Though the horrific practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is seeing a global decline, a new report by the United Nations Children's Fund has found that it is "almost universal" in certain countries, with 98 percent of girls and women from ages 15-49 having undergone the torturous "tradition" in Somalia. As many as 30 million girls will be at risk of FGM if the current figures remain, according to the report.
Former supermodel Waris Dirie has been the leading face of the campaign against FGM from the late 90s. Dirie ran away from Somalia to escaped arranged marriage, but she herself was the victim of a gruesome genital mutilation ritual. She was brought to a gypsy doctor by her mother to have her vaginal opening stitched closed with thorns without any anesthesia. She lost her sister to FGM, after she bled to death from the cutting, and her cousin died from an infection as a result of the procedure. Dirie describes the motivation behind FGM in many African communities, where the practice is most common, is that "there are bad things between a girl's legs."
That coupled with widespread logic that FGM preserves some sense of chastity and marriage-ability has resulted in the practice being widely administered, despite a significant parts of the population that oppose FGM. Francesca Moneti, UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist, says,
"It confirms that there is a social obligation, that the practice is relation. I do what I do because I know that you expect me to do it, and vice versa… You have to make visible the fact that people in their private sphere don't support the practice. So, I may not support cutting, and you may not support cutting, but I see you cutting your girl, and you se me cutting my girl, and you think I support it because you see me cutting my girl- but we don't talk."
Over 125 million women and girls have undergone FGM, with the overwhelming majority focused to 29 countries from the Atlantic Coast to the Horn of Africa. Among the top offenders are Egypt, with 27.2 million reportedly having undergone FGM, Ethiopia with 23.8 million, Nigeria with 19.9 million, and Sudan with 12.1 million. Guinea and Djibouti are also among the group of countries where over 90% of females have been mutilated.
When Dirie ran away from Somalia, she had just been sold to an older man as a child-bride. According to her, he was to either cut her sewed-shut vagina with a knife or with rip it by penetrating her had she not escaped. Over a decade after she launched a campaign to protect girls from suffering the same fate as her, the overwhelming majority of girls in these countries continue to to undergo FGM out of some sense of societal "obligation."
Image via Associated Press.