Female Circumcision Is Still A Woman’s Rights Issue And Was On The Rise In Africa During The Pandemic

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is widely practiced throughout 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, although the World Health Organization (WHO) considers the highly dangerous procedure a violation of human rights. During the pandemic, FGM cases skyrocketed to an all-time high in Hargeisa and Somaliland’s second-largest city, Burco. A survey found that 61 percent of residents believed that FGM was increasing amid the pandemic lockdown, AP News noted, but sadly, Somaliland had the highest rate of FGM cases before the COVID-19 crisis with 98 percent of girls between the ages of five and 11 receiving the dangerous practice. Now, some activists within the country are calling for a stop to the tradition.

How is female circumcision conducted?

FGM procedures are normally performed by unlicensed medical professionals in Somaliland. Using a razor blade and an anesthetic syringe, “female cutters” typically remove the external parts of a young girl’s genital area. The procedure can vary depending on the circumstance. FGM is usually conducted on young girls between infancy and age 15, the WHO notes. Many of the women in Somaliland undergo “the most severe kind” of female circumcision where their vaginal areas are sewn shut until marriage compared to the “less severe” form of the procedure where the clitoris or labia are surgically removed.

Government and health officials believe FGM rose in Somaliland during the pandemic because many schools were shut down, leaving young girls susceptible to “cutters.” The spiraling economic conditions forced parents to rush their daughters into marriage, for which FGM is usually a cultural expectation.

The procedure has dangerous complications

There are no health benefits for women and girls to undergo the dangerous procedure. FGM can lead to complications such as severe bleeding, problems urinating and the development of cysts. Additionally, the practice has been known to cause infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. According to the WHO, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM.

The procedure is normally carried out by unauthorized medical workers, there is evidence to suggest that some health care providers participate in the practice. This is known as “medicalization.”

Sadly, the cost to correct some of the medical mistakes from the procedure can be expensive. Health complications of FGM in high prevalence areas are said to cost an estimated 1.4 billion USD per year and are projected to rise to 2.3 billion by 2047 if nothing is done to stop the health hazardous practice.

Why is FGM still practiced in certain countries?

There are many social and societal factors that allow for FGM to continue in certain countries. Some cultures believe the tradition is a necessary part of preparing for adulthood and marriage. Others believe that the cultural practice ensures premarital virginity and marital infidelity. A few women undergo the procedure for religious reasons.

What is being done to stop the harmful practice?

When COVID-19 impacted Somaliland and other FGM-affected areas, activists and government officials were on the verge of implementing an anti-FGM policy, which would ban the practice for good. Currently, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Djibouti, Eqypt are the only countries that have anti-FGM laws in place, according to the WHO.

Government officials and the agency hope to develop educational programs and health initiatives to inform people about the high-risk factors of FGM and its potential health complications. There have also been plans to develop legislation that would penalize people who continue to conduct the procedure, but there are still a number of challenges ahead.

Many countries lack the necessary funding to educate and train staff to maintain these types of initiatives. Cultural and religious groups have pushed back against the proposition out of fear of going against their religious beliefs, and in the case of Somaliland, lawmakers are largely compromised of men who may not understand the health significance of outlawing such a harmful practice. However, Somaliland’s minister Mustafe Godane Cali Bile does appear to be in favor of change amid the rise of startling FGM cases. During a recent national television conference, the minister said that he was “hoping the practice will be illegal by the end of the year.”

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