Tanzania Stands Up to Child Marriage

On 9th February Tanzania’s parliamentarians took a vow to put an end to child marriage. The current Law on Marriage in Tanzania lets girls marry from as young as 14, but in the summer of 2016 the High Court of Tanzania found it to be unconstitutional. Although the law has yet to be changed, as one MP tweeted: “If we work together we can change the Law of Marriage Act in a short time”.

tanzania-mps-2

As the African proverb states – it takes a village to raise a child, and in this case it might just take a government of committed MPs to change a society.

During the conference MPs suggested incorporating the dangers of child marriage into the national education curriculum as part of an attempt to provide effective Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and Relationships Education (SRHR and SRE).

We know that when young women and girls know their rights they are more able to claim them. MPs also highlighted the relationship between poverty and patriarchy in tackling the practice, two major drivers of Child Marriage.

We’re encouraged to see Tanzania’s MPs taking a stand for women and girls rights. The African Union have also begun training parliamentarians on how to stand up and speak out against child marriage, so we know change is coming. We look forward to seeing how these conversations move into action and the transformation of Tanzanian women and girls lives. #EndChildMarriage.

For more information on this story click here

 

 

 

Sheroes – Vivian Kityo: Protecting Child Mothers

“At 10 years old her stomach swells with the growth of new life. Children hiding within the fragile frames of children, mothers being made out of infants.”

viv-1

In July 2013 The Ugandan National Bureau of Statistics alleged that, out of the 1.2million pregnancies recorded in Uganda each year, 25% are from girls under the age of 18. These pregnancies, around 300,000 in total, are almost all unwanted resulting in abortions or unintended births. Early marriage, sexual violence, early initiation into sexual activity and a lack of information are some of the greatest drivers behind this epidemic.

Vivian Kityo is putting a stop to all that.

Born and raised in Kampala, Vivian trained as a nurse before going on to receive a degree in Health Administration. Throughout her many years on Uganda’s maternity wards, Vivian was overwhelmed by the steady stream of young  girls who came to her with unwanted pregnancies. Many had been raped or violated, others where child brides , none of them were old enough to be mothers. Frustrated by the lack of support and the seeming increase in the rates of unwanted pregnancies, in 2005 Vivian founded Wakisa Ministries, a crisis pregnancy centre aimed at  providing the essential support services girls needed but rarely had access to.

Based in Bakuli, a suburb about 5km west of Kampala’s city-entre, Wakisa Ministries is Uganda’s only teenage and child pregnancy crisis centre. Currently supporting 22 girls the youngest of which is 10, the centre offers essential ante-natal care as well as sex, relationships and health rights education. Most importantly, the centre teaches these girls how to care for their children including breast-feeding and infant care. wakisa-ministries

Akina Mama Wa Afrika (AMwA) our partners in Uganda, have partnered with the centre to research the prevalence of sexual and gender based violence in relation to unwanted pregnancies. Through their work AMwA discovered that 43% of young mothers had been ‘unwilling’ to have sexual intercourse, confirming the fact that sexual and gender based violence are root causes for unwanted pregnancies in Uganda. As young mothers, many girls are unable to complete their schooling, leaving them with fewer economic opportunities and therefore vulnerable to economic and sexual exploitation. This not only robs the country of a stronger economic workforce, but it also slows down much needed social, political and economic development. The stigma of pre-marital sex can, especially where pregnancy is concerned, leave girls isolated from their families and communities. Such a stigma, combined with the responsibilities of caring for another life at a young age, and the experiences of sexual violence many of the girls have endured can leave young mothers with serious psychological and emotional trauma making Wakisa Minstries such a necessary service.

As part of her vision to see these girls not only survive but thrive, Vivian and Wakisa Ministries provide recipients with a range of business skills from candle making, to tailoring, jewellery making to knitting and  urban agriculture. By 2020 Vivian hopes to enrol her girls in vocational training schools and to create a comprehensive policy that will end child marriage in Uganda permanently. As the recipient of the New Vision Women Achiever Award and featured as one of Africa’s most influential women in business and government, Vivian Kityo is a woman to be reckoned with and a true Sheroe. We wish her the best as she keeps pursuing the good fight!

Words by Irene Kagoya and @Justina_Kehinde

(@amwa_ug and @FORWARDUK)

———————————————————————————————————-

For more information on Wakisa Ministries click here

For more information on Akina Mama wa Afrika click here

 

Urgent Appeal: Save Acton Clinic!

stop-the-cuts-300x228

By March 2017, Acton Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) community clinic could have their funding stopped! For over 10 years the clinic has provided support, counselling and de-infibulation (a form of reconstructive surgery) to women and girls from across the country, including as far as Northern Ireland and Bristol who have been affected by FGM.

