Experts say that while girls are being kept home from school during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) is on the rise.
“FGM is normally carried out in the school holiday period… but now while girls are forced to stay at home, more are going through the horror of FGM. It is seen as ample time for girls to heal… the economic turndown has also motivated the cutters to resort to the harmful livelihood option,” said Sadia Allin, a survivor of FGM and Plan International’s Head of Mission in Somalia.
FGM is a specific form of violence against women and girls, involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs under the belief that it suppresses sexual desires.
More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been scarred by this horrific human rights violation, which can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, complications in childbirth, increased risk of newborn deaths, not to mention lifelong pain and emotional trauma.
The United Nations Population Fund has predicted that over the next decade, the pandemic will result in two million more cases of FGM than would otherwise have occurred.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that 53,000 girls and women born elsewhere but now living in Australia have undergone FGM. African-Australian anti-FGM advocate and FGM survivor, Khadija Gbla, estimates 11 girls a day are at risk in Australia, despite the practice being illegal throughout the country.
Gbla says there’s a hesitancy in Australia to address and educate about FGM due to the misguided concern that this will come across as racist, or the assumption that it’s a cultural practice.
It is critical that such concerns are overcome in order to protect the rights and health of women and girls. Culture does not negate human rights or justify violence and there is nothing racist about that.