Understanding FGM and Violence Against Women

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains one of the most challenging issues within the spectrum of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). Despite its severe health implications and the global movement towards its eradication, investment from African philanthropists and High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) in combating FGM has been notably lacking. This absence of investment is not just a missed opportunity for societal advancement but also raises questions about the role of African elites in addressing critical social issues. This exploration seeks to understand the reasons behind this reluctance, emphasizing the necessity of addressing FGM as a part of the broader VAWG agenda and advocating for African-led narratives and solutions. The forthcoming sections will delve into the intricacies of FGM within the VAWG framework, examine the barriers to investment, and propose strategies to foster engagement from African philanthropists and HNWIs.

Understanding FGM & VAWG

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) refers to all procedures involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is recognized internationally as a violation of human rights, reflecting deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. FGM is predominantly found in Africa, as well as in some countries in the Middle East and Asia, and among migrants from these areas.

FGM has immediate and long-term effects on women’s health, including severe pain, bleeding, potential childbirth complications, and increased risk of newborn deaths. The psychological impact is equally significant, leading to issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The practice of FGM is deeply embedded in the fabric of many societies, linked with cultural, religious, and social factors within families and communities. It is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.

FGM as a Part of VAWG: Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) encompasses a wide range of abusive actions that harm, traumatize, or put women and girls at a disadvantage simply because of their gender. FGM is a critical component of this spectrum, showcasing the extreme lengths to which societal structures will go to control women’s bodies and choices. Integrating FGM within the broader context of VAWG allows for a comprehensive approach to addressing gender-based violence, highlighting the interconnectedness of these issues.

Challenges Facing Investment in FGM Initiatives

Cultural Sensitivities and Taboos: One of the primary barriers to investment in FGM initiatives is the deep cultural significance of the practice. In many communities, FGM is tied to notions of purity, beauty, and eligibility for marriage. Challenging FGM can be seen as challenging the cultural identity of those communities.

Awareness and Perception Issues: There is a significant lack of awareness among some African philanthropists and HNWIs about the prevalence and impact of FGM. Furthermore, there’s a perception that FGM is a “solved problem” due to international awareness campaigns, leading to complacency.
Strategic Philanthropy Priorities: Many philanthropists prioritise investments that promise clear economic or immediate social returns. FGM initiatives, which require long-term commitment and may not yield immediate visible outcomes, might be seen as less appealing.

Lack of Comprehensive Strategies: Efforts to address FGM often fail to integrate it within the broader VAWG context, making it harder to attract funding. A holistic approach is necessary for effective intervention, but the lack of such strategies can deter investment.

The Importance of Addressing FGM as Part of VAWG

Addressing FGM within the broader VAWG framework is crucial for several reasons. It acknowledges the interconnectedness of various forms of violence against women and girls, facilitating a holistic approach to prevention and support. This broader framing helps in designing comprehensive policies and programs that address the root causes of gender-based violence, including social norms, economic factors, and political contexts.

Integrating FGM into the VAWG agenda also broadens the base of stakeholders and resources, potentially attracting more significant investment and attention to the issue. It allows for the sharing of best practices and lessons learned across different domains of gender-based violence, enhancing the effectiveness of interventions.

Moreover, addressing FGM as part of VAWG highlights the need for solutions that are sensitive to the nuances of culture, religion, and social structure, ensuring that interventions are respectful, acceptable, and effective within communities.

In the next sections, we will delve into the advocacy for African-led narratives and solutions, and outline strategies to encourage investment and engagement from African philanthropists and HNWIs in combating FGM as a critical issue within the broader VAWG context.

  1. Advocating for African-led Narratives and Solutions

The battle against FGM and the broader issue of VAWG requires solutions that are not only effective but are also culturally sensitive and community-approved. African-led narratives and solutions are crucial in this regard, as they are more likely to be accepted and sustained within the communities they aim to serve.

Necessity for Culturally Sensitive and Community-Based Initiatives:
Solutions to FGM must come from within the communities. External interventions without local buy-in risk being met with resistance or, worse, can lead to the clandestine continuation of the practice. African philanthropists and HNWIs have a unique opportunity to support initiatives that respect cultural sensitivities while working towards eradicating harmful practices. Their investment can empower local communities to lead the change, ensuring interventions are both respectful and effective.

