Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a harmful practice involving the partial or total removal of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, continues to be a pressing concern globally. Efforts to eliminate FGM are now turning towards an often-overlooked demographic – men and boys. The engagement of men and boys as advocates in the fight against FGM is gaining momentum, with the belief that it could be a game-changer in the quest to end this practice.
One real-life example that underscores the importance of involving men in the fight against FGM comes from Tanzania. A young man in Tanzania divorced his wife shortly after their marriage when he discovered she had undergone FGM. He had long vowed to marry an uncut woman, unaware that his wife had been mutilated as a baby. This story reflects the need for a deeper understanding of FGM’s consequences and the role of men in preventing it.
The second International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in October shed light on the role of men and boys in ending FGM. This practice, which the World Health Organization (WHO) unequivocally states has no health benefits, results in severe physical and psychological complications. Efforts to eliminate FGM require involving men and boys, recognizing the social injustices faced by girls and women.
Traditionally, in many communities where FGM is practiced, girls are considered liabilities from birth, and their sole purpose is often seen as getting married. However, these age-old perceptions can be challenged, and the importance of empowering individuals to make choices about their own bodies and lives is being recognized. Campaigners like Leshan Kereto in Kenya are working to change these perceptions and show that women should have the autonomy to make decisions about their bodies.
One of the significant challenges in the fight against FGM is the cross-border nature of the practice. Due to anti-FGM laws, girls are often taken to neighboring countries to undergo the procedure, making it challenging to eliminate. In some communities, girls who have undergone FGM are seen as ready for marriage, leading to child marriages and further human rights violations. The involvement of men and boys is crucial in addressing these complex issues.
Engaging men and boys in anti-FGM efforts is seen as a pivotal strategy, but it must be approached carefully. Changing long-held beliefs is a sensitive task, especially in communities where FGM is deeply ingrained. The goal is not to discriminate against those who have undergone FGM but to encourage men not to base their choice of a marriage partner on whether they have undergone this procedure.
In Nigeria, an inspiring story emerged where a man, enlightened by the harmful impacts of FGM, called an organization to seek help in convincing his wife not to subject their daughter to FGM. This story illustrates the need for men to be actively involved in conversations about ending FGM.
Traditional leaders in communities, who have historically supported FGM, must also be engaged in the fight against this practice. The influence they hold in society can be a powerful force for change. In some cases, male champions who understand the community’s context and language are needed to advocate against FGM.
Sustainability in the fight against FGM requires the involvement of more boys and young men. They are the future generation who can continue the work to eradicate this harmful practice. Education is a key component in changing attitudes, and the empowerment of both girls and boys through education can lead to more resilient and economically stable communities.
Addressing the problem of FGM involves countering myths and misconceptions about the practice. One common myth is that FGM is safer when performed by a medical practitioner. The WHO stresses that there is no medical justification for FGM and that it causes only harm. Education and awareness campaigns can help dispel such misconceptions.
Efforts to engage men and boys should utilize various approaches, including sports, music, and door-to-door sensitization. These methods can make the information more accessible and resonate with the target communities. Edutainment, as seen in Nigeria, is an effective way to reach and educate young men about the dangers of FGM.
The fight against FGM is a collective endeavor that requires the active participation of all members of society. Men and boys are now recognized as essential allies and advocates in this endeavor. By challenging societal norms, engaging with traditional leaders, and working with the community, it is possible to end the harmful practice of FGM and empower women and girls to make choices about their own bodies and lives.