Written by: Laura Delcamp
Translated by: Lily Fox
Female genital mutilation (FGM)Delcamp, Laura, « Les mutilations sexuelles féminines », Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, avril 2020, URL : https://igg-geo.org/?p=886 remains a global challenge, as it is estimated that 200 million women having undergone the practice, the majority of whom are on the African continentFranceinfo, « Afrique : baisse du nombre d’excisions et de mutilations sexuelles », 9 novembre 2018, URL : … Continue reading. This traditional practice, which has existed before the emergence of the major monotheist religions, is an important social norm in many African countries.It generally consists of a partial or total excision of the female external genital organsOMS, « Comprendre et lutter contre la violence à l’égard des femmes – les mutilations génitales féminines », 2012, p.1.. FGM is a human rights violation because it has harmful consequences for the health of girls and women, but families still continue to perpetuate this tradition. The practice has been declining for several years but considerable effort is still needed to end it permanently.
28 African countries practice FGM
The prevalence of FGM varies from one country to another: it is estimated that in Burkina Faso, more than 72% of girls between 15 and 49 years old have undergone it (2006), while in Tanzania, it is more than 14% (2004)OMS, « Prévalence des mutilations sexuelles féminines ». URL : https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/fr/. Not all ethnic groups and African societies are concerned by this cultural practice, but the reasons for subjecting women and girls to it are similar. Indeed, for communities, FGM is primarily about the need to control women’s sexuality and bodies. Sometimes perceived as a rite of passage to adulthood, as in Kenya, where young girls undergoing FGM are not yet 15 years old and most of them suffer lifelong consequences.In addition to the various infections and painful sexual intercourse that women and girls can may have, the practice can also lead to death in the event of haemorrhaging, for example, or during childbirthExcision, parlons-en !, « Quels sont les risques liés aux mutilations sexuelles féminines ? ». URL : … Continue reading.
Banning FGM: essential but insufficient
To address FGM, many African states have decided to introduce legislation condemning the practice, such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Ethiopia. These countries have also ratified international treaties like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which firmly prohibit FGM. However, many families continue to perform FGM on their daughters every year because social and cultural pressure is often stronger than the fear of being condemned. The World Health Organisation has noticed a decrease in the average age at which girls undergoes FGM, as parents sometimes try to circumvent the law in this wayOMS, « Nouvelles tendances enregistrées en matière de mutilations sexuelles féminines ». URL : https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_trends/fr/. Legislation is now essential for families to stop perpetuating this tradition, but it must be accompanied by awareness-raising if a real social change is to take place within these societies.
Voices raised to put an end to this practice
For several years now, the voices of many men and women have been raised to put an end to this practice thanks in particular to the local associations of which they are members. For example, Nice Nailantei Leng’ete, from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, has been campaigning for a long time to put an end to FGM, a widespread practice in her country of originMalick, Diawara, « Nive Nailantei Leng’ete : « Remplacer la mutilation par l’éducation », Le Point Afrique, 3 janvier 2020, URL : … Continue reading. Rather than completely rejecting the traditions and culture of her tribe, she has decided to set up “alternative” rites that are based more on awareness -raising to prevent young girls from undergoing FGM. The latter are often in the front line of changing mentalities and making sure that families understand that FGM has no health benefits. In Guinea, 20-year-old Hadja Idrissa Bah created the Young Girl Leaders of Guinea ClubMaillard, Matteo, « Hadja Idrissa Bah, une jeunesse contre les violences faites aux femmes ». Le Monde Afrique, 30 décembre 2018. URL : … Continue reading to fight against FGM as well as gender-based violence in general. Having experienced FGM herself, she wants to raise awareness in her community about the dangers of this practice, also supporting girls and women who have been victims of violence or rape. Initiating community dialogues and encouraging women to make decisions seem to be levers of social change today to put an end to FGM, but also to all gender-based violence.
A decrease in the number of FGM in Africa
Thanks to the work of international and local associations, but also to the actions of activists, there has been a decline in the number of FGM in Africa in recent years. In West Africa, a region particularly affected by these practices, prevalence has fallen from 73.6% in 1996 to 25.4% in 2017, and in East Africa, from 71.4% in 1995 to 8% in 2016Franceinfo, « Afrique : baisse du nombre d’excisions et de mutilations sexuelles », 9 novembre 2018. URL : … Continue reading, an encouraging sign, even if this study only takes into account girls ages 0 to 14, thus excluding girls ages 15-19 who are also at risk. There are also new challenges such as the medicalisation of the practiceSaint-Jullian, Elise, « Médicalisation de l’excision : un enjeu éthique », TV5Monde, 5 février 2015. … Continue reading. More and more families are asking health professionals to perform FGM on their daughters, thinking that the health consequences will be reduced. However, FGM, even when performed in a medical setting, remains a violation of human rights and its medicalisation can also have consequences for girls and women. Many efforts must therefore still be made to put an end to FGM, which must remain a major issue in the fight for gender equality and public health for all countries concerned.
To cite this article: Laura Delcamp, “Female genital mutilation in Africa: a declining social norm which still presents numerous challenges”, 22.07.2022, Gender in Geopolitics Institute.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.
|↑1||Delcamp, Laura, « Les mutilations sexuelles féminines », Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, avril 2020, URL : https://igg-geo.org/?p=886|
|↑2||Franceinfo, « Afrique : baisse du nombre d’excisions et de mutilations sexuelles », 9 novembre 2018, URL : https://www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/soigner/afrique-baisse-du-nombre-d-excisions-et-de-mutilations-sexuelles_3025735.html|
|↑3||OMS, « Comprendre et lutter contre la violence à l’égard des femmes – les mutilations génitales féminines », 2012, p.1.|
|↑4||OMS, « Prévalence des mutilations sexuelles féminines ». URL : https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/prevalence/fr/|
|↑5||Excision, parlons-en !, « Quels sont les risques liés aux mutilations sexuelles féminines ? ». URL : https://www.excisionparlonsen.org/comprendre-lexcision/quest-ce-que-lexcision/quels-sont-les-risques-lies-aux-mutilations-sexuelles-feminines/|
|↑6||OMS, « Nouvelles tendances enregistrées en matière de mutilations sexuelles féminines ». URL : https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/fgm_trends/fr/|
|↑7||Malick, Diawara, « Nive Nailantei Leng’ete : « Remplacer la mutilation par l’éducation », Le Point Afrique, 3 janvier 2020, URL : https://www.lepoint.fr/afrique/nice-nailantei-leng-ete-remplacer-la-mutilation-par-l-education-03-01-2020-2356027_3826.php#|
|↑8||Maillard, Matteo, « Hadja Idrissa Bah, une jeunesse contre les violences faites aux femmes ». Le Monde Afrique, 30 décembre 2018. URL : https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2018/12/30/hadja-idrissa-bah-une-jeunesse-contre-les-violences-faites-aux-femmes_5403724_3212.html|
|↑9||Franceinfo, « Afrique : baisse du nombre d’excisions et de mutilations sexuelles », 9 novembre 2018. URL : https://www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/soigner/afrique-baisse-du-nombre-d-excisions-et-de-mutilations-sexuelles_3025735.html|
|↑10||Saint-Jullian, Elise, « Médicalisation de l’excision : un enjeu éthique », TV5Monde, 5 février 2015. URL :https://information.tv5monde.com/terriennes/medicalisation-de-l-excision-un-enjeu-ethique-15449|