Oluwatomi Olunuga received her Diana Award in 2023 for her significant contributions to the fight against Female Genital Mutilation in Nigeria. In observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, we asked her to share her thoughts and work, giving us all actions that we can take locally in the fight against FGM.
The 6th of February marks the 12th anniversary of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. This article aims to shed light on the devastating consequences of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), focusing not just on the immediate pain but also the long-lasting physical, mental, and emotional scars it leaves on survivors. The reality is that the cost of FGM goes far beyond the practice itself. The singular decision to cut female genitalia inflicts so much pain and often robs a woman of the possibility of reaching their full potential.
While the precise number of girls and women who have experienced Female Genital Mutilation remains uncertain, we do know that over 200 million girls and women have undergone this practice in 31 countries where reliable data is available. On average, this equates to a young girl being subjected to genital mutilation every 11 seconds.
FGM is an unbeneficial practice that comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, and it stands as a reflection of the deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against girls and women.
The numbers are staggering, and behind each number is young woman who has been subjected to this archaic and sexist practice. It is easy to say these numbers, and not reflect upon the lived experiences of all these individuals who have been subjected to this outdated practice. However, I believe that while it is important to prevent FGM in the first place, it is also essential to support our survivors through better healthcare, stronger legal protection, and economic opportunities. The negative experience associated with FGM is not only in the moment but has a long-lasting effect throughout the survivor's life. These experiences cannot be captured in figures but are indescribable realities that are stuck in the horrific memories of survivors all across the globe. Beyond the widely recognized consequences, the impact of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) extends to mental and sexual health issues, increased household costs for treating complications, and survivors facing physical and emotional violence. A study revealed that in households where women lack socioeconomic agency and decision-making power, long-term outcomes are further compromised. A study in Kenya, utilizing the 2014 Demographic Health Survey, highlighted that women who had undergone FGM were more likely to justify physical intimate partner violence compared to those who hadn't. Survivors of FGM have been reported to manifest mental health outcomes and psychological complications such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, feelings of incompleteness, fear, chronic irritability, sense of inferiority, suppression of emotions and feeling, and even experiences of memory loss related to the FGM experience.
These studies highlight that apart from the immediate effects of FGM, there are lasting consequences that can impact a survivor's ability to live a good and healthy life. As a global community, it is our responsibility not to leave anyone behind, FGM survivors inclusive. So, as we join the world in commemorating The International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we should keep in mind that our efforts towards preventing FGM practices should be targeted at both primary and secondary points of view. As we prevent the practice from occurring in the first place, we should prevent survivors from experiencing further health, economic and gendered complications. Imagine a world where survivors not only rebuild their lives but thrive without the constant fear of enduring further trauma. I believe that this vision can become a reality through active advocacy for improved healthcare, stronger legal protections, and increased economic opportunities for survivors.
Your voice holds immense power in shaping this reality. In observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, here are a few actions that you can take at the local level to get involved, act and support survivors.