Role of African Philanthropists and HNWIs: African philanthropists and HNWIs are in a pivotal position to influence change. Their investment in combatting FGM can take various forms, from funding local NGOs and community-based initiatives to supporting education and awareness campaigns that challenge the social norms underpinning FGM. By leading the funding efforts, they can also inspire others to contribute, creating a larger pool of resources dedicated to this cause.
Expertise and Experience

Deep Understanding: Organizations like AWRA possess an in-depth understanding of the cultural, legal, and social intricacies surrounding FGM and VAWG in their specific contexts. This expertise allows them to develop targeted, effective interventions.

Experience in Advocacy: They have years of experience in advocacy, policy influence, and community mobilization, which are crucial for effecting change at both grassroots and governmental levels.

2. Community Trust and Engagement Builds Trust: Such organizations often have established trust within communities, making them effective conduits for challenging deeply rooted practices and norms. Their approach is typically more welcomed compared to external entities.

Engagement Strategies: They employ engagement strategies that respect cultural norms while advocating for change, ensuring community buy-in and participation in initiatives against FGM and VAWG.

  1. Amplifying Voices of Affected Women and Girls
    Platform for Voices: AWRA and similar organizations provide a platform for the voices of women and girls affected by FGM and other forms of VAWG. Highlighting personal stories and experiences is vital for raising awareness and humanizing the issue.
    Advocacy for Rights: They advocate for the rights and protection of women and girls, ensuring that their needs and perspectives are central to policy and community interventions.

4. Collaboration and Networking
Partnerships: These organizations often work in partnership with local, national, and international bodies to amplify their impact. Through collaboration, they can leverage additional resources, share knowledge, and influence broader policy changes.
Networking: They provide a network of support for survivors, activists, and community leaders, fostering a collaborative environment for sharing best practices and strategies.

  1. Research and Education
    Conducting Research: Organizations like AWRA contribute to the body of research on FGM and VAWG, providing data and insights that inform interventions and policy. Educational Programs: They play a critical role in education and awareness-raising, targeting communities, policymakers, and the international community to change perceptions and practices related to FGM and VAWG.

Some Strategies to Encourage Investment and Engagement

To increase investment and engagement from African philanthropists and HNWIs in FGM initiatives, several strategies can be employed:

Educating Potential Investors: Raising awareness among philanthropists and HNWIs about the severity of FGM and its implications within the broader context of VAWG is crucial. This could involve curated workshops, seminars, and exposure visits to affected communities.

Highlighting Successful Models of Investment: Showcasing successful investments in VAWG initiatives, including those addressing FGM, can serve as a powerful motivator. Success stories, particularly those led by African philanthropists, can demonstrate the impact of investment and encourage others to follow suit.

Creating Platforms for Dialogue: Establishing forums where communities, activists, and philanthropists can discuss the challenges and solutions related to FGM can foster understanding and collaboration. These platforms can help bridge the gap between investors and the communities they aim to support, ensuring that initiatives are well-informed and targeted.


The role of African philanthropists and HNWIs in combating FGM, as part of the broader VAWG issue, cannot be overstated. Their investment and leadership are critical in ensuring that efforts to eradicate FGM are culturally sensitive, community-led, and sustainable. By addressing FGM within the larger framework of VAWG, these philanthropists can help foster a holistic approach to combating gender-based violence, one that respects and uplifts the dignity of women and girls across the continent.

The call to action is clear: African philanthropists and HNWIs must take up the mantle of leadership in this fight, leveraging their resources, influence, and networks to support African-led narratives and solutions. Through their engagement and investment, there is a real opportunity to make significant progress in eradicating FGM and advancing the broader agenda of ending violence against women and girls in Africa and beyond.

The critical role of organizations like the African Women Rights Advocates (AWRA) in leading the agenda against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and within the broader context of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) cannot be understated. These organizations are at the forefront of advocating for change, providing support to affected individuals, and ensuring that efforts to combat gender-based violence are informed, culturally sensitive, and impactful. Their leadership is essential.

Naimah Hassan

The Author

Naimah Hassan is a London-based leader and women’s rights activist. She has been involved in the international development area for 13 years and is specialized in media, campaigning, advocacy and communications. She also serves as a program director at the global media campaign to end FGM and a champion for African women’s rights as well.