International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Increase in cases during pandemic. Germany promotes comprehensive anti-FGM strategies

Press release 4 February 2022 | BERLIN – The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the clock back on female genital mutilation.

Girls in a school class in Bangui, Central African Republic

Girls in a school class in Bangui, Central African Republic

Girls in a school class in Bangui, Central African Republic

On the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February, Development Minister Svenja Schulze stated:

“Because of COVID-19 we have had to cope with severe setbacks in the fight against female genital mutilation. It is estimated that some additional two million women and girls will be affected by 2030 because of the measures that were implemented in the fight against the pandemic, for instance school closures and the suspension of prevention programmes. That is why we will further expand our efforts to defeat this human rights violation!”

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a severe form of gender-based violence and a violation of human rights and women and girls who survive FGM are usually left to deal with serious physical and mental consequences for the rest of their lives. At least 200 million women and girls worldwide are currently suffering from the physical, mental and social consequences of FGM.

German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said: “This issue demonstrates very clearly what we mean when we speak about feminist development policy. It is not enough to cure the symptoms. Much rather, we must identify and overcome discriminating power structures and harmful social norms. Despite the fact that FGM is in fact legally banned in many places it continues to be a firmly established part of the traditions and religious beliefs of many societies. That is why we question such discriminatory norms and role models and put the protection of the rights of girls and women at the centre in our dialogues with our partners in the global south in which we also include traditional and religious leaders and representatives of older generations. Human rights are indivisible, for all genders.”

In its development policy Germany is opting for comprehensive strategies to fight FGM. These combine education, raising awareness and dialogue with measures designed to strengthen the capacity of governmental and civil society organisations, and with efforts to provide policy advice at all policy levels. Long-term strategies that involve – wherever possible – all the relevant local communities can bring about sustainable changes in norms and patterns of behaviour. Traditional and religious leaders and older generations play a pivotal role and can positively influence a transition that leads to sustainable behavioural change.

It is also important to place this work within the context of general efforts to prevent gender-based violence. Giving girls access to education and covering FGM as a topic in school is also of key importance. The BMZ is supporting efforts to fight gender-based violence by providing funding amounting to some 37 million euros. In addition, we are making funds available that are earmarked for measures to counter female genital mutilation. The BMZ is thus supporting the regional project on better prevention of female genital mutilation in East Africa by providing 5.9 million euros for interventions in Somaliland, Sudan and Ethiopia and we are supporting civil society organisations engaged in FGM with some 2.8 million euros.

Background and examples of FGM projects

Warning against practising female genital mutilation on a billboard in Uganda

Warning against practising female genital mutilation on a billboard in Uganda

Warning against practising female genital mutilation on a billboard in Uganda

It takes continuous and long-term commitment to put an end to FGM: The share of women affected by FGM has fallen by a total 15 per cent over the last 30 years in the 30 countries that have reliable data on FGM. In some countries, however, almost all women and girls are still affected by FGM, for instance in Somalia (99 per cent) or in Mali (89 per cent).

Female genital mutilation is an expression and root cause of gender inequality and a severe human rights violation. It violates the right to safety and personal liberty, the right to life and physical integrity, the right to health and the rights of children because often girls are forced to undergo FGM at a very young age. The lifelong consequences of FGM include complications in childbirth, chronic pain and menstrual problems. FGM also leads to an increased risk of infection, including for HIV, and causes trauma and serious psychological stress.

In addition, FGM contributes significantly to maternal mortality. Alongside severe physical, mental and social consequences, FGM also causes major economic costs: Women affected by FGM are often unable or only partly able to engage in income-generating activities and are excluded from political participation.

WHO estimates that health complications in the 27 most affected countries cause additional annual costs amounting to 1.4 billion US dollars. There is a risk that the consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic could undo progress that has been achieved. Studies say that an additional two million women and girls may be affected by female genital mutilation by 2030.

An example from Mali: A project involving traditional and religious leaders in a country in which roughly 89 per cent of women are affected by female genital mutilation has created spaces for dialogue in which participants question deeply rooted beliefs and harmful social norms.

An example from Egypt: A cooperation project with UNICEF and UNFPA is supporting a dialogue between generations which is aimed at developing cross-gender and cross-generational dialogue formats that provide input for processes of social change.