PRETORIA, Thursday is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a cultural and religious practice that leaves millions of girls around the world physically and emotionally scarred.

According to South African-based NPO Sonke Gender Justice (SGJ), of the 29 countries in Africa where FGM is endemic, 26 have laws prohibiting the practice, but these are mostly inadequate and are seldom enforced. Prosecutions remain rare and penalties are sometimes too light to act as a deterrent.

SGJ is the secretariat of the MenEngage Africa (MEA) alliance, part of the global MenEngage Alliance.

MEA is made up of 22 country networks spread across east, south, west and central Africa, with over 300 non-governmental organisations at grass-root, national and regional levels.

“MEA members work collectively toward advancing gender justice, human rights and social justice in key thematic areas including sexual reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence and HIV prevention, child rights and positive parenting and in promoting peace on the continent,” according to the organisation.

Africa is home to 29 of the world’s FGM practicing countries, and of these, 10 are members of MEA Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, and Cameroon.

FGM has been observed in other parts of Africa including South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, due to migration across the continent.

There is no medical or scientific basis for the procedure. It violates the human rights of women and girls, leaving in its wake sexual reproductive and health challenges for the survivors, including complications during childbirth, painful sex, menstrual and urination disorders, recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, fistulae, infertility and even death in some cases, said SGJ via a statement on Wednesday.

The organisation said there was a need for urgent action to prevent the continued “brutalisation” of girls and women through FGM.

According to Hassan Sekajoolo, chairperson of the MEA steering committee: [W]omen and girls are mutilated ostensibly for the benefit of men, because of a belief that FGM will increase their chances of getting married. Another reason is the belief that women who have had FGM are clean, better at pleasing men sexually and are not promiscuous.

He said ending FGM required a multi-sectoral approach that brought together law enforcement agencies, child protection professionals, educators, physicians, traditional and religious leaders, governments and government agencies, activists and survivors.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) about 200 million girls and women have been subjected to FGM, a procedure that partially or totally removes a female’s external genitalia, causing irreparable and irreversible harm, as well as life-long health and psychological complications.

The practice is a global problem and, in Africa alone, 50 million girls are at risk of FGM.

Source: African News Agency