Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is defined as any procedure that involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or any other injury to the female genital organ for nonmedical reasons (World Health Organisation-WHO, 1997). FGM, is also known as Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting or Female Circumcision.  The term FGM will be used in this conversation.

Typically carried out by a traditional circumciser using a blade, FGM is conducted from a few days after birth to puberty and beyond.  In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. Procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group.

The practice is rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women’s sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. It is usually initiated and carried out by women, who see it as a source of honour, and who fear that failing to have their daughters cut will expose the girls to social exclusion

Health effects depend on the procedure. They can include recurrent infections, difficulty urinating and passing menstrual flow, chronic pain, the development of cysts, an inability to get pregnant, complications during childbirth, and fatal bleeding. There are no known health benefits

FGM is classified into four types by the World Health Orgnisation (WHO). Type I is “partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce”.  It has two subdivisions.

Type Ia involves removal of the clitoral hood only. This is rarely performed alone.

Type Ib (clitoridectomy), this is the complete or partial removal of the clitoral glans (the visible tip of the clitoris) and clitoral hood. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb and index finger and cuts it off. This is the most common procedure.

Type II (excision). This is the complete or partial removal of the inner labia, with or without removal of the clitoral glans and outer labia. It has two subdivisions.

Type iia is removal of the inner labia;

Type iib, removal of the clitoral glans and inner labia; and

Type iic, removal of the clitoral glans, inner and outer labia.

Type III (infibulation), the “sewn closed” category, involves the removal of the external genitalia and fusion of the wound. The inner and/or outer labia are cut away, with or without removal of the clitoral glans.

Type IV is the other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes”, including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. It includes nicking of the clitoris (symbolic circumcision), burning or scarring the genitals, and introducing substances into the vagina to tighten it.

Late complications vary depending on the type of FGM. They include the formation of scars and keloids that lead to strictures and obstruction, epidermoid cysts that may become infected, and neuroma formation (growth of nerve tissue) involving nerves that supplied the clitoris.

An infibulated girl may be left with an opening as small as 2–3 mm, which can cause prolonged, drop-by-drop urination, pain while urinating, and a feeling of needing to urinate all the time. Urine may collect underneath the scar, leaving the area under the skin constantly wet, which can lead to infection and the formation of small stones. The opening is larger in women who are sexually active or have given birth by vaginal delivery, but the urethra opening may still be obstructed by scar tissue. Vesicovaginal or rectovaginal fistulae can develop (holes that allow urine or faeces to seep into the vagina.

The pace of penetration of awareness seems slow because the practice is an ancient one, deeply rooted in our various cultures but that does not make our efforts fruitless. Though progress may be slow, we are going somewhere as Grandmothers, Mothers, fathers and young girls, are becoming aware of the severe health implications of the practice.

“Few years ago, many women, even some educated ones, saw it as a normal and socially acceptable practice but the story is fast changing, as awareness is getting to everywhere and different people are now campaigning against it.”

Increasingly, policymakers, NGOs, and community leaders are speaking out against this harmful traditional practice. As more information becomes available about the practice, it is clear that FGM/C needs to be unmasked and challenged around the world.

I will now discuss “Individual Advocacy: Does it count in the campaign to end FGM?

Advocacy refers to a process, initiated by citizens or groups of citizens, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to bring about change.

Two broad types of advocacy can be distinguished: individual advocacy and systems change advocacy. Individual advocacy focuses on changing the situation for an individual and protecting her rights

While Systems advocacy refers to efforts to change policy and practice at the local, national or international level, to change the situation for groups of individuals who share similar problems.

I will be discussing basically individual advocacy and relating it to FGM, which focuses on changing the situation for an individual and protecting the rights of every girl. It helps to address the immediate and day-to-day needs of every girl child/ woman.

All effective individual advocacy aims is to affect change at various levels- including increasing community awareness of the issue, influencing law and policy making and improving the government response to FGM.

It is important to leverage on Individual advocacy to end FGM in this generation, this will help to address the act from the grassroot level.

Individual advocacy require low resources investment and it helps to address the act from individual levels.

Individual advocacy can address women in the community level and this can help in curbing the hidden practice of this act.

Many girls who seek help are ashamed of the situation or what has happened to them may feel responsible for what is happening to them and may die in silence.  Individual advocates who understand their situation will help them determine for themselves what they need to do.

Individual advocacy can help girls understand the choices and options they have and why FGM needs to be abolished by providing them with sufficient information about the act

To work effectively with FGM survivors, an individual advocate need not be a professional psychologist or trained social worker.

One of the roles of an advocate is to assist a girl child in making her own decisions and providing for her own safety.

One of the most important rules for the individual advocates is to keep the information from a survivor confidential. Confidentiality is essential for the advocate to create a relationship of trust.  They must respect differences in background without judging.

Individual Advocates would listen actively and assist women/girls with problem solving. Well-trained advocates can work in paid or volunteer positions. They are an important part of ending FGM.

Individual advocacy can help in enacting laws;  Advocates with legal expertise on FGM laws can provide advice that is not only helpful but necessary for survivors seeking relief from the court system.

Without the support of an advocate, FGM survivors may not speak out . This increases the likelihood that they will not feel able (or be coerced not) to cooperate with prosecution and/or will drop or disregard their restraining orders. If they feel overwhelmed and unsupported by the process, they will be hesitant to use the legal system again and this will go along way in stopping people from performing FGM.

Individual advocates may be at risk of prejudice, public repudiation, threats of and actual violence against them if they don’t address the act from those in charge of tradition in places where it’s seen as a rite-of-passage to adulthood.

Individual advocates need not to fight those in charge of the tradition but fight the act itself.

As a society, we need more than just awareness creation to endFGM. Experience has shown that, because FGM is a social norm in most practicing communities it will only end when individuals, families and communities accept the norm of keeping girls/women intact.

Individual advocacy that can help equipping mothers/girl child with adequate information about the dangers associated with FGM will go a long way in putting an end to it.

Mothers can protect their child from FGM by speaking out against the act at every possible place.

Individual advocacy can also help communities to find an alternative to the ritual of FGM in places where they see it as a right to passage.  The risk of losing a child can help mothers say “No” to FGM.

In conclusion, the struggle to endFGM is on-going. Individual advocacy is a key in ending FGM. It will not end until our girls are safe.

A world free of #FGM is possible. Let us make sure that this idea is realised in our lifetime.

Thank you for joining us today. Kindly send in your questions.

You can follow us on any of our social media handle instagram, facebook, YouTube and twitter using @endcuttinggirls.