Any attempts or strategies to end female genital mutilation should take into consideration many factors including the one listed below:
An integration issue: Moving to another country can be challenging for families as they try to adjust to a completely different environment and culture, while at the same time trying to preserve essential elements of their own culture. However, continuing the practice of FGM conflicts with fundamental values and is unlawful and severely punished in many countries of destination.
Additionally, the ability of a migrant to integrate into a host society is based on combined mental, physical, cultural and social well-being. FGM and its attendant consequences can impede women’s and girls’ efforts to integrate into the host society, since poor health impacts on their ability to attend and succeed at school and therefore, integrate into the labour market.
Empowering Women: As FGM is a manifestation of gender inequality, a special focus on women’s empowerment in every aspect of their lives is important. Empowering activities for women include, for instance, proper educational sessions such as literacy training, or pre-employment training sessions. Even though women play a central role in the practice of FGM, activities must reach all groups in the communities to avoid misunderstanding and to lead to intragroup dialogue.
Building Bridges across continents: Efforts towards the abandonment of FGM in countries of origin may be challenged by the visits or return of members of the community living abroad, as migrants are often unaware of the evolution of the practice in their countries of origin. Because they were not involved in the consensus-building process that led to the abandonment, they may argue that the tradition should be maintained for the sake of the group’s identity. Since the diaspora greatly contributes to communities’ life in their countries of origin, in particular through remittances transfers, their potential to have a detrimental impact may be very important, an aspect that should not be neglected.
Capacity-building of relevant professionals: Gynaecologists, midwives, paediatricians, psychologists, general practitioners, as well as school nurses, teachers, child care professionals, social workers, police and the justice sector must be involved and trained, through sensitization campaigns and specific trainings, on how to identify girls who may be in danger of being subjected, or who may have been subjected, to FGM and which steps can and must be taken.
Day-care centres, schools, mother and child welfare services have a particular responsibility in identifying children at risk or those who suffer from the consequences of FGM. They can build a privileged relation with the parents.
Remember: FGM is strongly linked to culture; it becomes an integration issue, in addition to being a health and human rights issue. In situations where integration is difficult, it often results in a withdrawal into the community and sometimes stricter application or toughening of cultural practices. In this case, the preservation of ethnic identity is used to mark a distinction from the host society, especially when migrants are resettling in a receiving culture where women have more freedom of choice and expression, including in their sexuality, as compared to their community of origin.
Fighting against FGM in Western countries can also particularly challenging as awareness-raising activities can easily be perceived as judgmental.
We all have a role to play in ending female genital mutilation.