGM is as high as 93% and 95% respectively. Our project is targeting 16 communities – eight in Bafata and eight in Gabu over a two year programme.
What Plan International is doing:
We support survivors. We work with local health workers and the Regional Department of Health to provide psychological and specialist medical treatment for women experiencing complications as a result of FGM, in particular during childbirth. Many of these women, in turn, become some of the strongest advocates for the eradicating of FGM in their communities.
We financially support women to attend regional hospitals for specialist treatment as many cannot afford the cost of transport and accommodation while in hospital.
We advocate for legal protection and access to justice. We work in partnership with other actors to lobby for the enforcement of national legislation criminalising FGM. We train police officers, prosecutors and judges to improve their understanding of FGM and the need for the ethical handling of reported cases. With our partners, we lobby them to effectively bring perpetrators to justice.