Acton Clinic is the only clinic in the UK for which

  • You don’t need a GP’s referral
  • You don’t need to be pregnant to receive the service

For the past decade it has

  • Provided counselling and referred women on for specialist treatment if they can’t provide it at the clinic
  • Offers de-infibulation – this means it can ‘open up’ women who have undergone the most severe form of FGM – type 3. This process restores natural urination and menstruation as well as reducing complications in birth.
  • The clinic staff have trained over 100 other professionals to carry out de-infibulations.
  • The clinic is staffed by trained Midwives and health advocates who are dedicated, experienced and understand the sensitivities around FGM. They provide a safe and culturally appropriate service for vulnerable women – women for whom this clinic is often the first and sometimes only time they ever speak about FGM.
  • In 2011 the clinic won the Guardian Public Service Award for Diversity and Equality
  • In 2016 the clinic was visited by MP Jane Ellison, former Public Health Minister, as it was an ‘example of a gold standard, holistic, FGM service that had been the blueprint for other such services across the UK’.

The clinic was founded by Julia Albert in 2007 after she attended training by TuWezeshe Dada’s lead partner organisation, FORWARD who went on to provide technical support and advice for the new clinic.

If Acton Clinic were to close it would be a travesty not only for women and girls affected by FGM, but for all of us who are fighting for gender inequality and the rights and freedoms of women in girls. We cannot let this happen. Ealing Council have not explained why funding is being re-directed from this highly valuable and award winning clinic or the logic of withdrawing services available to women in order to raise greater awareness of services available to women. With the UK government proclaiming their commitment to ending FGM in the UK and to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) the closure of this clinic must be seen – and must be called out – as a grievous step backwards that will leave hundreds of vulnerable women and girls without the experienced and culturally appropriate services that they need and deserve.

What we need you to do:

  • Flood their Inboxes! Email to explain why the Acton FGM Community Clinic is so important. You can copy and send this draft email, or write one of your own and send it to these people to make your call to #SaveActonClinic heard
  • Councillor Julian Bell, Ealing Council Leader: bell@ealing.gov.uk
  • Councillor Ranjit Dheer, Ealing Council Deputy Leader and responsible for Community Services, Equality and Diversity: dheer@ealing.gov.uk
  • Mohini Parmar, Chair of Ealing Clinical Commissioning Group: mohini.parmar@nhs.net

Sign the petition  and make sure they know about it!

Tweet the link to @EalingCouncil and @juliangbell with the hashtag #SaveActonClinic to let them know what it means to you!

Turn up!

FORWARD and Acton clinic are holding an assembly on the International Day of Zero Tolerance to End FGM – Monday the 6th February – to call for Ealing to keep the Acton FGM Community Clinic open. Sisters, brothers and young people are invited to join us in solidarity with the clinic! Bring your banners and your voices. Ealing Town Hall, New Broadway, London W5 2BY – 12pm – Monday 6 February 2017

 

 

3 – Sisters Act: Sexual Harassment & Revenge Porn

16-days-respect-1

It’s just a bit of flirting.

She was asking for it.

I didn’t know how to say no.

No-one believed me – they said I was making it up, being too sensitive.

He didn’t really hurt her.

It’s  not a big deal, it’s just a bit of fun.

Just a bit of fun.

Sexual harassment is not just a bit of fun. In fact it is one of the most pervasive forms of gender based violence. It can occur in schools, in workplaces, in public spaces and in the home. Although both men and women are affected by sexual harassment, women are disproportionately the victims.

What does sexual harassment look like and why does it happen?

Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which:

  • violates your dignity
  • makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated
  • creates a hostile or offensive environment[1]

You don’t need to have previously objected to someone’s behaviour for it to be considered unwanted.

Sexual harassment can include:

  • sexual comments or jokes
  • physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances, touching, groping, brushing, invading your personal space and various other forms of sexual assault
  • displaying pictures, photos or drawings of a sexual nature
  • talking about or asking questions of a sexual nature
  • sending emails with a sexual content

Colleagues, classmates, members of the public, members of your family or friendship group and people in positions of authority can all sexually harass or be victims of sexual harassment.

