According to UNICEF coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is of a scale most people alive today have never seen. Worldwide, the outbreak is claiming lives and livelihoods as health systems buckle, borders close and families struggle to stay afloat.
Communities across the globe are rising to the challenge – from health workers risking their lives to fight the virus, to young people deploying innovative ways to share public health messages.
Yet, even as the spread of the virus slows in some countries, its social toll will come fast and hard. And in many places, it will come at the expense of the most vulnerable children.
Without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a child-rights crisis. Disruptions to society have a heavy impact on children: on their safety, their well-being, their future. Only by working together can we keep millions of girls and boys – including those who have been uprooted by conflict, children living with disabilities and girls at risk of violence – healthy, safe and learning. Most especially Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has affected the social and economic wellbeing of generations of Girls/Women. Globally, many endFGM campaigns have been introduced to help end this harmful traditional practice. Yet, even in the efforts to arrest these harmful cultural practices, not all actors share in this vision.
In some FGM practicing communities, disparate voices continue to champion continuation of harmful cultures rather than advancing human rights of Girls/Women. These factions seem to take advantage of emergency situations such as COVID-19 pandemic to perpetuate such harmful practices.
In situations of conflicts and disaster, FGM practices present a life-threatening, health and human rights challenge. In cases of FGM, a survivor has no choice to refuse or pursue other options without severe social, physical, or cultural consequences. In emergencies, these consequences border on extreme intolerance or ethno-terrorism. This includes social sanctions such as being ostracized or suffering psychological abuse.
It includes invoking of cultural sanctions that can border on, being cursed and excommunication. It also comes with threats of physical harm such as death threats or risk of violence being verbally communicated or actualized. All of these constitute a violation of international human rights law and principles of gender equality as well as State/National laws prohibiting the practice of FGM in Nigeria.
Measures have been taken by various Countries and states, going from total lockdown to less restrictive measures depending on the local situation. We can say that unfortunately the current situation may have an effect on the Campaign to end FGM.
In particular, FGM support services are not considered as a medical emergency and a lot of facilities are closed and will remain so for at least several more weeks. Medical staff have rightly been re-allocated to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak or encouraged to avoid any non-urgent medical care for now. As a result, many FGM survivors and Girls/women at risk in general are left without any access to needed medical care.
For many women and children, the home is not a safe place. UNFPA released its paper on ‘COVID-19: a gender lens’, explaining how women are specifically effected by this pandemic: “Pandemics compound existing gender inequalities and vulnerabilities, increasing risks of abuse. In times of crisis such as an outbreak, women and girls may be at higher risk, for example, of intimate partner violence and other forms of domestic violence due to heightened tensions in the household. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens
They also face increased risks of other forms of gender based violence including sexual exploitation and abuse in these situations. For example, the economic impacts of the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, placed women and children at greater risk of exploitation and sexual violence. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens
In addition, life-saving care and support to gender based violence survivors (i.e. clinical management of rape and mental health and psycho-social support) may be cut off in the health care response when health service providers are overburdened and preoccupied with handling COVID-19 cases. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens
Systems must ensure that health workers have the necessary skills and resources to deal with sensitive gender-based violence related information, that any disclosure of gender based violence be met with respect, sympathy and confidentiality and that services are provided with a survivor centered approach. It is also critical to update gender based violence referral pathways to reflect changes in available care facilities and inform key communities and service providers about those updated pathways. ”, in a moment when #stayathome has become the new general rule. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens
“Systems that protect women and girls – including community structures – may weaken or break down, specific measures should be implemented to protect women and girls from the risk of intimate partner violence with the changing dynamics of risk imposed by COVID-19”. https://www.unfpa.org/resources/covid-19-gender-lens
Before we close, we would like to share a brief overview of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for the benefit of those joining our tweet conference for the first time.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) includes all procedures that involve the partial or total removal of external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. @WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies FGM into four types, and all four types are all practiced in Nigeria.
- Type I: partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce (Clitoridectomy). Subgroups of Type I FGM are: type Ia, removal of the clitoral hood or prepuce only; type Ib, removal of the clitoris with the prepuce.
- a Type II: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (excision). Subgroups of Type II FGM are: type IIa, removal of the labia minora only; type IIb, partial or total removal of the clitoris and labia minora; type IIc, partial or total removal of the clitoris, labia minora & labia majora.
- Type III: narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and appositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation). Subgroups of Type III FGM are: type IIIa, removal and apposition of the labia minora; type IIIb, removal and apposition of the labia majora. Reinfibulation is covered under this definition. This is a procedure to recreate an infibulation, for example after childbirth when defibulation is necessary.
- Type IV: unclassified – all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes, for example, pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. Type IV also includes the practice of “massaging” or applying petroleum jelly, herbal concoctions or hot water to the clitoris to desensitize it or pushing it back into the body, which is common in many parts of Nigeria, especially Imo State.
FGM has no known health benefit, and is harmful to girls and women. It involves altering, removing and/or damaging otherwise healthy female genital tissue.
It is estimated that over 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects of FGM, and every year some 3 million girls and women are at risk of FGM and are therefore exposed to its potential negative health consequences (UNICEF 2016).
In Nigeria, the Nigeria Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2018) revealed that 20% of women aged 15-49 years had undergone FGM, a decrease from 25% (NDHS 2013).
For more information about FGM you can visit http://www.who.int or watch
At this point, I will stop the conversation so we can reflect on the key points discussed as I entertain any questions.
Thanks for being part of the conversations today. Visit our www.endcuttinggirls.org for more info and updates on FGM, and kindly follow the handle “@Endcuttinggirls” on all social media platforms.
Together we will end FGM in this Generation.