Tag Archives: FGM
As 2015 comes to a close, the Too Young to Wed [TYTW] team would like to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to our wonderful supporters and partners working with us to end child marriage around the world. You have helped us raise awareness of this crucially important issue and support the millions of girls around the world who have sacrificed their futures by becoming brides too soon. TYTW accomplished a tremendous amount in our first year of existence, and we could not have done it without you! Your commitment and support helped us:
- Partner with the United Nations and The New York Times on a multimedia project about the devastating effects of child marriage in Guatemala. This November, nine months after the story’s publication, Guatemalan lawmakers passed legislation raising the country’s minimum age of marriage to 18!
- Collaborate as a founding partner of The Girl Generation on a global effort to raise awareness on the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). TYTW shared the powerful story of FGM survivor Kakenya Ntaiya, who was engaged at just 5-years-old but negotiated with her family to remain in school, then went on to earn a Ph.D. and open a school for girls in Kenya.
- Partner with the Canadian government to host several global photo exhibitions, including one in Khartoum, Sudan that catalyzed the adoption of a national strategy on child marriage. TYTW also hosted photo exhibitions in the United States, Bangladesh and Argentina.
- Exhibit in Photoville 2015, a photo extravaganza in N.Y.C. that attracted more than 76,000 visitors and featured installations, workshops and panel talks, including one with TYTW Founder Stephanie Sinclair. The event coincided with TYTW’s first print sale, which raised funds to help us provide support in communities where TYTW works.
- Participate in the First African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage in Africa this November in Zambia, where leaders from across the African continent discussed challenges to ending child marriage (more on that in 2016!).
- In addition, for her work covering child brides, Sinclair received the prestigious Art for Peace award at the annual Science for Peace World Conference in Milan, Italy, and the Lucie Foundation Humanitarian Award in New York – further raising the profile of the issue.
While 2015 was a big year for us, 2016 looks even bigger – and with our talented and inspired team, and your generous assistance, we expect to help the world take its biggest steps yet toward wiping out this harmful practice forever.
If you would like to do more to help us in the global fight against child marriage, there is still time left to make a valuable, tax-deductible donation to Too Young To Wed before the year concludes.
Once again, thank you for standing with our girls and helping us amplify their voices so that we can make change together. From our homes to yours, we wish you a peaceful holiday season.
Eunice was 11 when she decided she’d had enough.
Only two weeks earlier, her father had circumcised her and forced her to marry an abusive 78-year-old man. Nursing fresh bruises from the beating she’d earned for refusing to “please” him the night before, Eunice decided to run.
With help from an uncle, Eunice found safety at the Samburu Girls Foundation in northern Kenya, which rescues girls already circumcised or prone to such mutilation. To date, the organization has rescued 200 girls like Eunice and placed 125 of them in boarding schools.
Through its membership in The Girl Generation, Too Young to Wed supports initiatives like the Samburu Girls Foundation, which keeps about 30 girls, ages 7 to 16, together in a safe house and uses donations to help the girls return to school. All the proceeds from Too Young to Wed’s inaugural print sale, which runs through Sept. 20, 2015, will be used to help Samburu Girls Foundation and several additional groups that are committed to helping child brides and victims of female genital mutilation and other harmful, traditional practices.
Prints can be ordered for $100 at tooyoungtowed.org/printsale. Each 8×10 archival print was hand-printed and signed by TYTW founder Stephanie Sinclair, whose award-winning work documenting child marriage has been exhibited around the world.
The Samburu Girls Foundation was founded by Josephine Kulea, who considers herself one of the lucky ones. When she was about 9, her classmates began to disappear. One by one, they were circumcised and then married off to men 30 to 40 years older. Though Kulea was circumcised—like 90 percent of the girls in Samburu County—her mother resisted the family’s attempts to marry her off young, and she was able to finish her education.
She provides the same opportunity for the girls she rescues, all of whom have endured FGM and forced marriages—and in some cases crude abortions. Some are brought to the safe house by police officers or sympathetic family members. Others find their way to Kulea’s door on their own, with nothing more than the clothes on their back.
Eunice, who has continued her education, says one day she will work to put an end to FGM and child marriage.
“When I become a powerful woman in [the] future, I will ensure that young girls . . . would go to school,” she said, “and spread the gospel of stopping early marriages and female genital mutilation in Samburu.”
WAYS TO HELP
Purchase a print during this limited time: Visit tooyoungtowed.org/printsale to support our programming
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Too Young To Wed is a nonprofit organization qualified for tax-exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Each contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
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)
With the first ever prosecutions underway in the United Kingdom and Guinea-Bissau, an increased focus on strengthening the law in Kenya, and a rare conviction in Uganda, positive moves are being made in various locations to implement laws that ban female genital mutilation (FGM).
