It took a year and a half to get justice for Soheir al-Batea, the 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) in June 2013.
Both the doctor who performed the deadly procedure and Soheir’s father were acquitted in November 2014 of causing her death, but last week, an appeals court overturned that decision, handing Soheir’s father a three-month suspended sentence and sentencing the doctor to two years in jail for manslaughter plus three months for performing the outlawed operation. The doctor’s clinic was also closed for one year.
Perhaps one of the most shocking facts about Soheir’s case was the fact that a doctor—a licensed medical professional bound by the Hippocratic oath to “do no harm”—performed the procedure that led to Soheir’s death.
In fact, more than 75 percent of the FGM performed in Egypt is carried out by doctors, despite a 2007 ban, and Egypt isn’t the only country where medical professionals violate the rights of women and girls in this manner. The so-called medicalization of FGM has occurred in Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Sudan, Mali and Yemen, among others, despite the fact that there is no medical benefit to the procedure.
Today, as we mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, health workers all over the world are being asked not only to halt the practice in their own clinics but to actively lobby against it and provide care and support to survivors. It’s estimated that more than 140 million women and girls have undergone some sort of FGM, and, according to the United Nations, more than 18 percent of them have been subjected to the procedure at the hands of a health-care provider.
To combat those statistics, leading health organizations have joined with key human rights groups to push for an end to the practice within a generation. Among them: the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
“It is imperative that all involved in women’s health protect the women and girls in their care and do what they can to spread awareness amongst their colleagues,” said Dr. David Richmond of the, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “As an international medical body, we have members based in countries where FGM is still practiced, and I would urge them to uphold the Hippocratic Oath.”
Every year, 3 million girls are at risk of FGM, which can cause severe bleeding and other dangerous health consequences, including cysts, infertility, complications with childbirth and increased chance of newborn deaths. According to the UN, FGM is primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, but is also prevalent in Asia and Latin America. In addition, the practice persists among some immigrant populations in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
“Stopping this terrible and violent assault on girls and young women is as relevant here in the UK as it is throughout other parts of the world,” said Cathy Warwick, chief executive of The Royal College of Midwives. “It is through working together with colleagues in other countries and applying pressure that we will end this practice.”
You don’t have to be a medical professional to join the fight against FGM. To participate in Zero Tolerance Day and ensure that no other girls have to suffer like Soheir:
- Visit the new website for The Girl Generation, a global campaign that supports the Africa-led movement to end FGM, where you’ll find compelling stories and stunning photos illustrating this push for change. You can also check out their Facebook page and Twitter account.
- Raise your voice on social media using the hashtags #EndFGM, #TogetherToEndFGM and #TheGirlGeneration.
- Join Tostan, Girls’ Globe and Johnson & Johnson on Twitter for a live chat today at 8 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) by following @JNJGlobalHealth and #FGCchat
- If you’re in Kenya, keep an eye out for the “Together to End FGM” event happening today in Samburu. The Girl Generation will live tweet the event on its account, @TheGirlGen
- Support women and girls who have been impacted by FGM by visiting forma.
- Visit Forward, a group committed to safeguarding the rights of African girls and women and ending child marriage, FGM and obstetric fistula; the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on traditional practices, which is establishing policies to stop FGM in Africa; and the Africa Coordinating Centre for the Abandonment of FGM/C (ACCAF)