#endFGMmyths: No, female genital mutilation (FGM) is not an “African issue”

The discourse around female genital mutilation (FGM) is often tainted by stereotypes and myths. In the framework of the #endFGMmyths campaign of the European End FGM Network, GAMS Belgium insists on the fact that FGM is a global problem. 

An African problem, but not only

It has long been thought that FGM practices were limited to Africa. FGM is rarely associated with Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Colombia, etc., where it is still practiced.

Considering FGM as an “African practice” also implies that the whole of Africa is concerned. However, FGM is not practiced in some African countries such as Angola or Botswana. Prevailences can also vary greatly within a single country, depending on ethnicity or region.

It all began with a truncated world map

This misconception is recurrent because World Health Organisation (WHO) or UNICEF publications would often show only a map of Africa with the validated prevalences of demographic and health studies. There were already reports from NGOs or researchers mentioning the practice of FGM in other continents in Asia and Latin America but without national data.

This has since improved. Indeed, official data from Indonesia are now available, raising the global prevalence from 130,000 to 200,000 million women and girls affected. It is therefore important to present a global and not just African mapping and to keep on collecting national data on FGM.

Misconceptions and taboo lead to lack of support

This has consequences. While women from countries commonly associated with FGM are fairly quickly identified and accompanied, women from other practicing communities, such as Kurdish women from northern Iraq or Indonesian women, are rarely the target of prevention programmes. Moreover, FGM is not discussed with them in medical consultations. Because of the taboo, they don’t say anything and do not receive adequate support.

“Hard to reach” communities

In the words of Solomon Amare Zewolde, an activist with FORWARD UK, at the Preventing Female Genital Mutilation in Hard to Reach Communities conference last April: “We are not hard to reach. Not at all. Rather, it’s the NGOs that do nothing to reach us and don’t come out of their offices. As community members, we feel forgotten.”

Activists Jaria Lalla-Hussein and Hozan Mahmoud talk respectively about the issue of FGM in the Bohra community in Asia and the Kurdish community in the Middle East.

“The Bohra community practises the so-called ‘khafz’ and ‘khatna’ excisions, which are in fact female genital mutilation types 1 and 4.” - Jaria Lalla-Hussein, activist (WeSpeakOut UK)
“Such a crime not only affects the child in his physical and moral integrity, but also affects Kurdish family life as a whole.” - Hozan Mahmoud, Kurdish women's rights activist

#EndFGMmyths, debunking myths and misconceptions about FGM

Every year, the EndFGM network launches a campaign around the theme of female genital mutilation. This year, the focus is on deconstructing stereotypes and preconceived ideas: “FGM is a women’s issue”, “FGM is imposed by Islam” or “Affected women have no sexual pleasure”…

To go further, see our book “Genital mutilation, addressing common myths and misconceptions”, published in 2017 by GAMS in the framework of the network of Concerted Strategies for fighting against FGM, and recently re-edited and translated into English by GAMS Belgium and EndFGM.

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