COVID-19 has upended the lives
of children and families across the globe and is impacting efforts to end child
marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
Actions taken to contain the
spread of the pandemic – such as school closures and movement restrictions –
are disrupting children’s routines and their support systems.
Hundreds of millions of children
and adolescents will likely face increasing threats to their safety and
well-being, including gender-based violence (GBV), exploitation, abuse and
neglect, social exclusion, and/or separation from caregivers and friends.
We know from the Ebola outbreaks
and from other public health crises that adolescent girls are disproportionally
affected by these emergencies.
Efforts to stop the Ebola
epidemics led to school closures and a loss of education; a decrease in access
to reproductive health information and services; a loss of livelihoods and a
contraction of social support networks.
These undermine strategies to
end FGM and child marriage, and threaten the progress that has been made over
the past decade.
The COVID-19 response can draw
important lessons from the Ebola epidemics in West Africa and the Democratic
Republic of the Congo:
SOCIAL DISTANCING is reducing the provision of social services (health, education and
protection) and limiting community gatherings and face-to-face interactions in
a bid to slow the spread of the epidemic. But these are key tools in efforts to
end child marriage and FGM.
NON-BIOMEDICAL EXPLANATIONS of disease may stigmatize vulnerable groups and lead to the
denial of services and care, and to violence against marginalized groups,
including witchcraft accusations against children and women.
EPIDEMICS ARE DISRUPTORS and can be harnessed for positive social change. During the
Ebola crisis, FGM was interrupted in Guinea and Sierra Leone. While FGM resumed
after the end of the epidemic, a public health crisis and the disruption it
causes could potentially be leveraged to advocate for an end to harmful
NOT ALL HARMFUL PRACTICES HAVE THE SAME EFFECTS. While FGM declined – even if
only temporarily – teenage pregnancies increased in Sierra Leone during the
Ebola crisis. This shows that the drivers and inhibitors of FGM and child
marriage differ from each other and require issue-specific strategies.
NEW NETWORKS, such as those generated during the Ebola outbreaks, created systems of
cooperation that can be reactivated. The lessons learned in communities about
epidemic response make them more resilient to other public health crises.
Key effects of COVID-19 for
children, including adolescents, and efforts to end harmful practices: social
isolation and loss of social support.
Increased risk of violence,
abuse and exploitation.
Loss of access to education,
reproductive health and protection services.
Loss of livelihoods.
Opportunities to disrupt FGM and
Opportunities for young people
to take on positive, new roles in their communities.
To ensure that Children are safe
from harmful practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, new ways of providing
information and support need to be developed and can include:
Broaden the use of mass media, community radio and
digital media to provide children, including adolescents, and their communities
with access to information and communication tools.
Create online opportunities for children, including
adolescents, to share their experiences and concerns, communicate with their
peers and access sources of support.
Partner with local women’s organizations, traditional
birth attendants and organizations for persons with disabilities to provide
continued services for girls at risk.
Establish safe, trusted and confidential channels for
children, including adolescents, to report violence, exploitation and abuse.
Support young people in taking on new roles: Partner
with youth organizations to support and build the capacities of adolescents as
educators and facilitators, communicators and mentors, as well as to provide
support in their communities.
Opportunity in crisis: As was done during the Ebola
crisis, work with community groups and traditional leaders to interrupt FGM and
identify other opportunities to harness the disrupting force of the pandemic
for positive social change.
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
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.
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
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
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
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. Join us every other
Thursday 5-7pm. Visit our www.endcuttinggirls.org
for more info and updates on FGM, and kindly follow the handle
“@Endcuttinggirls” on all social media platforms.