Feb. 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). While we mark the progress we have made to end this global human rights abuse, it is clear a huge challenge remains.
Female genital mutilation is a violation of girls’ bodies and of their human rights. It causes serious harm, putting their lives at risk, and can leave them with lifelong physical and mental traumas. Over 200 million women worldwide have already undergone FGM.
A girl at risk of being cut is also more at risk of child marriage, of dying during pregnancy, contracting HIV or dropping out of school. If they are not in school, girls cannot decide their own future. So ending FGM is key to fulfilling the prime minister’s commitment to give every girl worldwide 12 years of quality education, and ultimately, ending gender inequality.
Change is happening. Today’s generation of girls is a third less likely to be cut than the generation before. But progress is at a critical juncture. Every seven seconds, a girl somewhere in the world still suffers FGM. There are over 100,000 women in the United Kingdom living with the consequences of it.
Thankfully, increasing numbers of courageous African women are standing up against the practice in the UK and abroad.
I have met some of these women. Like Christine who, at the age of just 14 spoke out against the practice in her village in Kenya. She was shunned by other pupils at her school because she was not cut.
But, courageously, she refused to stay silent — Christine is now teaching young girls and families in her community about its dangers. And she has saved more than 80 girls from FGM.
Then there is Sarian, who was cut, and who works with women in South East London and in Sierra Leone to end the practice in both countries.
Supporting brave women like Christine and Sarian, working in the UK and Africa, will end this extreme manifestation of gender inequality.
UK aid is the largest single donor supporting the end of FGM globally, helping 10,000 communities across Africa abandon FGM and supporting millions of affected women and girls. The UK government has committed to help break the cycle of FGM and work towards the United Nations Global Goal of ending it by 2030.
With UK support, six African nations have been able to create a domestic budget for tackling FGM and three have introduced new laws to criminalize it. President Kenyatta of Kenya recently pledged to end FGM in his country by 2022.
But changing the law alone is not enough. In Burkina Faso, for example, FGM is already illegal — but girls are still being cut. The challenge lies not just in implementing the law, but in changing understanding of FGM.
And in some countries, FGM is increasingly carried out by medical professionals. This perpetuates the false belief that it is safe despite some girls dying as a result.
From today, UK aid will support the UN and the World Health Organization to work with countries to take on this challenge.
Our funding will help African nations tackle the issues we have faced here in the UK. Working with doctors, nurses and midwives, training the judiciary and police to enforce the law, stopping cross-border FGM where girls are taken to other countries to be cut if the practice is illegal in their own, and educating people about its true harm.
In the UK — we have introduced civil protection orders, mandatory reporting of girls at risk and a new offense of failing to protect them from FGM. New NHS-backed community-based clinics are also supporting women who have undergone FGM, offering medical and counselling support. This is all working to break the cycle of FGM for good.
We cannot end FGM in the UK without tackling it globally. Supporting brave activists like Christine and Sarian will save lives and this grassroots focus will be a key part of our approach.
No matter where she lives, no girl should ever have to fear she will be subjected to FGM. We have ten years to reach that goal. Doing so will take not just action from women like Sarian and Christine — but all of us across the world.
United Kingdom's International Development Secretary
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.