There is a clear distinction between sexual harassment and flirting. This is a good way to distinguish:

Sexual Harassment Flirting
Feels Bad Feels Good
One Sided Reciprocal
Feels Unattractive Feels Attractive
Degrading Compliment
Feels Powerless Feels in Control
Power-based Equality
Negative Unwanted Touching Positive Wanted Touching
Illegal Legal
Invading Open
Demeaning Flattering
Feels Sad/Angry Feels Happy
Negative Self-Esteem Positive Self-Esteem

16-days-srhr-3

Sexual Harassment and ‘Rape Culture’:

Like most forms of gender based violence sexual harassment happens because of cultures which facilitate or excuse sexually violent behaviour. During the 1970s American feminists used the term ‘rape culture’ to define societies which blame victims of sexual violence while excusing or even praising acts of sexual aggression. According to feminist Emilie Buchwald:

In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable. However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that [we] can change. [2]

Sexual Harassment, Cyber Bullying and Revenge Porn:

As well as the above examples, sexual harassment can also take place through social media and chatrooms. Revenge Porn along with cyber bullying are two emerging forms of gender based violence.

Revenge porn is the sexually explicit portrayal of one or more people distributed without their consent via any medium. Revenge porn is a form of psychological, sexual and emotional abuse as well as domestic violence.

Perpetrator: The person who shares the image publicly with the intent of causing the victim distress or harm. They may do this out of revenge after a break up or as a way to control their victims (domestic abuse). Sometimes it’s done as a mode of financial extortion.

Trolls: Other online users who share the image “for kicks” or to further humiliate the victim. There are lots of websites set up to make money from people uploading or sharing images.

The victim may have consented to having the image taken, but not for it to be shared. Victims are often blamed for letting the images be taken in the first place. This can cause further  further psychological distress to their feelings of being violated and ashamed.

Revenge Porn is illegal in a number of countries including the UK, but prosecution is slow and difficult.  If you have been abused via revenge porn or any other form of sexual abuse or harassment here are some steps you could follow[3]:

  1. If it is safe, try confronting the perpetrator,
  2. Record all instances of the harassment or the abuse (e.g. photocopy images, save emails/texts, write down any instances of harassment/abuse with the date, location, frequency of the encounters etc.)
  3. Tell other people (family, friends, colleagues)
  4. If it occurs in a work or school environment, obtain copies of your work records (including performance evaluations) and keep these copies at home

Sexual abuse, harassment or violence of any kind is NEVER the victims fault. It is awful when people we trust betray us and when people don’t respect us. However knowing your rights is the key to protecting yourself. Never be afraid to OWN your personal space and to be clear to others what you appreciate and what you don’t. You have a right to your body.

[1] https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/discrimination/what-are-the-different-types-of-discrimination/sexual-harassment/

[2] http://www.wavaw.ca/what-is-rape-culture/

[3] https://feminist.org/911/harasswhatdo.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/11531954/What-is-the-law-on-revenge-porn.html

SHEROES – Winny Obure: Community Activist

 

dsc_0060

A feminist and human rights activist, Winnie Obure is a member of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute (YWLI), our partners in Kenya.  As part of her commitment to community mobilisation, during the 16 Days of Activism Winnie shared her experiences of community advocacy  with victims of sexual violence in Kiambui.

In late November 2016, Winnie Obure marched on Shauri Moyo police station to protest the rape of a 15 year old girl by local police officer, Njogu. Although the rape had been reported by the girl’s father, the station refused to record it to protect their colleague. Backed by other community activists, Winnie demanded the incident be recorded in the station’s Occurrence Book (OB). For their demands the women were arrested. Phones confiscated and prohibited from seeing visitors, they spent the night in jail.

Early the next morning they were charged in court for ‘creating a disturbance at a police station’ . However, their names and files were missing from the court registry and records. To date, each time they appear in court they are told their ‘files are missing’.

In her attempts to secure justice for the girl, Winnie discovered that the victim’s aunt had received 5,000 shillings (50USD) from the police for her silence. Negotiation and even collusion with abusers is an underlying form and cause of gender based violence which prevents justice being enacted and undermines the worth and esteem of the victim. In poor communities where the cost of legal action is too expensive financial  pay-offs can be a lucrative, and seemingly beneficial, alternative. 16-days-rape-ywli-1

Yet despite these challenges, Winnie did not give up on the case. Taking her protest to social media with the hashtag #ArrestNjogu the case caught the attention of hundreds. With mounting pressure the officer was finally arrested. The case is currently ongoing.

Standing up against violence in the community is not an easy task. As a young human rights defender Winnie has regularly found herself in precarious positions even to the point of having to move house as a result of intimidation and threats. However she is adamant that real change occurs when we involve many people. Alone and isolated activists can be left vulnerable, but together we rise.

