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Soheir al-Batea, 13, died in Egypt in 2013 as a result of FGM.


Will the deaths of these 5 girls from FGM spark a global wake-up call?

By Mary Wandia on August 24, 2016

Girls have been dying as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM) since its origin several thousand years ago, but increased awareness of the issue and better sharing of information has meant that the last year has seen more and more of these cases come to light than ever before.

Last week, Fatmata Mustapha Turay, a 19-year-old from the Bombali District in Sierra Leone died after undergoing FGM as part of a secret society initiation, common both in her country and in Liberia. Dr. Sylvia Blyden, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, has requested that forced and underage initiations are prohibited. However, although Sierra Leone has ratified the African Union’s ‘Maputo Protocol’, which includes a requirement to make all FGM illegal — including for those over 18 — one year later, this ban has yet to be enacted. In response to this, a coalition of local activists, supported by Project ACEi and Equality Now, are using the #SaloneBanFGM hashtag to launch a campaign today, demanding that Sierra Leone bans this human rights violation as a matter of urgency.

A few days before Fatmata was killed, a 10-year-old girl also died in N’Zérékoré, near the Southern tip of Guinea – once again after undergoing FGM. At 96 percent, Guinea has the highest rate of FGM in West Africa and the second highest in the world after Somalia. It is one of about a dozen countries in which prevalence of this human rights violation has proven difficult to reduce. Ninety-four percent of adolescent girls undergo it, compared to 100 percent of middle-aged women.

Fatmata Mustapha Turay, 19, died after undergoing FGM as part of a secret society initiation in Sierra Leone.

Egypt has one of the highest number of women and girls affected by FGM in the world. Over 27.2 million have undergone the procedure in this North African country. Most of the FGM performed there is carried out by health personnel. Mayar Mohamed Mousa was 17 when she died in May 2016 after undergoing FGM in the Egyptian province of Suez. The medical professional who carried out the procedure in the private El Canal clinic has since escaped to Turkey, where she is currently in hiding. A trial of Mayar’s mother as well as the health personnel involved in the case is due to take place in September.

This will be the second ever FGM trial in Egypt. The first related to Soheir al-Batea, a 13-year-old girl who died in mid 2013 in Mansoura in the North of the country. After several years of campaigning, including by Equality Now and local partner CEWLA, the National Coalition for Children Rights and the National Population Council, she finally got some form of justice earlier this year when Dr. Raslan Fadl, the doctor who killed her, spent three months in prison for the crime.

Three months prior to Mayar’s death in Egypt, 5-month-old Aminata Drammeh was killed in late February in Sankandi, a village in The Gambia. This was less two months after the West African nation banned FGM following many years of campaigning by local and international groups.

In December 2015, a primary school girl died and two others were hospitalized after FGM was carried out on 1,200 girls in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, Kenya. Kenya is leading the way globally on reducing FGM. DHS statistics from 2014 show that prevalence has been reduced from 41 percent for middle aged women to 11 percent for adolescent girls, but there is clearly a lot more to do to reduce this to zero.

As evidence of girls dying after undergoing FGM increases all the time, many of those in power continue to put their hands over their ears. Ahmed El-Tahawy, a member of parliament (and also a doctor) in Egypt recently told Arabic language website Parlmany that when a girl does not undergo FGM she risks “contamination” and “an undesired state of sexual arousal.” In Russia, following a new report by the Russian Justice Initiative on FGM prevalence in the province of Dagestan, instead of using it as yet another reason to condemn this extreme form of violence against women, religious leaders used it as an opportunity to supposedly ‘joke’ that all women should in fact undergo FGM.

Even heads of state and government ministers seem reluctant to protect girls at risk. Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has criticized other countries for not banning FGM, even though Liberia has yet to do so. An anti-FGM provision was recently removed from a draft domestic violence bill, although we are hopeful that it is re-included before the bill is adopted by the Liberian national assembly. In Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, the most senior minister responsible for ensuring FGM ends (and also a doctor), has raised questions too after being present at Fatmata Turay’s autopsy and implying that her death may not have been because of FGM after all.

At least 200 million women and girls have been affected by FGM around the world. Whether it happens above or under 18, inside or outside a medical clinic, performed by a supposedly qualified medical professional or not, in East or West Africa, Indonesia, the United States, Australia or elsewhere, FGM is always an extreme violation of the rights of a girl or woman. Under the Sustainable Development Goals, all UN member states have agreed to the target of ending FGM by 2030. If this is to be achieved, action needs to happen immediately. The continued mutilation and killing of girls should be yet another global wake-up call to end this extreme form of violence, but time will tell which governments really get on board.

Mary Wandia is End FGM Program Manager at Equality Now.


Egyptian teen dies while undergoing female genital mutilation

In some communities, alternative rites of passage replace female genital mutilation

More than 200 million women have suffered female genital mutilation, UN report says