Under this increasingly optimistic backdrop, the Nov. 20, 2014 verdict in the case of Soheir al-Batea, a 13-year-old Egyptian girl who died after undergoing FGM in the Daqahliya Governorate, northeast of Cairo, was particularly disappointing. Both Soheir’s father and the doctor who carried out the mutilation were acquitted, despite the fact that a medical examiner’s report, endorsed by Egypt’s general attorney, confirmed that FGM had taken place. The judge, who was appointed to the case only recently, seemed to discount this unbiased expert evidence and instead acquitted both men through writing in a court ledger.
Egypt has had a tumultuous past in terms of its battle to eliminate FGM. In 2006, its two most senior Islamic clerics stated that FGM has no basis in religion. Following this, in 2007, the country’s medical professionals were banned from performing FGM, after a 12-year-old girl died. It was this ban, backed by legislation introduced in 2008, that was used to prosecute Soheir’s father and doctor in a very similar scenario, six years later. Even with good laws in place, justice can continue to be evasive. If laws are not implemented properly and the judicial system is not transparent, girls like Soheir will continue to fall through the cracks.
According to UNICEF, more than 27.2 million Egyptian women and girls have been affected by FGM. This represents 91 percent of the female population and is the biggest number for any one nationality. Out of an estimated 100 million to 140 million affected by FGM globally, at least one in five is from Egypt. While figures for younger women and adolescent girls seem to be decreasing slowly, this abuse continues to have broad national support from various quarters – including from professionals who are supposed to have a duty of care.
Unfortunately, as well as prevalence, Egypt also leads the world in terms of one of the biggest risks to the global anti-FGM movement – that of the increasing trend toward its medicalization, which fundamentally contradicts WHO guidelines. Incredibly, a 2012 academic document by Egyptian doctor Mohamed Kandil in F1000 Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, suggests there is “insufficient evidence to support the claims” that FGM Type 1 is harmful, when performed by medical practitioners.
UNICEF suggests that 77 percent of the FGM that happens in Egypt is carried out by doctors or other medical professionals – an increase of over 100 percent since 1995. Despite leading the way globally in terms of falls in prevalence, Kenya is also experiencing an increase in the medicalization of FGM. Indonesia has yet to fully ban it, although that country recently revoked its shocking 2010 regulation, which allowed medical professionals to legally perform FGM. In 2010 too, Equality Now succeeded in reversing a decision by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to endorse Type IV FGM, when it suggested changes in the law to allow for a “ritual nick” or pricking of the clitoral skin.
All efforts to permit or make FGM supposedly “safer” conceal the severe violence it represents and hide its lifelong and life-threatening physical, emotional and psychological consequences. Soheir’s death tragically highlights FGM as an extreme violation of the human rights of girls and women with serious health risks, regardless of whether it is performed on her inside or outside a medical establishment.
Without strong messages from the Egyptian government, such as proper implementation of the law and swift punishment for the perpetrators, FGM may become more acceptable, with women’s rights increasingly taking a back seat at all levels. Part of the solution too is ensuring that health care providers are given comprehensive education and training on the health and human rights implications of FGM.
Equality Now is working with local lawyers at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) to ensure that Soheir gets justice at last – justice for one girl, but hopefully setting a precedent to help ensure that countless others are protected. The general prosecutor’s request for an appeal in the case was granted, and proceedings are scheduled to begin on Dec. 15, 2014.
Equality Now is working on the Soheir al-Batea case as part of its Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund (AGLDF), created to help rectify the unique and devastating human rights abuses suffered by girls during adolescence. The AGLDF supports and publicizes strategically selected legal cases, diversified to represent the most common and significant human rights abuses of adolescent girls.
On the day my daughter turns 13, I am prompted to think back to when I was 13 and had only been in the States for three years. Though I spoke English, I surely still felt out of place and wondered if I would ever feel comfortable in my new homeland. I am also prompted to look around and recognize a world that does girls a disservice in so many corners and in so many ways that the work of empowering them to be able to elevate to a mere human place with base dignity rather than property to be wholly controlled over a lifetime becomes endless.
Dare I also look ahead and hope that the next generation will get closer to this milestone, and that my daughter — with her dreams of achievement and influence — will be able to affect the change along with her peers in the free world?
Today, I am the mother of a young girl who has never known a world that places limits on her. When she looks up at the sky, she sees a Milky Way that she understands as formed by science, not divine folklore. When she anticipates her period, she knows it as a physiological process, not a curse from God. When she hears music, she instinctively sings or moves to the rhythm and doesn’t see it as taboo. In fact, she sees the breadth of her opportunities as attainable options from which to choose, not limitations bounded by the heavens. Yet she lives in a time when precious few girls globally, particularly the geographic area from which we hail, are accorded the same breadth of opportunity. Indeed, few are even taught the same expanse of possibilities or even the freedom of thought to ponder them.