At the end of 2016 Winnie Obure was one of five recipients of the Integrity Champions Award presented by the Society for International Development. She is a true hero – we salute and stand with her.

~~~

Words by Felister Gitonga, (@ywli_info)

Edited by @Justina_Kehinde (@FORWARDUK)

 

2. SISTERS ACT – CHILD MARRIAGE: A Game or Reality?

child-bride

As kids we play at make-believe. At what if. It’s part of how we stimulate our imagination and begin to forge our identity. Whether it’s pretending to be our parents, teachers or older siblings, we absorb and imitate so much of adult life. We pretend to ‘to go to market’ and buy food, or to look after our make-believe children, even to get married? It’s fun at the time, but we know its play, it’s made up. Right?

Wrong. While some children have the luxury of pretending to walk down the aisle, don a veil or cook for their “spouse”, for other children it’s their reality.

Over 700million women alive today were married as children and almost 1/3rd (250million) were married before the age of 15. 250 million married before the age of 15. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of the UK, France, Germany and Spain – combined!

So why are children being married and how is this a form of gender based violence?

Definition

According to the UN, child marriage is the formal or informal union of two individuals where one or both are under the age of 18. Although child marriage affects boys too, girls are disproportionately married off making it a form of gender based violence. As a child you cannot give legal consent therefore such marriages are forced and coercive.

Why does child marriage happen?

  1. What’s Love got to do with it?child-not-bride

Romantic love, in many cultures and traditions, has little, if anything, to do with marriage. Throughout the centuries marriage has been a way of strategically joining families and communities. This could be to stop wars, to increase wealth, for political gain/protection, social status or other reasons. Marriage in this sense is regarded as a contract between families, not individuals. As children cannot give consent, it leaves the power to marry or not marry in the hands of their parents and families and increases the possibility of exploitation.

2. Poverty vs. Provision

Over half of all girls from the poorest families in the developing world are married as children. For poor families marrying off daughters means one less mouth to feed. In some cases it is a way to manage debt, or, where a dowry or bride-price is received, financially lucrative. Groom’s families often pay less if the bride is young giving them a financial incentive for child marriages.

3. Sexuality and Safety

In many patriarchal communities female sexuality and sexual conduct are intrinsically linked to family honour and are therefore things to be controlled. Considering the strategic uses of marriage, unwanted pregnancies or sexual misconduct are seen to bring families into disrepute.

16-days-marriage-ywli-1For some cultures girls become women after their first menstruation. Certainly this isn’t the best measure of adulthood, as girls can start their periods from as young as nine, but it does mean these girls are in an in-between phase: no longer children but not yet wives, leaving them vulnerable to sexual advances and other abuse. Marriage gives girls a new, “safer” status as a wife or mother, while also controlling their sexual conduct.

In communities where female genital mutilation is practiced, once a girl is cut she is eligible for marriage.

Child marriage might also occur during times of conflict or natural/humanitarian crises. Marriage can be seen as a way to cope with violence and poverty and even give the possibility of security or safety for the family.

The Impact of Child marriage:

Child brides very soon become child mothers. Child marriage encourages premature and continuous child bearing in turn preventing girls from gaining an education or from working outside the domestic sphere, while privileging boys’ education and work opportunities. It also keeps girls dependent on their husbands/husband’s family removing their independence and autonomy. Child mothers are likely to suffer severe health complications such as obstetric fistula and maternal mortality because they are often physically under-developed and therefore not ready for sexual intercourse or child birth. Over 70,000 girls between 15-18 die in child birth every year, while girls who give birth under the age of 18 are 60% more likely to lose their baby or have a still birth compared to those over 19. According to UNICEF even if the child survives they are likely to suffer from a low birth weight and late cognitive and physical development. The levels of domestic violence child brides face is drastic compared to women over 18, as children have less negotiating power or strength compared to adults. Child brides are often separated from their communities and friends, which can have huge psychological effects in turn threatening their mental and emotional wellbeing.

Moving Forwards:

Although data shows that the prevalence of child marriage is decreasing, it isn’t decreasing fast enough. Child marriage is a form of child abuse as well as gender based violence. Working with communities to change cultural attitudes is essential. If 50% of a countries population isn’t able to work, that country will never fully develop. Girl’s education and financial empowerment means better local, national and international development. It’s also important to challenge how we view female sexuality and challenge communities that privilege male sexuality above women’s. Child Marriage is decreasing but with sustained work we can make it disappear.

16-days-marriage-2

Information for this article was sourced from UNICEF and Girl’s Not Brides.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed please contact  one our partners by clicking on their link:

FORWARD (UK, Europe and Africa incl. Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania)

YWLI (Kenya)

AMwA (Uganda)

SSAP (Somaliland)

 

 

SHEROES – Edna Adan: Mother of Somaliland

dsc_8078

