There are approximately 45 million girls of primary and secondary school age not going to school in sub-Saharan Africa according to the UIS – more than in any other region. Our 2017/8 report showed that across 18 countries in the region, gender-based violence, as measured by intimate partner violence, early marriage and female genital mutilation, was one of the factors that pushed girls out of school. It’s time for these abhorrent practices to stop.
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) may not seem a large-scale problem. Yet, while the exact number of girls and women worldwide being subjected to the practice remains unknown, what we do know is that at least 200 million girls and women in thirty countries have been victims of the practice, with the highest concentrations in sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries, such as Somalia, for instance, 98% of girls and women, aged 15 to 49 years have undergone FGM/C.
Percentage of girls and women aged 15 to 49 years who have undergone female genital mutilation, by country. Source: UNICEF 2013
With large scale migration, the practice is not confined to poor countries. For example, in the past year, 9,000 cases were attended to by the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and cases have almost tripled since 1990 in the United States. While the prevalence is falling worldwide, sadly the number of cases may still rise due to population growth. If current trends continue, 15 million more girls between ages 15 and 19 will be subjected to the practice globally by 2030.
Due to deeply entrenched social and cultural practice in many places, it is commonplace for girls aged below 10 years to be pulled out of formal education, and forced to take part in sometimes heinous traditional female initiation ceremonies, such as cutting. In many contexts, the social norm upholding the practice is so powerful that families have their daughters cut even when they are aware of the long-term physical harm it can cause. Indeed, as reported in a UNICEF report, there is a high degree of discrepancy between the low support for FGM/C and the high prevalence of its practice. This just goes to show the strength of a tradition, and the extent of the battle ahead of us if we are to stop it. Continue reading