The United Nations Population Fund fears an additional 2 million cases of FGM over the next decade as a direct result of Covid-19.
Covid-19 has devastated global efforts to end gender-based violence around the world, triggering and exacerbating the risk of Forced Genital Mutilation (FGM) for girls globally. This is a period defined by the universal struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic, one which has enabled FGM, and other gender-based violence, to take place without anyone watching at all, failing to protect girls and women from this ‘hidden crime’.
A recent report published by Save the Children, The Girlhood Report 2020, reveals that the Covid-19 crisis has already resulted in increasing reports of gender-based violence. Projections suggest that violence will continue to rise. Before the pandemic, 4 million girls remained at risk of being subjected to FGM in 2020, despite the decreasing rates of FGM among adolescent girls from 47% to 34% in the low- and middle-income countries that collect data. Now, an additional 2 million girls, who would otherwise be safe from the practice, could be at risk over the next decade, as Covid-19 hinders global efforts to end FGM.
Violence against girls and women persists in every country in the world. And it is deeply rooted in gender inequalities. Throughout history, girls and women have been forced to undergo various forms of FGM, a non-medical procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed. Most FGM practices are carried out on girls between the ages of 0 and 15 years – from as early as a couple of days old, to after the birth of her first child. FGM is a human rights violation that affects women and girls regardless of their geography, education, age, disability and wealth. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone FGM procedures.
Where it is widely practiced, FGM is grounded in the beliefs that it improves fertility, enhances sexual pleasure for men, suppresses female sexuality, leads to better hygiene, prevents infidelity, complies with the demands of religious institutions, and is motivated by social and cultural acceptance. It is seen as a necessity for preparing a young girl for marriage, even when it is known to inflict harm upon girls: the perceived social benefits of the practice are considered to outweigh its disadvantages. Indeed, it has become a social norm in some societies, and it is often difficult for families to abandon the practice without support from the wider community. Many young girls are emotionally pressured into being subjected to FGM by their family members, as to not dishonour the family, highlighted in a previous blog from JAN Trust.
While FGM has no known health benefits for girls or women, those who have been subjected to FGM will likely live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. The procedure can lead to serious health implications, like childbirth problems, genital tissue swelling, long-term urinary problems, infection, increased risk of HIV and AIDS, and infertility. Psychological and emotional trauma often leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression amongst sufferers.
And now, Covid-19 is leaving millions of girls and women at even greater risk of FGM. As highlighted by the United Nations Population Fund, the pandemic is devastating global commitments to end FGM by reducing prevention and protection efforts, social services and care, and increasing the incidence of violence. Covid-19 response measures, such as social isolation and school closures, have heightened many of the drivers of FGM. While children are less likely to suffer from the most severe symptoms of the virus, the greatest impacts on girls of the Covid-19 crisis are likely to be losing access to education, being exposed to violence, increasing poverty, food insecurity, and losing access to other health services. “Being in school is the main reason girls don’t get cut”, says anti-FGM campaigner Domtila Chesang in an interview with the Guardian. Now, 49% of girls in low-income communities say that they are unlikely to return to the classroom after the pandemic, due to precarious financial situations, according to a recent survey by the charity Room to Read. Our CEO Sajda has also commented on the FGM crisis: ‘During the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of FGM has heightened for girls across the world. Staying at home instead of school means that girls are more likely to suffer from violence due to being staying out of sight of community organisations working to tackle VAWG. FGM is also an issue that affects girls in the UK, and unfortunately many cases could have been missed in the period between March and July when schools were closed.’
The Covid-19 crisis has brought to light how much work remains to be done to end FGM globally. The UN aims to end FGM by 2030. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause a one-third reduction in progress towards ending gender-based violence. We cannot allow this to happen.
At JAN Trust, we aim to #educate about the dangers of #FGM, educate #society about the dangers of the practice and #empower #women and young #girls to have a #voice. #FGM is a hidden crime. We must continue to raise awareness of its illegality and risks to health. Unless ending FGM is prioritised in the global response to the pandemic, the implications for girls’ futures around the world will be devastating.
Please call 0208 889 9433 or email [email protected] if you are a school that is interested in inviting experts such as ourselves to speak on the topic of FGM. We offer workshops in schools, colleges, community groups and statutory agencies. These workshops aim to raise awareness of how to detect cases of FGM, as well as offer advice on how to support victims. In the last 5 years, we have delivered over 4200 school sessions. We have worked with over 40,000 young people and practitioners across the UK and have worked in over 29 boroughs. See how you can help us continue this vital work here https://jantrust.org/project/against-fgm/
If you are worried about this issue in any way, please call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email [email protected]