A collaborative effort, led by international children’s organisation Plan International, is underway across west Africa to eliminate this harmful traditional practice performed on girls as young as six.
With many serious health risks, female genital cutting often leaves women fighting for their lives and violates the rights of girls to be protected from harm, yet in many communities it is a cherished tradition, defended by women and men alike.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM is affecting about 140 million girls and women globally and more than three million girls are at risk every year.
In Africa an estimated 92 million girls who are 10 years old and above have undergone FGM and about three million girls on the continent are at risk from FGM annually, the WHO says.
The traditional practice is believed to prepare and cleanse girls for marriage but the practice often causes complications during intercourse and child birth that can lead to death.
The protection of girls from this harmful practice is a cornerstone of Plan’s work in West Africa.
In Mali nearly 86 per cent of girls have undergone some form of FGM.
In Guinea Bissau, this rate exceeds 90 per cent in the Bafata and Gabu districts and nearly 50 per cent nationwide, despite legislation outlawing the practice passed in 2011.
Two laws criminalised the trafficking of children and outlawed the practice of female genital cutting (FGC).
A new programme funded by the European Union and Plan Germany is targeting 80,000 people across 40 communities in Guinea Bissau.
The comprehensive approach includes outreach to religious leaders, community leaders, youth and parents. Crucially, it also focuses on the FGM practitioners actually wielding the knife.
Bobo Siede was a practitioner who performed FGM at ceremonies across Guinea Bissau for more than 20 years. She now works with Plan International to campaign against FGM.
“Women in my family had practiced with the knife for generations and it was a source of pride," she says. "But then I learned of the dangers and now I am 100 per cent against this practice. I only wish I knew then what I know now, I could have spared so many girls.”
Plan’s advocacy and programmes call for the protection and respect for the freedom and the dignity of children and girls, while “ I am a Girl campaign” specifically focuses on helping girls achieve their basic human rights.
On the 10th International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Plan International joins all governments and community leaders throughout west Africa who are working hand in glove to eliminate this harmful traditional practice.