WANDIA: Celebrating effort towards ending FGM in Africa and beyond

Equality Now Global Executive Director Yasmeen Hassan embraces a pupil at Esilenkei Girls Boarding Primary ...
Equality Now Global Executive Director Yasmeen Hassan embraces a pupil at Esilenkei Girls Boarding Primary School in Narok, Kenya. The school was Started by Tasaru Ntomonok which rescues girls from child marriage and FGM. PHOTO: Equality Now

If a caption was to be put on the video recording or the picture of Liberia president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf eight months after her speech  at the Global Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in New York, it would be Actions speak louder than words, President Sirleaf.  Liberia has no anti-FGM law, however the story and the people behind the push to have the country protect her girls from this extreme human rights violation, may go untold.  The proposed domestic violence bill – albeit extremely weak – was meant to protect girls and women from various forms of violence and included provisions on ending FGM.

Liberian legislators deleted the FGM provision in the bill entirely and threatened to pass the bill on the 28th of April 2016. The bill has been sent back to the relevant committee, due to pressure from Equality Now and others, including local partners Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET), with support from Comic Relief.  The irony, however, is that Liberia has ratified the Maputo Protocol, the African women’s rights legal framework, which advocates for a total ban on FGM.

As Africa Day is marked, such strides and efforts by partners and anti-FGM crusaders cannot be ignored. We celebrate countries in Africa that have passed laws banning FGM as required by the Maputo Protocol, as well as individuals and communities who are on the forefront campaigning against FGM, in spite of threats to their security and discrimination against them.

In 2015 we celebrated the efforts by traditional leaders in Liberia, who adopted a resolution banning FGM for girls under 18 years, an end to forced FGM and discrimination against girls who refuse to join the Sande bush schools, where FGM is performed. Their actions have boosted efforts towards an anti-FGM law in Liberia.

January 2015 also saw Egypt’s first FGM trial. Dr. Raslan Fadl, was sentenced to two years in jail for performing FGM that led to the death of 13-year-old Soheir. Further advocacy by Equality Now and others led to a verdict by a Disciplinary Court, revoking the doctor’s license and his expulsion from his job as a surgeon in a state-run hospital on February 2016. We are currently working to ensure that this verdict is carried through.  The Gambia and Nigeria also passed laws banning FGM, in 2016 and 2015 respectively.

The Group of African States and an additional 71 Member States co-sponsored the worldwide ban on FGM that was passed by the UN general assembly in 2014.   This has continued to impact positively efforts to end FGM at the global level.  Armed with that global ban, Equality Now and The Girl Generation, with support from the Human Dignity Foundation, carried out joint advocacy that saw the adoption of a global FGM indicator in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The removal of the qualifier on the FGM indicator ‘for relevant countries only” became a reality.  This means that FGM will be addressed as a global issue that needs global solutions in the SDGs.

The wave of change towards ending FGM has made progress in other continents too.  In a bid to protect girls in the United States against FGM, South Dakota passed an anti-FGM law, New York State passed into law a provision on public education on FGM and the states of Washington, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania all introduced bills to ban FGM that are awaiting approval.

The first trial since the United Kingdom passed a law banning FGM in England and Wales in 1985 was witnessed in 2015, where a doctor and his colleague were prosecuted.  Although, they were acquitted, the trial was a major step in the right direction and sent the message that the law will be effectively implemented.  Years of joint advocacy by Equality Now and partners resulted in a law in the UK on mandatory reporting of cases of FGM placing a duty on professionals including teachers, social workers and health care providers to report incidents of FGM, or if they think girls less than 18 years are at risk.

The picture of hope is further painted by trends from the UNICEF Global report on FGM, 2016. In Kenya the prevalence rate of FGM among young girls under the age of 14 years has gone down to 11%.  However, many challenges remain too in addressing FGM around the world. According to the UNICEF report, girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have been cut, with the highest prevalence of FGM among this age in The Gambia at 56 per cent, Mauritania 54 per cent and Indonesia.

We know what needs to be done to end FGM in a generation.  A joined-up comprehensive approach that includes prevention, protection, provision of services for girls at risk or women who have undergone FGM, partnerships and prosecutions, where necessary.

On Africa day, 2016, we are asking everyone to rise up, be part of the solution and help #EndFGM.

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Story By Mary Wandia
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