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Fight against female genital mutilation progressing in Africa

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In Kenya, a woman is taken to rest after having been circumsised. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

This Monday marks the 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Unicef has called to end FGM by 2030, adding it would focus efforts on 15 African countries.


UN figures show at least 200 million girls and women are suffering the consequences of mutilation with girls of 14 and younger representing 44 million of those who have been affected.

According to the UN, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) "comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons".

It is mostly carried out on girls and infants below the age of 15 - often by their own mothers. It's also considered a violation of human rights.

"It is a traditional practice that was taking place ages ago, that is part of initiating a girl into womanhood," explains Halima Shariff, the Director of the Advance Family Planning in Tanzania.

Recurring problems

FGM is a reccuring problem in some parts of Africa, but not all countries are affected the same way by the issue. For example, in Somalia, 98% of the female between 15 and 49 are victims of genital mutilation. Meanwhile in Cameroon that number is at around 1%.

But according to statitics released by American NGO Population Reference Bureau, the numbers of woman affected are declining in Africa.

"In all countries that have taken action, we see progress," Marilena Viviani, the Director of the Unicef Geneva Liaison Office, told RFI. "We know for instance that Nigeria has taken action, Gambia has well. Legislation is the first step."

Several African Countries have passed laws forbidding FGM in the past few years.

"We need to enforce such leglisation," explains. Marilena Viviani. "But this is the first step for us to collect data, to analyse informations. Then we can use leglisations to help health workers. It give us the space to raise awareness."

Halima Shariff, who has been fighting FGM for years in Tanzania, recalls several programmes undertaken in her country:

"A good number of NGOs have been educating communities and in fact mobilising those women who are doing the circumcision to educate them on why it's no longer important. When you look at studies, there are some change of attitude among community members."

FGM has a deep and lasting impacts on the health of victims of mutilation.

"You're violating her right to enjoy sex and a curcumsised woman will have problem during child birth," notes Halima Shariff. "A number of young girls die in the process and there's a risk of infection because the blades used are often not sterilised."

While prevention and education are key, activists are also fighting for women who have been victims of forced circumsision. In several countries, there are programmes in place that allows them to have a reconstructive surgery.