Female genital cutting (FGC) affects 125 million women and girls worldwide. 30 million girls are at risk of undergoing FGC in the next ten years. FGC is a harmful practice involving full or partial removal of a girl’s external genitals. FGC serves no medical purpose and leads to many severe impacts throughout life, while the practice is not required or recommended by any religion.
In half of the countries that practice FGC, the majority of girls are cut before age 5. Elsewhere, cutting occurs between 5 and 14 years of age. Women who have experienced the procedure will be affected physically, psychologically and socio-economically and the practice contravenes human, women’s and child rights.
There are 28 practicing countries in Africa, but many more worldwide. Indonesia, Malaysia and Iraqi Kurdistan, for instance, have large communities in which FGC takes place. Girls in Europe, North America and Australasia living in diaspora communities are also cut, with 500,000 women living with consequences of FGC in Europe.
It has been three years since Orchid Project got off the ground and began working for an end to female genital cutting. In that time we have seen FGC rise from taboo subject to one of the most discussed items on the media agenda. We have played a role in that, as have the many campaigners, activists and organisations all working for the same goal.
We have seen the UN pass a resolution against FGC, have seen funding committed by the UK and European Union and have seen increasing international recognition of the scale and impact of FGC. Today, FGC is recognised as affecting 125 million girls and women worldwide, but we all know that this figure is a vast underestimate. It fails to include the girls who undergo FGC in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. These girls, as in other countries, will live with the effects throughout their lives.
February 6th, was the internationally recognised day against FGC. It is the focal point of our year. In the past two years we have organised UK events to mark this occasion. But this year, we wanted to do something to help support the incredible progress that is being made at a grassroots level. Declarations of abandonment have continued to happen across Africa in the past three years and the significance of these has been shown by UNICEF research to be key to wider abandonment.
For the past three years, 38 communities in Mali have participated in our project partner Tostan’s Community Empowerment Programme. Following the coup d’état in 2012 and the loss of funding, the communities decided to carry on with the programme and a number of smaller funders, including Orchid Project, stepped in to help support the programmes completion.
Last summer, 24 of these communities, all rural, opted to publicly abandon FGC, yet the remaining 14, all urban, felt they were not ready. However, they continued to discuss and debate FGC among themselves. Tostan continued their educational outreach. The communities subsequently came to the decision, collectively and through a process of debate, to end FGC. They had the support of their Government, of their leaders and most importantly of each other. The declaration of abandonment took place in a district where over 60,000 people live, on February 6th 2014.
We are proud to have helped this decision in some small way. It is a reminder that real change is happening on the ground; that real change is effected through the decisions made by those for whom issues like FGC are a daily reality. They have joined a wider movement in Africa that has seen over 7,000 communities choose to end FGC.
We will continue to give our support to those making these life changing decisions and help end female genital cutting.
Orchid Project was founded in June 2010 and campaigns for a world free from female genital cutting.