Sharing knowhow and joining forces towards Health for All
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February 2019

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Rebuilding her dignity

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Rebuilding her dignity

FAMME, 5 February 2019. The death of Deeqa Dahir Nuur, a 10-year-old Somali girl who suffered a hemorrhage after undergoing Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) - and the first confirmed for several years in a hospital - jumped into the international press this summer, once again unveiling the veil of a bloody practice that urgently needs to be stopped. The entire planet is already crying out against the barbarism of FGM. And here we had the opportunity to see how a qualified voice in the fight against mutilations was heard at the Princess of Asturias Awards, which chose Nice Nailantei Leng'ete, a Maasai activist who fled ablation as a child and today fights to eradicate FGM. According to Times magazine, one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

New study on Female Genital Mutilation

A new study on the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) reveals that it has been gradually reduced in recent years: it has gone from an incidence of 71% to 8% in the last two decades in Africa (according to the journal 'BMJ Global Health'). The news fills us with hope at the eradication of this practice that affects the physical and psychological integrity of women, and annihilates their sexual pleasure.

Although we are aware that there are no reliable data and that it is difficult to estimate the number of girls who continue to die today because of female genital mutilation is carried out in hiding, especially in rural areas. We are only aware of the few cases that dare to seek medical treatment in the cities, as happened with the little Somali Deeqa.

Progress in Africa

The truth is that social and legislative progress in Africa has been enormous in recent years. The Parliament of the African Union (consultative and non-legal) ratified in 2016 the ban on cutting throughout the continent, although the practice continues in at least twenty countries in the Sahel strip, from Somalia to Senegal. Somalia itself (from which Deeqa originated) has the sad honour of having a very high mutilation rate, 98%. Its constitution prohibits it, but its laws have not ratified the express prohibition on Female Genital Mutilation.      

The last country to adhere to the ban has been Sierra Leone, with nearly 90 per cent of women and girls having been cut. From Medicusmundi we trust that this new law adopted by the parliament of Freetown will keep girls in school longer and thus extend their period of education.

The case of Burkina Faso (where medicusmundi has been working since 1975 to improve women's sexual and reproductive health) is also very positive. In 1991 it amended its Constitution to adapt it to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, guaranteeing equality between people, without discrimination of any kind. Since 1996, it has had specific legislation that criminalizes FGM, with higher penalties for health or paramedical personnel, and others for being accomplices.

medicusmundi in Burkina Faso

How are we working in these countries? The strategic line of medicusmundi is approached mainly from the repair of the sequels and from different perspectives: the medical field, the familiar and social, and also the one related to religion. The idea is to have the whole population, since it has been proven that positive mentality changes come with the correct information and understanding of women and men, not with imposition. In order to reach as many villages as possible and in collaboration with the provincial women's team, information is disseminated through radio broadcasts and announcements on local radio stations, where the activities to be carried out are disseminated.

Noelie Ouedraogu, a victim of excision at the age of 6, learned about the clitoral reconstruction campaign and awareness-raising activities. Today the two agree on one thing: their daughters will not go through the same thing.

Awareness-raising activities

The activities carried out in these awareness-raising campaigns (theatre and film-forum, radio broadcasts) have facilitated the dissemination of the message of Zero Tolerance towards this unacceptable practice, and have also enabled a very high number of people to be informed about the harmful consequences for women's physical and emotional health, as well as the possibility of surgical intervention for obstetric fistulas when they occur. All of this contributes to a change in behaviour that will prevent women's sexual and reproductive rights from being violated, for which emphasis has been placed on seeking complicity in these actions from different groups in the communities: religious and traditional leaders, social and public health workers, executors of splits, young people from all backgrounds, heads of families, women in general?

Dissemination activities reach all socio-cultural categories of the target communities. Administrative authorities, customary and religious leaders, youth and women are involved in activities to promote the fight against the practice of female genital mutilation. The implementation of awareness-raising activities takes into account the occupations and availability of all social strata in the identified villages. The cine-forum, with the screening of the film "Ánima", addresses issues such as female genital mutilation and its consequences: medical care, marginalization and human rights and is discussed with the audience. Active participation of men and women is observed in most of the affected villages.

Training of health personnel

With respect to the health personnel (nurses, midwives) who attend them, there is a training period in health centres in the area of identification and adequate referral of cases of sequelae and obstetric fistulas with the possibility of being repaired surgically. The gender and human rights approach has been included in these staff training sessions, as the approach to the problem requires an approach not as an exclusive health problem, but as a violation of women's rights. As support, they have a guide that medicusmundi has also published on sexual and reproductive health in French for local health personnel, "Genre et Santé Sexuelle et Reproductive".

Tiemasse Hein, midwife and head of the xxxxx Maternity Hospital, knows what these women suffer from and how important it is for them to rebuild their genital organs. But they have to be convinced because they are afraid: "Some don't want their families to know, others come with their families to rebuild their dignity. The excision is not abandoned, but since we talk about Zero Tolerance, it has decreased. It continues, but not as before. Everyone knows that it's forbidden and that you can be denounced.

These activities for the treatment of the sequels of FGM/E and prevention have meant an improvement in the living conditions of these women and their families. The diffusion of the public health services to which those affected by FGM can go has allowed many more women to have access to them. At the same time, they have helped to make visible the problems linked to this practice among the general population.

Agenda 2030

Medicusmundi considers female genital mutilation a form of violence against women that maintains and increases gender inequalities, constitutes a problem for society as a whole and is a clear obstacle to its development. We therefore call on the international community to redouble its efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and to end Female Genital Mutilation by 2030.


Article by Teresa Rosario, Federation of Medicus Mundi Spain


International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February: Website 


Document Actions