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21 February 2014 | Written by  Hannah A. Amoah/Junior Graphic/Ghana |

FGM — Girls at risk

Sixteen-year-old Fatima screamed and shouted at the top of her voice—the pain was unbearable. She struggled to set herself free but it was in vain—the elderly women held her tightly to ensure that she was ‘made’ a woman.

A woman, according to her tradition, had to have part of her female genital organ cut, what is often referred to as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  

On that fateful day (about 5 a.m.) when she heard some women talking outside her home, she didn’t know that they had come for her. One of the women woke her up and told her it was her day to ‘become a woman’. 

She tried to resist but they insisted. She woke up and innocently followed them like a sheep being led to the slaughter. “I was taken outside and saw some women were singing but my mother was nowhere around. My prayer was for my mother to see the state I was in so as to rescue me,” Fatima said.

Held by two women, Fatima eventually went through the painful cut which has scarred her  forever.

“Hmm, they insisted that this is a rite of passage every girl has to go through,” she added, sadly.

The celebration of the FGM Day always sends chills down the spine of Fatima who is now an FGM survivor because it reminds her of the ordeal she went through that day.  

Do you know that about 1.3 million women and girls have undergone the female genital mutilation (FGM) operations in Ghana over the past 20 years. 

A United Nations report indicates that medical doctors and nurses are engaged in the practice, just as traditionalists. 

There is the need to put an end to this gruesome practice and that is why young people like you, schoolchildren have to be educated so that you can also act as change agents in your communities. You can educate your parents, community members and opinion leaders in your neighbourhood on the negative effects of FGM.  

Although there has been various calls through the institution of national and international laws for the abolition of FGM in countries, this heinous crime against girls is still practised in 29 African communities. The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.  

In the bid to abolish the practice, the world marked International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation on February 6, 2014 this year.  FGM is a human rights violation that affects an estimated five girls each minute worldwide. 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitals or other injury to the female genital organs for reasons that do not relate to the medical state of the girl.

But exactly what is FGM?

Four major types

There are various types of genital cutting that girls suffer. They are:

  1. Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals). In very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).

   2. Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).

   3. Infibulation: Narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner or outer labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.

    4. Others: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising and the scraping of the genital area. 

Causes

The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities.

It is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.  

It is also believed that FGM preserves virginity and marital fidelity among girls and women. FGM is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation. 

Effects

However, the effects are devastating. It causes among others recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections; infertility and  increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths.

Campaigns

In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of FGM.

In 2010 the WHO published a "Global strategy to stop health care providers from performing female genital mutilation" in collaboration with other key UN agencies and international organisations.

Ghana statistics

Statistics provided by the Ministry of  Gender, Children and Social Protection show that an average of about four per cent of Ghanaian girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 years have gone through the practice. 

Current statistics in comparison to 30 years ago indicate a decline in the practice. Even though majority of Ghanaian communities are shunning the practice, there are parts of the country which still practice it in spite of the associated dangers. 

Sixty per cent of women aged 45 to 49  in the Upper West Region in Ghana have undergone FGM compared to 16 per cent of girls aged between 15 to 19 years. This is worrying to government and measures are being put in place to ensure a total end to the practice. 

There is hope 

Victims of female genital mutilation (FGM) would have cause to smile again.

The world’s first-ever clitoral repair hospital for victims of FGM, located in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, is set to open on March 7, 2014, according to a US-based, non-profit organisation, Clitoraid.

Clitoraid has named the new facility “the Kamkaso,” which means “the house for women,” which has been nicknamed “the Pleasure Hospital,” since the surgery “will restore their dignity as women, which was taken from them against their will.” 

According to the organisation, Mrs Chantal Compaore, First Lady of Burkina Faso, will perform the official opening of the hospital which already has hundreds of women from the West African sub-region waiting to have the surgery done.