Yesterday was the 8th International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM. But what does that mean for an organisation like IKWRO?
Coverage of FGM tends to focus on African countries, but FGM is also practiced in the Middle East, and has been documented in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
FGM is extremely common in Iraqi Kurdistan, with prevalence higher than many African countries. A study there last year by the German NGO WADI found that two thirds of women over the age of 20 had undergone FGM. It is most often performed on young girls, but may also be inflicted on adolescents or even adult women.
In Human Rights Watch’s report ‘They took me and told me nothing’ (2010) women described being held down and forced to undergo FGM when they were as young as five. The report also documents cases of women who had avoided FGM during childhood being forced to undergo it as adults.
In one case, a woman went to assist her sister in law in giving birth, and was shocked to learn that her brother had been married to someone who had not had FGM. After the birth she called in a traditional midwife who performed FGM on the woman. The procedure generally involves the removal of all of part of the clitoris. It is normally done without any anaesthetic and often using unsterilised instruments.
FGM is sometimes justified by reference to culture, tradition or religion, but at IKWRO, we do not accept these arguments. We believe that there can be no justification for inflicting pain and suffering on women and girls, or for denying them the right to a safe and healthy sexual life. This is why we support the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM.
FGM is a highly traumatic experience which stays with women for the rest of their lives. It also has serious health consequences. Girls or women who undergo FGM can die of bleeding, infection or shock during or after the procedure. Long term health effects include repeated urinary and reproductive tract infections, painful vaginal cysts, infertility, difficulty giving birth and psychological problems. Women who have undergone FGM will often experience pain during sex and will be unable to enjoy a healthy and satisfying sex life.
FGM is a criminal offence in the UK. It is also an abuse of human rights. No one is allowed to force you to undergo FGM, either in this country or by taking you overseas, and it is a crime to perform or allow anyone to perform FGM on your daughter. Under the FGM Act 2003, a person who inflicts FGM on a child or adult can face up to 14 years in prison.
At IKWRO, we support women and girls at risk of FGM, and work to raise awareness of why FGM is wrong within communities where it is practiced. We have worked with girls as young as two years old, and with women in their 40s.
If you are worried that you, your child or someone you know may be at risk of FGM you can contact IKWRO for help. See our website, www.ikwro.org.uk for our contact details and more info about our work on FGM.