Christian international education charity Feed the Minds (FTM) is launching its research paper looking at effective ways to do more to prevent female genital mutilation (FGM). They have timed the initiative to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, which falls next week (8 March).
The charity describes female genital mutilation as "a human rights violation that has shocking long-term health implications, including severe bleeding, risk of infection and complications during childbirth resulting in maternal and newborn deaths".
It is estimated this practice affects over 3 million women every year. The majority of the girls and young women affected live in one of 28 African countries. But FTM insist that that it is widespread and even occurs in the UK. They say that at least 18 of the 28 African countries in which FGM is still widely practised have passed legislation outlawing the practice, yet it still continues.
The charity's research found that many figures of authority in communities are aware of both the illegality and health implications of FGM. Despite this , it remains deeply rooted in traditional culture and is passed down through generations. In some communities where FGM is widespread, it is believed that uncut women will be promiscuous, unfaithful in marriage and unclean. Consequently, the fear is that many young women who are not cut may never marry.
However, Feed the Minds found that religion plays a very small role in the justification for FGM practice. They say they have strong evidence that the Church is now a leading force in FGM abandonment and alternative rites programmes.
"FGM is a deeply ingrained and multifaceted cultural practice that requires urgent action locally, nationally and internationally," insisted Katy Newell-Jones, co-author of the research report and Director of Programmes at Feed the Minds.
The research looked at how an Alternative Rite of Passage, which involves education and a celebration but no cutting, could protect young girls at the same time as protecting cultural traditions.
The findings suggest that education and training are key, but not just for the girls and young women. Local community elders and leaders need education and support in seeing how the Alternative Rite of Passage can incorporate respecting non-harmful tradition and encouraging moral behaviour among young women.
The researchers say that men and boys benefit from increased knowledge of the harmful effects of FGM. Education of parents can help them to make the difficult decisions to say no to FGM.
Most importantly, the potential victims, girls and young women, through empowerment training and educational materials will be able to fully understand the risks FGM brings, the laws that protect them, the options they have and the support available to them.
"The overwhelming outcome of this research is that charities, governments, community groups and communities themselves must work together for change," said Dennitah Ghati, Chair of the Education Centre for Advancement of Women (ECAW).
She added, "The 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to raise the awareness of FGM and shows us how much we still have left to do. Together so we can eradicate this harmful practice and give women their dignity back – lets not wait another 100 years."
Feed the Minds promotes education as a means of tackling poverty and promoting human rights.