Worldwide, 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation. Here are 12 innovators you should know that are fighting back.
An astonishing six percent of the world’s women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). Also referred to as cutting or circumcision, FGM involves intentionally cutting a woman or girl’s genitals for non-medical reasons. Many countries outlaw the life-threatening practice, but it continues due to long-standing cultural traditions and deep-rooted gender inequality.
While global organizations like the United Nations have joined the fight to end FGM, this journey is truly locally led. In honor of International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM on Feb. 6, I asked GlobalGiving project leaders in Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Tanzania which approaches they find the most exciting.
Here’s what they said:
My mother started Cherish Others because she was cut as a young girl. When I took over, I sold everything I owned to keep it running. Now, not only do we run awareness campaigns and host educational seminars, but we educate both girls and boys on the dangers of FGM. We also organize an annual anti-FGM run to bring together thousands of Maasai people in Trans Mara to discuss the dangers of FGM.
— Ruth Konchellah, Cherish Others Organization Kenya
We plant gardens at schools to provide vegetables to Maasai parents in return for a contractual agreement never to cut their young daughters and to keep them in school. Local officials help local Global Roots transparency officers investigate whenever a girl does not return to school.
— Rick Montgomery, Global Roots
We use football as a tool to break the silence on FGM in Marsabit, northern Kenya. With mixed gender teams, boys learn about issues affecting girls and instead of seeing FGM as a “girl problem,” they fight it together. Together, we will save not just one girl, but whole generations to come.
— Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan, Horn of Africa Development Initiative
As part of GPI’s reproductive health curriculum, we train adolescent girls to become anti-FGM advocates in their communities. One of my favorite memories is from 2002, when a renowned circumcisor in the Borum community of Nigeria, where 100% of girls underwent FGM, handed over her tools to my team and pledged to stop the practice. 15 years later, I got an invitation to attend their annual festival celebrating the end of FGM in their community.
— Comfort Ikpeme, Girls’ Power Initiative
In my experience, the practice of FGM can be ended through education. In the Kajiado county of Kenya, we conduct workshops educating children and adults on the medical consequences of FGM.
— Heather McKay, Maasai Girls Education Fund
Our girl-led media advocacy project aims to end FGM and child marriage in the Kuria community of Migori County, Kenya. So far, we’ve trained more than 50 girl advocates. By using storytelling as an advocacy tool, girls are transforming society’s narrative about education and demanding change.
— Godfrey Ochieng Okumu, Nyanza Initiative for Girls’ Education & Empowerment
Popular education. Our method trains young people how to teach each other about the dangers of FGM and why families should not cut their daughters. Young boys and girls work together to transform their communities and take a stand against FGM. We have made a promise to ourselves that we will end FGM in this generation.
— Dr. Grace Mose Okong’o, Hope Foundation for African Women
A quick intervention isn’t enough to end FGM—we need sustained community education and an accountability system. The chief in the community we work in had an idea to have the parents of our boarding school students sign a contract to never cut their daughters. We’ve seen that if girls don’t undergo FGM, they stay in school and don’t get married early.
— Jolena Zabel, Kakenya’s Dream
We use mapping as a tool to prevent FGM in rural Tanzania. Volunteers use Maps.Me and OpenStreetMap to add names of villages, schools, churches, hospitals, roads, and more. Maps are particularly crucial in FGM-related emergency situations, when a nonprofit or safehouse worker needs to navigate quickly to a village where girls are at risk.
— Janet Chapman, Tanzania Development Trust
Boys are often ignored in anti-FGM work. Young men need to be empowered alongside young women to discuss the effects of FGM with their parents. Educated youth also share their knowledge with out-of-school children, who are more prone to FGM in our community. Once girls are educated and empowered, they are able say no to FGM.
—Lucy Mathenge, Network for Ecofarming in Africa
Everyone in the community needs to be involved in ending FGM. We work with girls, boys, women, men, ex-practitioners, religious leaders, medical professionals, local governments, community leaders, and more to transform behavior and end the practice in Ethiopia.
— Brunella Pacia, Plan Italia Onlus
When approached forcefully, families quietly retreat and perform FGM secretly away from the eyes of the authorities or social organizations. Our motto is “Let the girl decide.” We equip girls with livelihood skills to enable them to make wise decisions in life and protect the rights of the girl child in a way that will not alienate her from her community.
— Leonard Lenina, Nenkashe Education Centre
International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM is held every year on Feb. 6. This year, support local leaders in the fight to end FGM.
Featured Photo: FGM Fund by Equality Now