Here in the United States, advocates for women’s rights focus largely on issues such as equal pay and reproductive justice. Outside of the U.S however, lies an alarming health and safety concern for women and young girls.

Female Genital Mutilation

200 million women and girls walking the world today are victims of female genital mutilation, or FGM. As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM consists of any procedure that injures the female genital organs without medical reason. While this idea may seem foreign to some, it is an all-too-common practice in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

In these regions, FGM is considered normal on the social level, causing some girls to subject themselves to mutilation just to conform. Unfortunately, many don’t even have a choice, as the majority of cuttings are performed on children ages 8-15. Parents of young girls send their daughters to physicians or midwives to perform the heinous surgery. Although many mutilations are done by trained medical professionals, some perform the procedure without medical knowledge for a cheaper fee. Worse still, these “surgeons” often avoid the use of anesthetics to cut costs.

For the 2017 Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM on February 7, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake issued a joint statement on progress toward reaching the goal of ending FGM. An excerpt:

“In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals recognized the close connection between FGM/C, gender inequality, and development – and reignited global action to end FGM/C by 2030. In 2016, more than 2,900 communities, representing more than 8.4 million people living in countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end FGM/C, declared they had abandoned the practice. In 2017, we must demand faster action to build on this progress.  That means calling on governments to enact and enforce laws and policies that protect the rights of girls and women and prevent FGM/C.”

The process of FGM is a painful one — mentally, physically, and socially. Recent developments have concluded that the impact of FGM goes beyond the damage done on the operating table. Later in life, victims of genital cuttings may suffer from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. There are also negative implications to the community at large.

Despite what FGM supporters may claim, WHO indicated that there are no health benefits associated with the genital mutilation of women, and therefore, there is no reason to continue the practice. The fact is that FGM creates a trickle-down effect of discrimination in addition to adverse health impacts.

FGM supporters have not deterred human rights groups, which still actively educate the public on the issue of FGM. One youth group, Integrate UK, created a YouTube music video depicting the adverse impacts of genital cuttings.

Through proper education and innovation, human rights groups across the world will continue working together to end female genital mutilation — and yes, we can reach that 2030 goal.