The British government has pledged up to £35 million ($52 million) to an effort to end female genital mutilation (FGM) in a generation.
The pledge has been made under the umbrella of UK Aid from the Department for International Development (DFID) and is the largest donation by a nation state to date.
At the UN Commission on the Status of Women on Tuesday, UK international development minister Lynne Featherstone said she hoped the substantial size of the UK’s donation will prompt other countries to donate. About £18 million ($27 million) has been allocated to FGM by other donors.
“This is an opportunity, with momentum building, to take it forward and realize the hope of ending it [FGM] in a generation,” Featherston told The Guardian. “We want it to move from being harmless to being a harmful right of passage.”
In December 2012, the UN general assembly adopted a resolution outlawing FGM, and it’s thought this has added steam to the push by countries to address the appalling practice that has effected millions of women around the world.
The initiative for the resolution came from the Inter-African Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, which began campaign to stop women and girls being subjected to the abhorrent practice two years ago. The organization hopes to be among those that will benefit from the UK’s funding.
Although around 25 African countries have declared FGM illegal, campaigners say the process of making changes at a grassroots level is where the challenge lies. The reason? Most societies which carry out FGM do so against a backdrop of centuries of tradition and see it as a way of life.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 100 million girls in Africa aged 10 and older have undergone FGM. The practice is most commonly carried out on girls up to the age of 15. It involves the partial or total removal of genitalia and is seen by the UN and the WHO as a profound violation of girls’ and women’s rights.
Despite thinking to the contrary, the mutilations have no medical benefits but can — and, often do — result in serious injury, infection and death for the victims. It can also cause complications in childbirth and, just as importantly, takes away sexual pleasure for women.
“It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women,” says the WHO.
Regarding the funding, Featherstone said part of the amount pledged will be spent on research into the best ways of ending the practice. The rest will be used to fund community programs overseen by the UN’s FGM program.
Senegal, which banned FGM in 1999, is thought to be close to eliminating the practice within a few years. Because of Senegal’s near success in stopping FMG, Featherstone will visit the West African country to see how they deal with the issue.
On Featherstone’s to-do list is a date with Tostan, an organization which goes into communities, spending as much as three years in one village, educating people about their human rights in an effort to stop FGM. Since Tostan began its work in 1991, more than 6,000 villages have abandoned FGM and child marriage.
Like most of the countries where the mutilations occur, it remains a largely taboo issue. In Sierra Leone, for instance, despite legislation outlawing the practice for under 18s and an active women’s movement that attempts to make sure the law is upheld, mutilations are still carried out. Lawmakers have even received threats for openly talking about FGM.
In Senegal, Featherstone will visit an organisation called Tostan, which has been praised for its work helping communities abandon FGM. The organisation spends up to three years in villages, educating people about their human rights, which includes the rights of girls and women not to have FGM.
Featherstone will be assessing whether organisations like Tostan would benefit from funding. “It [Tostan] appears to be a method that will work,” she said. “I want to see it for myself and see how it works.”
The Orchid Project, an international organization which advocates the ending of FGM, said the amount the DFID had allocated was “breathtaking” and “the first significant investment the UK has made in ending FGC [female genital cutting]. It is also the single largest international commitment to the issue and as such lays down an important marker in the movement to end FGC within a generation.”
Orchid reports female genital cutting occurs in 28 known African countries as well as some countries in Asia and the Middle East. It also happens in countries with large diaspora populations in Europe, North America and Australasia — which means children are cut in these countries by people originally from the FGM prevalent countries, or children are taken overseas from there to be cut.
The suffering of those behind the statistics is detailed here in a report from Mail Online.