International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM: Interview with Anna Widegren

February 6 marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, and like last year Youth Time joins the international community highlighting the importance of this date.

Anna Widegren, Director of the End FGM European Network (End FGM EU), a European umbrella network of 30 organizations working to ensure sustainable European action to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) speaks to Youth Time and shares crucial hands-on-experience on the topic.

Widegren shares with us that FGM exists in over 90 countries worldwide, and that, as she elaborates, it is an issue that doesn’t only stay within borders but crosses continents too.

To give us a better understanding of the issue, Widegren also explains that any type of FGM violates human rights under international human rights law.

“It violates the right to be free from gender discrimination, as FGM is a manifestation of gender inequality and the control of women’s bodies,” she adds.

It violates the right to the highest attainable standard of health because FGM has severe health consequences, and the End FGM EU is constantly working to fight it.

In 2021 it launched the FGM in Europe online interactive map, the first-ever Interactive Map on FGM Laws, Policies, and Data in Europe, that Widegren speaks more about throughout the piece.

 

The FGM in Europe Online Interactive Map
The FGM in Europe Online Interactive Map

The Urgency of More Funding to Address FGM

This year’s theme of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation highlights the importance of accelerated and increased investment in women and girls as the key to the elimination of FGM.

On this note, Widegren stresses the need for holistic care for survivors to be accessible, inclusive, and free of charge, including for undocumented migrants.

“Indeed, upon entering the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, if we truly want to leave no one behind and realize target 5.3 to eliminate all harmful practices including FGM, we cannot lose time and must urgently scale up investments.”

End FGM EU’s research on support services has unveiled a detrimental lack of funds to provide FGM Survivors with the medical, psychological, and social care they need.

“We also urgently call for more funding to support community-based initiatives addressing FGM on the ground. Community members are key to uprooting the practice in a sustainable way. At the end of last year, we published our community voices portraits which were the result of interviews we conducted with community-based anti-FGM activists. One of the needs that they have consistently pointed out was the lack of accessible funding opportunities for their work.”

“This includes youth-led community-based activism, which is critical to promote social change and challenge generational belief systems that continue to maintain this practice.”

Programs targeting legislative, regulatory and policy change are missing, and where they do exist, they are severely underfunded, she further emphasizes.

“To effectively fight FGM, we do need programs and actors that work on the grassroots level together with the advancement of research, as well as advocacy actions aiming at changing policies and legislation. If we neglect one or the other, we won’t achieve the end goal.”

The UNFPA estimates the amount needed between 2020 and 2030 to end FGM in 31 countries alone is $2.4 billion.

“However, the current amount for development help that has been allocated for this same period to end FGM in those countries stands only at $257 million.”

She points out that action is needed now.

On this, she does not let the role of youth go unnoticed.

“We know that young people are engaged, interested, and invested in their future. Our message to them is that if you want to support us you can get involved by advocating for more funding by raising awareness of the practice itself. We cannot hope to see a sustainable future without viewing young people as equal partners in its creation. Therefore, let’s forge ahead and raise our voices to raise awareness together.“

 

FGM EU Co President Hayat Traspas with our Good Practice Poster in Madrid
FGM EU Co-President, Hayat Traspas, with the Good Practice Poster in Madrid

Covid-19 Exacerbating the Situation

In our previous interview, we also talked about the COVID-19 and how it had detrimental consequences for women and girls at risk of FGM and its survivors.

Let’s see what has changed a year later.

“Sadly, after two years of the pandemic, we are still predicting a negative effect on the prevention of FGM with an estimated two million additional FGM cases over the next decade that would otherwise have been averted.”

“The pandemic also demonstrated that any country can quickly fall into a state of emergency, even those not typically used to such scenarios. Tragically, in situations of emergency FGM is still considered a secondary issue, since working towards abandoning the practice and supporting survivors requires long-term processes which include awareness-raising, behavioral change, prevention, and care, which do not fit in the rapid response strategy shaping the work in emergency settings.”

According to a report which End FGM European Network together with AIDOS and GAMS published in November 2020 on ‘Preventing and responding to Female Genital Mutilation in Emergency and Humanitarian Contexts’ the 15 countries with the highest FGM rate include nine countries suffering from humanitarian crises and/or defined as ‘fragile contexts’.

“This situation has been further exacerbated by Covid-19,” Widegren adds.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, she is happy to share that they have achieved even more successes than they could have wished for thanks to the hard work, flexibility, and creativity of the people behind their network.

“We want to celebrate the hard work which has made it possible to continue fighting FGM despite such difficult circumstances, so have dedicated our 2022 annual campaign to our Members and Ambassadors and every individual involved in our movement to end FGM. This year, we will have a look at what happens #BehindEndingFGM.

The FGM in Europe Online Interactive Map

In addition, in 2021, End FGM EU launched the FGM in Europe online interactive map.

This interactive map includes all the information they have gathered on laws, policies, services, and data collection on FGM in 14 European countries where End FGM EU has members.

“The sector overall is facing the challenge of a lack of research and, in particular, data (disaggregated data, meaning that the data is broken down according to relevant factors such as gender, race, age, etc.).”

Without this, she adds, it is hard to find evidence-based targeted interventions.

“Therefore, we need to scale up efforts within this area as well as systematically collect data and ensure that national information always includes disaggregated data on FGM.”

“There is no centralized place where one can go to find out what exists in various countries (often not even at the national level) in terms of policies/services, etc. It is difficult to access a lot of the information and know where to look.”

End FGM EU hopes this map will serve not only as a source of information but also as a source of inspiration to do better and continue to improve their work to end FGM and support its survivors.

To continue their efforts towards inspiring positive change, the Network also derived another resource from this map.

“Our Good Practices Poster showcases 10 promising examples that different countries in Europe have introduced to advance the movement to stop FGM across the continent. We shared the poster with policy and decision-makers in an effort to advocate for these practices which are beneficial towards ending FGM in Europe.”

End FGM EU encourages mutual learning and cooperation to end FGM for everyone in Europe and beyond, and you can start by staying updated on their great initiatives by following them on their social media channels:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

#Act2EndFGM #zerotoleranceday #IntlDayofZeroTolerance4FGM

BEHINDENDINGFGM
#BEHINDENDINGFGM

Read another inspiring story here:

Interview with The Ljubljana City of Learning’s Urška Česnik


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