While I focus on the life of women and girls across the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia, I am often grateful for the privacy of my thoughts. I am aware that they are mine only, and that I am free to think them without the guilt of a culture that limits my aspirations. I’d like to think I have extended that same freedom of thought to my daughter.
At 13, she wishes to be a neurologist who also runs a theater program for kids in her hometown and travels to perform medical aid work for needy people around the world. But sometimes she laments that all this will prevent her from being a professional singer or a dancer on a great stage. Were we in a different place, I would have to scold her for the thought of wishing to dance, or sing, or to want to work outside the home — even as a physician — without first considering the life of a family, a matriarch or a husband to care for. This is troubling. I can’t look away from the sight of millions of girls around the world who will never get a chance to test their wings, because 13 will bring them the trappings of womanhood, and the first order of business will be to marry them off, not to nurture them as budding young women with endless possibilities ahead.
As we speak, one-third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18 and one in nine are married before they reach 15. Child marriage is a scourge that reaps its destruction generations down the line. Girls who are married off as children cannot attend school. In turn, their children are less likely to survive beyond the age of 5 and if they do, they are unlikely to go to school — perpetuating a cycle that disempowers women and girls and leaves them entirely dependent on patriarchs all their lives. Uncontrolled births exacerbate the cycle of poverty, and girls in poor households are more than twice as likely to marry younger. Young mothers also experience more birthing complications that begin with obstetric fistula and end with dying during childbirth. The child born to a dead mother has its own life of misery ahead. Yet we stand by millions of child brides around the world, excusing the abuse as tradition.
As we speak, there are girls in Kenya fighting against being cut in a horrific yet prevalent tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM). In a civilized world that should repudiate such a degrading practice, we excuse it as tradition and justify it as female circumcision. It isn’t. It is the removal of operative parts of the female genitals, which serves only to prevent her from sensing. It is also dangerous, painful and humiliating. Yet, we look away.
As we speak, there are millions of girls who are being pulled out of school for a plethora of reasons too lengthy to count, and perhaps too broad to even fathom. Many are denied an education in order to spend the school day walking to fetch water or hiking to fetch firewood. Many will get assaulted, abused or raped along the way. If the rape results in a pregnancy, that girl’s life is changed forever. She will have to bear that child, but will remain ostracized from the community as though the rape were somehow her fault, or begotten of her dishonorable conduct. One young girl was maimed with a fistula following a violent rape, and spent the next decade ostracized because of the stench emanating from the tear between her vagina and bladder.
These are the consequences of girls being tasked with the hard work of domestic labor, while boys are given the benefit of schooling. Many girls will be taken out of school to care for younger brothers or sisters, begotten of a mother who had no education and even less control over her own body or the right to procreate. The cycle only repeats, with the tragedy that many young girls who become pregnant cannot even define how it happened. A divine being is said to have wanted it, meant it to be, etched it as destiny, cast it as a curse, delivered it as a blessing — anything but self-determination and the right to have agency over their female bodies. These are not traditions. These are not cultural dictates that can’t be questioned or should be legitimized. These are systemic methods of keeping an entire gender subservient through abuse. Don’t look away.
As I raise my daughter to be a citizen of the world — a person who believes she can be part of the change she wishes to see, a child who deals in kindness not fear, in inspiration not predetermination — I wish that I could recognize a world where more communities question age-old traditions of caste and place in order to shunt off expectations and embrace the possibilities that could change some of our thorniest global issues. Women can be a colossal part of the solution to a world replete with poverty, rampant population growth and increased violence as a means to an elusive end. Women have the power to affect change — but they need a chance, and that chance can only come with education. An entire gender held down with illiteracy and lack of self-determination is bound to exacerbate a world that presides now over food insecurity, lack of access to clean water and inadequate maternal care resulting in death or worse.
So today, as I wish my daughter a happy birthday, while I still can’t tell her what the world beyond her bubble looks like, I can inspire her to embrace the possibilities. If I succeed, I will raise a confident global citizen who is tasked with not only building a comfortable life for herself and her family, but with helping bring about a better lot for her gender around the globe. Happy birthday to the girl who made everything fall into place for her mother the moment she was born.
This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post on Sept. 3, 2014 and was reprinted with permission from the author.
Maryam Zar is the founder of Womenfound, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of women in underdeveloped parts of the world, as well as raising money for charities and foundations that help them. The mother of three is also a former correspondent in Iran. You can follow her on Twitter.