Female Genital Mutilation hurts women, girls, and our economies

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the cutting of the female clitoris, is considered a crime in most countries. Although the practice has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic due to many young girls being taken out of school in African countries where FGM is prevalent, anti-FGM efforts still remain critically underfunded.

An estimated 2 million additional girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade, bringing the total number of girls at risk to 70 million by 2030, according to a joint report by UNICEF and UNFPA. These devastating numbers are unacceptable. We simply cannot allow underfunding to set us back in the fight against FGM.

In countries where the cutting of this critical female organ is banned, African Women Rights Advocates (AWRA) and our partner organizations around the world are working on several fronts:

  1. To ensure that women and girls are protected and know their rights;
  2. That locals are informed about the harm caused by the cut;
  3. That funding reaches those who need it the most to keep FGM outside of our communities.

Our members, activists, and allies are also working with local authorities and policymakers in places where the practice is not yet banned in hopes that anti-FGM policies will one day become law — such as in countries like Sierra Leone.

FGM is costing our communities on several fronts — the health costs for women living with FGM-related health conditions are estimated to be around $1.4 billion annually, according to a report by WHO. If FGM were abandoned now, the associated savings in health costs would be more than 60% by 2050, the WHO says. This data, available for 27 of the 30 countries where FGM is practiced, can strengthen the economic argument of community activists, policy makers, program planners and donors working to end this gross human rights violation.

Our activists use this data in their community activism, but most importantly, they are connected to the communities where FGM happens. They know the repercussions and damage caused by FGM all too well. In fact, it hits close to home for many of our founders, allies, program planners, and community builders. Many of us are survivors, or daughters of survivors. Some of us have lost loved ones due to complications brought on by FGM. We’ve all worked tirelessly over the years to create awareness about the horrific practice of FGM, but we still need to continue reminding our communities and our world of what it takes to help end the practice around the world. According to UNFPA, it costs around $95 to save one girl from FGM.

“An estimated $2.4 billion is needed to achieve this goal in 31 priority countries, but only $275 million is expected to be spent—a resource gap of about $2.1 billion. Further, humanitarian crises including disease, climate change, and armed conflict could cause a rollback of current progress,” according to UNFPA. “With eight years remaining in this decade of action, partnerships with men and boys can play a crucial role in eliminating the practice, transforming deeply rooted social and gender norms and allowing girls and women to realize their rights and potential in terms of health, education, income, and equality.”

That means we need all efforts for the fight against FGM. We need to prioritize education over military spending. We need to prioritize women’s health, community building, and awareness. Our world can really shift if we focus on enhancing the lives of women and girls, particularly in the global south. No girl should be left behind, especially in today’s world. Our future selves and upcoming generations will thank us for it one day.

African Women Rights Advocates (AWRA) focuses on creating a world where African women and girls can thrive. On July 17-20, we will be participating in the Women Deliver 2023 Conference in Kigali, Rwanda alongside many allies, leaders, and policymakers from around the world — and FGM will be a topic of major concern for AWRA. This harmful and deadly practice has set back women and girls across our continent for far too long. We are advocates of taking a stronger and more assertive stance to end FGM, as we know all too well that it can lead to other harmful issues — such as child marriage, girls being taken out of school, and life-threatening pregnancies for women and girls. Knowing what we know as women, informed experts, and leaders on the ground, we simply cannot allow that to happen in future generations. We believe in every child’s right to safety, education, and prosperity.