by Twitter Team @endcuttinggirls

Thursday 7th May 2020

COVID-19 has upended the lives of children and families across the globe and is impacting efforts to end child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).    

Actions taken to contain the spread of the pandemic – such as school closures and movement restrictions – are disrupting children’s routines and their support systems.   

Hundreds of millions of children and adolescents will likely face increasing threats to their safety and well-being, including gender-based violence (GBV), exploitation, abuse and neglect, social exclusion, and/or separation from caregivers and friends.    

We know from the Ebola outbreaks and from other public health crises that adolescent girls are disproportionally affected by these emergencies.    

Efforts to stop the Ebola epidemics led to school closures and a loss of education; a decrease in access to reproductive health information and services; a loss of livelihoods and a contraction of social support networks.    

These undermine strategies to end FGM and child marriage, and threaten the progress that has been made over the past decade.    

The COVID-19 response can draw important lessons from the Ebola epidemics in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo:    

SOCIAL DISTANCING is reducing the provision of social services (health, education and protection) and limiting community gatherings and face-to-face interactions in a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic. But these are key tools in efforts to end child marriage and FGM.    

NON-BIOMEDICAL EXPLANATIONS of disease may stigmatize vulnerable groups and lead to the denial of services and care, and to violence against marginalized groups, including witchcraft accusations against children and women.    

EPIDEMICS ARE DISRUPTORS and can be harnessed for positive social change. During the Ebola crisis, FGM was interrupted in Guinea and Sierra Leone. While FGM resumed after the end of the epidemic, a public health crisis and the disruption it causes could potentially be leveraged to advocate for an end to harmful practices.    

NOT ALL HARMFUL PRACTICES HAVE THE SAME EFFECTS. While FGM declined – even if only temporarily – teenage pregnancies increased in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis. This shows that the drivers and inhibitors of FGM and child marriage differ from each other and require issue-specific strategies.    

NEW NETWORKS, such as those generated during the Ebola outbreaks, created systems of cooperation that can be reactivated. The lessons learned in communities about epidemic response make them more resilient to other public health crises.    

Key effects of COVID-19 for children, including adolescents, and efforts to end harmful practices: social isolation and loss of social support.    

Increased risk of violence, abuse and exploitation.    

Loss of access to education, reproductive health and protection services.    

Loss of livelihoods.    

Opportunities to disrupt FGM and child marriage.    

Opportunities for young people to take on positive, new roles in their communities.    

To ensure that Children are safe from harmful practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, new ways of providing information and support need to be developed and can include:    

Broaden the use of mass media, community radio and digital media to provide children, including adolescents, and their communities with access to information and communication tools.    

Create online opportunities for children, including adolescents, to share their experiences and concerns, communicate with their peers and access sources of support.    

Partner with local women’s organizations, traditional birth attendants and organizations for persons with disabilities to provide continued services for girls at risk.    

Establish safe, trusted and confidential channels for children, including adolescents, to report violence, exploitation and abuse.    

Support young people in taking on new roles: Partner with youth organizations to support and build the capacities of adolescents as educators and facilitators, communicators and mentors, as well as to provide support in their communities.    

Opportunity in crisis: As was done during the Ebola crisis, work with community groups and traditional leaders to interrupt FGM and identify other opportunities to harness the disrupting force of the pandemic for positive social change.    

For additional reading on  Technical note On COVID-19 and Harmful Practices kindly visit https://www.unicef.org/documents/technical-note-covid-19-and-harmful-practices    

Before we close, we would like to share a brief overview of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for the benefit of those joining our tweet conference for the first time.  

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. @WHO  

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies FGM into four types, and all four types are all practiced in Nigeria.

Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.  

Type II: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision).  Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora & labia majora.  

Type III: narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).  

Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora.  

Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.  

Type IV: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization.  

Type IV also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.  

FGM has no known health benefit, and is harmful to girls and women. It involves altering, removing and/or damaging otherwise healthy female genital tissue.  

It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM, and every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk of FGM and are therefore exposed to its potential negative health consequences (UNICEF 2016).  

In Nigeria, the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2018) revealed that 20% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a decrease from 25% (NDHS 2013).   

For more information about FGM you can visit http://www.who.int or watch  

At this point, I will stop the conversation so we can reflect on the key points discussed as I entertain any questions.  

Thanks for being part of the conversations today. Join us every other Thursday 5-7pm. Visit our  www.endcuttinggirls.org for more info and updates on FGM, and kindly follow the handle “@Endcuttinggirls” on all social media platforms.  

Together we will end FGM in this Generation.