Plan International Ireland’s Development Programmes Manager, Maria McLaughlin, who has over 10 years’ experience in technical advice, research and programme management in long term development work in Africa and Asia, explains what FGM is and the work Plan International is doing to overcome the practice.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC), and female circumcision, is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. It’s a violation of human rights and affects millions of girls and women worldwide.
More than 200 million girls and women have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15 years. Often it is seen as part of a rites of passage ritual for girls to become young women.
FGM procedures have no positive health benefits, but can cause minor to severe medical complications impacting sexual and reproductive health, and can lead to complications during child birth, increasing the risk of new born deaths.
Guinea-Bissau in West Africa has a high prevalence rate of FGM due to traditions and cultural beliefs, particularly in the remote regions of Bafata (87%) and Gabu (96%). The practice of FGM was outlawed by the Government of Guinea-Bissau in 2011 legislation.
Before we practiced FGM for religious reasons, but, thanks to training we are now aware that it is not the prescription of Islam, explains Mumini Baio, chief of Bidjini community.
Plan International in Guinea Bissau works with the Government, the FGM practitioners, medical services and with the local communities to guide people towards abandonment of the practice.
In Guinea Bissau, the majority of those who perform the cutting are traditional practitioners (birth attendants, traditional healers, typically older women). Some of the practitioners also earn a living from performing the cutting. Many community members are not aware of life threatening health risks of FGM, or that it is a human rights abuse.
Plan International works with the practitioners and with the local community to inform them on the dangers of the practice, and to encourage them to find a safer practice to indicate when a girl has become a young woman. The project convinces the practitioners to stop the practice and to instead become defenders of the human rights of women and girls. The former practitioners then convince other practitioners and other communities to abandon the practice.
The project also works with the Government to support them to enforce the legislation which now bans the practice. And the project works with women’s rights networks in Guinea Bissau to ensure that women’s human rights are better protected across the country.