‘Hooyoda Somaliland’ or ‘the mother of Somaliland’, Dr. Edna Adan Ismail’s lifelong fight for women and girls rights and maternal health has put her on the map as one of the most influential female campaigners on the African continent. Her work as a campaigner, a midwife and a politician has transformed the global women’s rights agenda, especially where it concerns African women and girls, in the process inspiring and empowering millions.

When looking back at Edna’s life, it is pretty difficult to ignore that she has ‘first’ plastered all over her name. From becoming the FIRST Somali trained midwife in the UK in the 1950s to the FIRST Somali female to drive a car. She was Somaliland’s first, First lady, and went on to become the FIRST Somali female to publicly to speak out against FGM. She’s also the FIRST female founder and director of a maternity hospital in Somaliland – in short, she has always been a pioneer. It’s with no doubt then, that she is our  FIRST featured Sheroe!

Raised in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, in 1954 Edna was awarded a scholarship to study nursing, midwifery and hospital management in Borough Polytechnic, now London South Bank University. After completing seven years of service, Edna returned to Somaliland as the country’s first and only qualified nurse-midwife.

In 1965, Edna moved once again, this time to Libya to work for the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the Regional Technical Officer for Mother and Child Health. In her fight to safeguard the rights of women and children, Edna became particularly vocal against FGM, and its wide spread prevalence across the African continent. She returned to her home country when her husband at the time, the late Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal became Prime Minister of Somali Republic and later the first President of Somaliland. Edna held many prestigious political posts during her political career including Director at the ministery of health (1977-1979), minister of social affairs and family welfare and foreign minister, which she held  until 2006. As the only female to hold prominent posts in government and the only voice for women and girls, Edna was a force to be reckoned with, treasured by young women and an inspiration to generations.

7996492986_69afcefd8c_bBy 1991 the Somaliland that Edna knew and loved had just come through a crippling civil war to claim its independence. However, following the devastation,  the country’s health system was completely destroyed and Somaliland had the highest rates of infant mortality worldwide. Alongside infant mortality, FGM continued to be practiced throughout the country. Type III, the most invasive form (read more here), is still widely practiced across Somaliland leaving many mothers vulnerable to maternal mortality due to health complications during childbirth.

Since qualifying as a nurse-midwife, Edna’s lifelong dream has been to train specialised midwifes with the necessary skills to appropriately deliver the children of women who have undergone FGM, as well as to continue the fight against the practice. In 2002 Edna successfully opened the first maternity hospital in Hargeisa. Having sold all her possessions (including her cherished Mercedes!) and using her savings to acquire the government land to build the hospital from scratch, by 2002 the Edna Adan Hospital opened with an  operating theater, pharmacy, laboratory and library. Edna also embarked on the process of training 1000 Somaliland women to become qualified midwives and by 2012, opened the Edna Adan University to further the training of nurses, midwifes, laboratory technicians, pharmacologists and public health officers.

4-hillary-clinton-edna-adan

Now at 79 years old, Edna continues to be a voice for the voiceless women and girls subjected to gender based violence throughout the world. Through her tireless campaigning, she has brought their stories to the ears of various notable figures including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, and has worked to make FGM a global humanitarian issue recognised by the UN as a form of child abuse, gender based violence and a  denial of women and girls human rights. For her work Edna’s name was added University of Toledo’s Medical Mission Hall of Fame and she was made an honorary Fellow of both Cardiff University, Clark University and the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

It is not a surprise Edna is called the mother of Somaliland, or even, as the Huffington Post described her, the Muslim Mother Theresea. We had the honour of meeting her at the 2016 African Women’s Diaspora Forum in London where she continued to empower and inspire women to fight the good fight of women and girls’ rights.

May her work continue and may her light never dim.

Words by Rahma Abdilahi (@ssap)

—————————————————————————————————

For more information about the Edna Adan Hospital click here

 

 

 

1.Sisters Act – FGM, Designer Vaginas and Gender Based Violence

TW (Trigger Warning): This article is about female genital mutilation (FGM – also known as female circumcision, Sunna or Bondo), its forms and causes. There is explicit mention of the female genitalia and its biological functions as well as other forms of sexual and gender based violence. Non-graphic educational images of the female sexual organs are included. If you have been affected by anything discussed here please contact FORWARD for advice, support and help.

 end-fgm

Over 200million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). That’s equivalent to 2/3rd of the American population! But what is FGM, why does it happen and how is it a form of gender based violence?

Definition:

In 1997, the World Health Organisation classified female genital mutilation as the following:

  1. All procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons
  2. All other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons

