Amref Health Africa asks the Government of Sierra Leone to protect girls from injury and death caused by the harmful practice
On February 6, 2016, the world will be marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. This day has been set aside by the United Nations as a reminder to all that the international community has taken a stand on complete eradication of female genital mutilation (FGM).
Amref Health Africa is concerned that contrary to this international position, Sierra Leonean Social Welfare and Gender Minister Mr Moijua Kaikai recently announced that female genital mutilation was a cultural practice supported by the government and would therefore not be outlawed. Sierra Leone is one of the few remaining countries in Africa that have not made FGM illegal.
It is widely acknowledged that FGM, also known as female genital cutting (FGC) includes procedures that intentionally cause injury to and alter the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Today more than 25 million girls and women from 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East are living with mutilated genitals. Most of the victims underwent mutilation between infancy and the age of 15 years.
FGM has acute and chronic complications. Acute complications include pain, bleeding and infection, and sometimes death. As the wound heals, chronic complications with serious consequences on maternal health set in. These include fistula, infertility and inability to deliver vaginally causing obstetric complications and newborn deaths. Women who have undergone the cut cannot have normal sexual relations and pain during sex is common.
It is for this reason that in 1993 FGM was classified as a form of violence against women under the International Human Rights Law. In 2012 the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on elimination of FGM. Progress has been made and today 24 of the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated have enacted legislation against the practice.
Amref Health Africa, the largest health development organisation on the continent, stands for the rights of women in Africa. We believe that sustainable development cannot be achieved unless the rights of women are upheld and until women have equal opportunity in the community to fully engage in development.
“Female Genital Mutilation is illegal. It is a form of violence against women. It is against natural justice and the rights of women,” says Dr Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa.
In the course of our work with communities, Amref Health Africa has noted that FGM not only leads to medical problems but disadvantages women, leading to school dropouts, early marriage and relegation to a lower status in the community as far as human development is concerned. From our experience working with African Communities, Amref Health Africa has also learnt the importance of cultural practices that act as a bridge between adolescence and adulthood. It is for this reason that we support communities to abandon FGM and replace it with practices that uphold the wellbeing of women.
In Kenya and Tanzania, Amref Health Africa has been working with Maasai community elders to develop an Alternative Rite of Passage for teenage girls in order to eliminate the practice of FGM. The Alternative Rite of Passage has been put into practice since 2012 and enables girls to transition to womanhood without going through the cut. In Kenya alone, over 8,000 girls have graduated from the Alternative Rite of Passage, thus escaping death, injury and early marriage.
In Ethiopia we have been working with multi-sectoral government structures to address FGM. The ‘United for Body Rights’ project funded by the Dutch Government has been running in the Afar Region for the last five years and has led a significant decline in the practice. In South Omo, a project funded by the Canadian Government addresses harmful traditional practices, including FGM, by seeking to influence behaviour change and enhancing women’s decision-making power on maternal and child health issues.
Amref Health Africa implores the Government of Sierra Leone and stakeholders working to uphold the rights of women in Africa to stand with Sierra Leonean women and condem FGM. Amref Health Africa is available to provide the Government of Sierra Leone with technical support to develop and implement policies and strategies for the elimination of this harmful practice.
Note to Editors
About Amref Health Africa
Amref Health Africa is an international African organisation founded and headquartered in Kenya. Amref Health Africa works with the most vulnerable African communities through its country programmes in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda, and its Southern Africa and West Africa regional hubs based in South Africa and Senegal respectively. Through its laboratory, clinical outreach and training programmes, Amref Health Africa reaches an additional 30 plus countries in Africa. With over half a century of experience in delivering health care and building health systems in Africa, Amref Health Africa supports those at the heart of the communities, particularly women and children, to bring about lasting health improvement.
For more information contact Betty Muriuki, Ag Communications Manager – Corporate and Kenya; Tel: +254 731002450; email firstname.lastname@example.org