By Joan Mbuh, LISAC-Cameroon
Friday, February 6th is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. This post is in recognition of the harm that FGM does to girls and women around the world. Please use this opportunity to pray about FGM and educate yourself further on the issue.
LISAC-Cameroon, an inter-faith based organization in Cameroon, launched a community campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), an act of violence against the girl child. LISAC’s most recently published report stressed with evidence the reality of its practice in many regions in Cameroon. LISAC’s report condemned the practice in strong terms as a gross human rights violation for young girls who suffer mental trauma and lose of stability in their adulthood due to the practice. LISAC calls on civil society organizations and the government to take urgent action to provide education to the people of Cameroon about this cultural and religious practice and the harm it inflicts on our girls and children—the girls and children who are the leaders of tomorrow. Through genital mutilation, some girls have also been inflicted with HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases.
It should be noted that thousands of girls in Cameroon are in danger of genital mutilation while the government has nothing to say about this practice. These girls are being failed by the health and justice systems, and LISAC recommends aggressive steps to eradicate the practice in Cameroon while at the same time giving both social support and economic support, such as micro-economic business ventures, to HIV/AIDS victims. LISAC-Cameroon takes the stand that Female Genital Mutilation should be treated the same as any other kind of child abuse and evidence of it should be reported to the police.
Without appropriate document on FGM in the country, and the fact that it is neglected by governmental ministries is shocking. Many Cameroonians are not aware of its continued practice. So many of our young girls, victims of FGM, are living in agony every day of their lives, unable to find those with whom to share about their experiences and receive support to put their lives back in order. It is clear that laws about sexual harassment, rape, and other violent crimes affecting females should include FGM as a law of equal importance.
The LISAC report highlights several points based on the WHO (World Health Organization) report that every year, millions of women and girls in Africa and around the world are subjected to the brutal practice of FGM, and many more are at risk. February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, “a day when we raise global awareness about this issue and reaffirm our strong commitment to eradicating this extremely harmful practice that violates the rights of girls and women to physical and mental integrity. Female genital mutilation violates human rights and the rights of women and girls. Our top priority should be prevention – helping to ensure that no girl will ever again have to experience this traumatic breach of their rights,” (from “Joint EU Statement on International Day against Female Genital Mutilation, http://eu-un.europa.eu/articles/fr/article_13123_fr.htm, accessed February 4, 2015).
We as human rights activists need to complement existing national legislation prohibiting the practice by raising awareness about the detrimental effects of female genital mutilation on the psychological and physical health of women and girls, and by providing support services for victims.
The LISAC-Cameroon report’s nine recommendations include:
- Treat it as child abuse: FGM is a severe form of violence against women and girls. It is child abuse and must be integrated into all national child safeguarding procedures in a systematic way.
- Document and collect information: The ministry of women affairs and the family should document and collect information on FGM and its associated complications in a consistent and rigorous way.
- Share that information systematically: The ministries should develop protocols for sharing information about girls at risk of – or girls who have already undergone – FGM with other health and social care agencies, the Department for Education, and the police.
- Empower frontline professionals: Develop the competence, knowledge and awareness of frontline health professionals to ensure prevention and protection of girls at risk of FGM.
- Identify girls at risk and refer them as part of child safeguarding obligation: Within such communities volunteers and human rights organizations and Health professionals should identify girls at risk of FGM as early as possible. All suspected cases should be referred the appropriate headquarters as part of existing child safeguarding obligations. Sustained information and support should be given to families to protect girls at risk.
- Report cases of FGM: All girls and women presenting with FGM within the documentation of the government ministries must be considered as potential victims of crime, and should be referred to the police and support services.
- Hold frontline professionals accountable: The government ministries and local authorities should systematically measure the performance of frontline health professionals against agreed standards for addressing FGM and publish outcomes to monitor the progress of implementing these recommendations.
- Empower and support affected girls and young women (both those at risk and survivors): This should be a priority public health consideration. Health and education professionals should work together to integrate FGM into prevention messages, especially those focused on avoiding harm.
- Implement awareness campaign: The government should implement a national public health and legal awareness publicity campaign on FGM, similar to previous campaigns on domestic abuse and HIV/AIDS.
“Through working together closely with the police, health and social care professionals and the third sector, we can do much better to have a successful prosecution against those who perpetrate this practice. . . . It is only a matter of time before this happens and this will send a very powerful message that FGM is a crime that will not be tolerated in a modern multicultural society,” states the LISAC-Cameroon report. Violence toward women and girls is not cultural. It is criminal.
(Photos provided by contributor.) LISAC-Cameroon received a grant from American Baptist Women’s Ministries for their project, “Rescue Our Girls and Stop Genital Mutilation.” LISAC-Cameroon, Leadership Improvement and Social Advocacy Centre Cameroon, is a community-based project to educate and advocate among traditional councils to ban traditional practices of violence against girls, including genital mutilations, rape, and school gender abuse. The grant was through Break the Chains and Stop the Pain, a former national mission focus of AB Women’s Ministries. Break the Chains was transformed in 2011 to the Women and Girls Mission Fund, a permanent fund that supports missions and ministries in the U.S. and around the world that focus on bringing healing and hope to women and girls. Your generous support of the Women and Girls Mission Fund will help grow AB Women’s Ministries ability to partner with critical mission and ministries.