natural-vThe female genitalia in its natural state is made up of the vulva, the name for the entire pubic area which is often (mistakenly) called the vagina. The clitoris is the female sexual organ and it is covered by a hood called the prepuce. Below the clitoris is the urethra where urine is expelled from. Further down lies the vagina, a muscular tube that leads to the womb. As a muscle, the vagina is designed to expand and contract e.g. during penetrative sex, menstruation, vaginal discharge and childbirth. The vagina is located before the anus. The final parts of the female genitalia are the labia. The labia, or lips, surround the clitoris and vagina. The labia majora (big lips) are on the outside and the labia minora (little lips) lie inside. Containing thousands of nerve endings, when stimulated the labia minora, like the clitoris, fills with blood. It is important to remember that, in terms of size, shape, colour etc, every woman looks different and her genitals  are unique to her person.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) involves any injury to these parts for non-medical reasons. While FGM might take a variety of forms, the WHO have identified four main types.

Type 1:type-1-v

Type 1 is known as a ‘Clitoridectomy’. This involves the total or partial removal of the clitoris from the rest of the female genitalia. In rare cases it also includes the removal of the prepuce, the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris.

Q: What is the clitoris, and why is this problematic?

The clitoris is the main female sexual organ. Existing purely for sexual pleasure the clitoris has over 8000 nerve endings, more than double the amount of nerves found in the male penis, or anywhere else in the human body. The clitoris is around 2-3cm in length, with the majority situated within the female body leaving only the head exposed. As an organ the clitoris fills with blood upon stimulation. This means that if cut, blood loss can be fatal.

Considering FGM is often practiced by women who have no medical training, cutting is done without anaesthetics and often by using razor blades or other crude materials. Girls are often cut together during ‘coming of age ceremonies’ or at birth. This means the same blade is used to cut multiple girls, drastically increasing the risk of infection and the transmission of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. A highly traumatic procedure, immediate health risks can include infection, shock, injury to the surrounding genital tissue, excessive bleeding (haemorrhaging), urinary problems and infections, scarring and death.type-2-v

Type 2:

Type 2 is known as ‘Excision’. Excision involves the partial or total removal of the clitoris, the labia minora and/or the labia majora.

Type 2 presents the same immediate health risks as Type 1.

Type 3:type-3-v

Type 3 is called ‘Infibulation’ and is the most invasive form of FGM. Infibulation requires the creation of a covering seal by narrowing the vaginal opening. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning either the labia minora, majora or both, and then stitching them together. Infibulation might also include the removal of the clitoris.

Considering the vagina is a muscle that is meant to expand, infibulation has severe adverse effects. Along with the previously mentioned health risks, infibulation may also include vaginal problems such as bacterial infections, menstrual problems including painful and often heavy periods as it becomes difficult to pass blood and other fluids, complications in child birth (e.g. the need to have a C-section, difficult delivery, excessive bleeding, the development of fistula), pelvic infections, discomfort and pain during intercourse, and sexual dissatisfaction. Women and girls who have been infibulated may need to be cut and re-stitched multiple times throughout their life (e.g. during childbirth, penetrative sex). This is extremely traumatic and may also result in the build-up of scar tissue and keloids which further reduce the elasticity and expansion capacity of the vagina.

Type 4:

Type 4 refers to any other injury to the female genital organs. This can include pricking or piercing any part of the genitalia, incising (cutting), scraping any part of the genitals, using corrosive substances, pulling, stretching the labia, cauterising any part of the genitalia and any other form of injury imagined or practiced for non-medical reasons.

Although the WHO present FGM as four clear types, in practice women and girls may have a combination of any of the four forms of FGM. There are a variety of reasons behind this ‘imprecision’ including the fact that FGM is often done by ‘traditional cutters’, women with no medical background or training who use crude materials, resulting in imprecise alterations. Many cutters are unable to determine how much or how little one wants to cut – and once a ‘mistake’ is made it is permanent unless one undergoes reconstructive surgery. As some girls are cut as young as one week old, age and size can also be a factor. The physical trauma also means that many girls and women struggle during the procedure and are often held down, this will also affect how much is removed or damaged.

Why not medicalise FGM?

girl-gen-anti-medialisation-fgm

The medicalisation of FGM is a controversial topic. Those who argue for it believe that with anaesthesia and the correct surgical tools some of the issues surrounding FGM (extreme trauma, extensive health problems etc) would no longer exist. This isn’t true. Removing the initial pain of the procedure does not remove or prevent the immediate and long term health risks caused by FGM.

But can a doctor do the procedure?

girl-gen-hippocratci-oath

Before doctors can practice medicine they must take something called the Hippocratic Oath. This includes swearing an oath to ‘do no harm’. FGM requires the removal of healthy tissue for non-medical reasons which can result in various and often severe physical, mental and emotional health problems including death. The fight to end FGM is about safeguarding the sexual, reproductive and health rights of women and girls, something FGM explicitly violates, therefore medicalisation is not an appropriate response to this practice.

What about Designer Vaginas?

