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Female genital mutilation: Challenging traditions and changing minds

Women from the community in Mali gather to discuss the dangers of FGM.

Women from the community in Mali gather to discuss the dangers of FGM.

On February 6, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation is observed worldwide to raise awareness about these harmful practices. According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation (FGM) affects nearly 140 million girls and women, leaving more than 3 million girls at risk of FGM practices each year.

What does FGM mean? FGM or female genital cutting (FGC) refers to the procedures involved with removing, injuring or altering the sexual organs of girls and women for no medical reason.

With many serious health risks, female genital cutting often leaves girls and women fighting for their lives and violates the rights of girls. Yet in some communities, it’s a firmly-established tradition, defended by women and men alike.

FGM in West Africa

In Africa, an estimated 92 million girls aged 10 years and older have undergone FGM. In Mali alone, nearly 86% of girls have undergone some form of FGM and in Guinea Bissau, the rate exceeds 90% in some areas and 50% nationwide.

FGM is practiced in communities for cultural, religious and social reasons. It’s often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly and a way to prepare her for adulthood or marriage. But too often, the practice causes complications during intercourse, menstruation and childbirth, and at times, can lead to death. The side effects are life-long and can result in physical and psychological pain in girls and women.

Children march to raise awareness of the dangers of FGM in Guinea-Bissau

Children march to raise awareness of the dangers of FGM in Guinea-Bissau

Challenging traditions in Guinea Bissau

The protection of girls from this harmful practice is a cornerstone of Plan’s work in West Africa. A new program funded by Plan is targeting 80,000 people across 40 communities in Guinea Bissau.

Plan is working with religious leaders, community leaders, youth and parents to help raise awareness on the harmful effects of FGM and to ensure the rights of women and girls are upheld. But it’s also crucial to work with the FGM practitioners themselves.

Meet Bobo
Bobo, 65, is working to promote the rights of girls and end FGM in her community.

Bobo, 65, is working to promote the rights of girls and end FGM in her community.

For more than 20 years, 65-year-old Bobo Siede performed FGM at ceremonies across Guinea Bissau. But as an FGM practitioner, she realized the potential she had to change the minds of those around her.

Bobo now works with Plan to advocate against FGM.

“Women in my family had practiced with the knife for generations and it was a source of pride,” explained Bobo. “But then I learned of the dangers and now I’m 100% against this practice. I only wish I knew then what I know now – I could have spared so many girls.”

Plan’s programs in the area call for the protection and respect of girls and women, and for the freedom and dignity of children and girls. Through Plan’s Because I am a Girl initiative, we’re helping girls achieve their basic human rights.

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Sexual Health
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