‘Designer Vaginas’ are another controversial issue. An emerging form of elective plastic surgery, this procedure is predominantly practiced in the West (North America, Europe, and Australasia). This is when women chose to alter their vaginas (e.g. removing their clitoral hood, enlarging or reducing the size of their clitoris or of their labia, tightening their vaginal opening etc) for cosmetic reasons. Proponents of the procedure argue it is done with consent whereas FGM isn’t, however the desire to alter one’s genitalia is still rooted in the same misogynistic cultural views that fuel FGM.

Legally consent is defined as:

An act of reason and deliberation made by a person who possess and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision. Consent assumes the power to act and a reflective, determined, unencumbered (unconstrained) exertion (use) of those powers which are unaffected by fraud, duress (pressure) or a mistake.

A variety of reasons including increased access to pornography,  fashion indsutry and the ease with which we can now ‘modify’ ourselves for improved self-esteem or perceived sexual pleasure, have led to  a rise in ‘Designer Vagina’ cosmetic surgery. On one hand skewed representations of the female genitalia fuel an idea of what is ‘attractive’, ‘sexually desirable’ or even ‘normal’, and are, like FGM, rooted in misogynistic ideas about women’s bodies and their sexuality. There is also a racial aspect to the Designer Vaginas vs. FGM debate which subtly implies that such procedures are only violations or ‘barbaric’ when they occur in black/African/Islamic/impoverished settings – which just isn’t the case. In many ways Designer Vaginas are simply another way to ‘medicalise’ what, in other parts of the world, would be regarded as a gross form of gender based violence. Moreover, the health risks associated with FGM are still prevalent with Designer Vaginas – surely this is the same practice under a different name?

Why is FGM a form of gender based violence?

FGM is regarded as a form of gender based violence and a violation of women and girl’s human rights because it violates a person’s right to health, security, physical integrity, freedom from torture, freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and, when the procedure results in death, it denies the person’s right to life. The vast majority of procedures are carried out on children (those under the age of 18) therefore FGM in this scenario directly violates the rights of the child. However even when FGM is undertaken on adults, it is often a choice that is taken without true consent, as defined by the law. The reasons behind FGM and the results of having FGM are rooted/result in a clear inequality between the sexes, and thus FGM is an extreme form of sexual and gender based discrimination.

Who Practices FGM?

fgm-prevalence-map-africaFGM has existed for centuries in all parts of the world. In Europe and the United States Clitoridectomies were performed from as early as the 19thC up until 1960s as a ‘cure’ for hysteria, lesbianism, excessive masturbation, nymphomania (hypersexuality) and idiocy. However, the majority of FGM practicing communities are found on the African continent. Over 36 African countries have FGM practicing communities, while the procedure is also prevalent in around 11 South/South East Asian and 12 Middle Eastern countries. Indigenous communities in Latin America have also been found to practice FGM, while the prevalence rates in Europe, Australasia and North America are predominantly linked to immigrant communities who come from FGM practicing countries and cultures.

 Why do they do it?

Although no-one is sure how or why FGM began, there are a number of reasons why it is still practiced today. FGM is a cultural practice. It is not a religious requirement. In many FGM practicing communities FGM is seen as a rite of passage that transforms girls into marriageable women. FGM is practiced in patriarchal societies where women’s sexuality is often highly policed and regulated, thus FGM becomes a way of ‘ensuring’ women’s chastity, ‘preventing’ promiscuity and in some cases ‘protecting’ women from sexual violence (e.g. rape. This is a perverse, misguided view as rape has nothing to do with sexual ‘availability’ and everything to with power and the abuse of that power. FGM for these reasons will still leave girls and women vulnerable to sexual violence, including both anal and/or vaginal rape).

In many parts of the world, women do not have the same social, economic or political rights as men. Moreover, their security and wellbeing are tied to their male relatives. That means marriage is a form of survival. If a woman doesn’t marry well, or marry at all, she may find herself destitute and vulnerable to further sexual or labour exploitation. In some communities, girls and women who have not been cut are regarded as ‘loose’ women, whores and therefore sexually available. FGM then becomes a way of ensuring a women’s economic and social safety, and also a way of giving status and even power to those who would otherwise remain socially, economically and politically disempowered.

 Although FGM is very clearly a form of abuse, many practicing communities don’t regard it as such. In most cases the procedure is done out of a sense of love and parental or familial duty to safeguard and protect the future and safety of one’s female relatives.

FGM, Culture and the Future

At the heart of it, FGM is a practice that is done to women, by womlearning-to-be-freeen, for men. It is not necessary but rather extremely harmful. Although some people see it as part of their cultural heritage and identity, culture is dynamic. That means it can and does change. So why not change FGM? Why not change the cultures which devalue women and seek to police their sexuality? Why not change the cultures that prevent women from being independent and economically free so that they can have a secure future irrespective of their marriage status? Why not change the cultures which hold female chastity to a higher standard than male chastity? If FGM is the product of a patriarchal culture, then let’s change that culture and in the process safeguard women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights.

Join the conversation and leave your thoughts in the comments below. #SistersAct

~~~~~~~~~

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned please contact one of our partners by clicking on their links:

FORWARD (UK, Europe and Africa incl. Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania)

YWLI (Kenya)

AMwA (Uganda)

SSAP and the Edna Adan Hospital Foundation (Somaliland)

16 Days of Activism – #SistersAct

 

Activists aren’t born, they are made.

mirabal-sistersOn 25th November 1960, in the Dominican Republic of the Carribean three sisters were assassinated. It was a Friday and the Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa, had been stirring a political revolution against the country’s President, Rafael Trujillo.

Elected in 1931, Trujillio reigned both as president and as an unelected dictator for over 31 years in what has been recorded as one of the bloodiest eras of the Americas. It is estimated that Trujillo, a megalomaniac, was responsible for the deaths of approximately 50,000 people with 10-30,000 occurring during the Parsley massacre of Haitians in 1937.

At the height of Trujillo’s violent regime the Mirabal sisters formed the Movement of the Fourteenth of June. As part of the Movement they distributed leaflets against Trujillo exposing his crimes as well as collecting guns and bombs to be used if and when necessary in military opposition. For their actions, the sisters and their husbands were imprisoned –  and freed –  multiple times. On 25th November the sisters were visiting the incarcerated husbands of Maria Teresa and Minerva, when they were stopped by Trujillo’s henchmen. Clubbed to death, their bodies were placed back in their Jeep and driven off the mountainside to look like an accident.

Their murder sent shockwaves through the country and challenged the masculine ‘machismo’ identity that had shaped Dominican politics and social life. It also acted as the catalyst for Trujillo’s demise from power culminating in his assassination a year later. By 1977 the sisters were regarded as national martyrs and in 1999 the United Nations General Assembly delegated the 25th November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It’s the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence which ends on 10th December – International Human rights Day.

The Mirabal Sisters weren’t born heroes, activists, or revolutionaries. Rather, they looked at their society, their country, and they saw injustice, oppression, deceit and they decided to make it stop – and stop it did. So we remember them and we remember the power of women to transform their lives and the lives of others. That’s why over these 16 Days we’ve been showing how #SistersAct to bring about revolutionary change.

Join us @TuwezesheDada and www.facebook.com/tuwezeshe

African Women’s Rights are Human Rights

16-days-empowerment-8Since Hilary Clinton’s famous declaration in 1995 that ‘Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights’, the political world has fought to establish widespread, and sometimes radical, gender reforms. We’ve had the Millennium Development Goals and now we have the Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve had the #HeforShe campaign and even the online revolution of #blackgirlmagic. Yet, African Women are too often either forgotten, or portrayed as submissive victims in a patriarchal world. Imagined as either righteous queens or victims of military rape, the ideas that surround us are often reductive, limited and silencing. Even as our sisters are making progress, the priorities, concerns and often voices of African women and girls aren’t given the necessary platforms to influence the agendas, policies and campaigns that would advance our attempts to claim our full Human Rights.

AFRICAN WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

 HUMAN RIGHTS ARE AFRICAN WOMEN’S RIGHTS

Until the words and actions of African women and girls are taken into account and acted upon, the dream for global gender equality by 2030 will only ever be that – a dream. The TuWezeshe Akina Dada Project acknowledges this need to place the voices, experiences, desires and knowledge of African women and girls at the front and centre of all actions to redress gender inequality – especially regarding gender based violence. We know the importance of equipping African women and girls to be the leaders, advocates, cultural change-makers and activists that will really turn the world upside down for the good of all humankind.

So here we are, claiming our rights and freedoms. Join us for the journey.