Last year the Department for International Development (DFID) launched a £35 million programme working across 17 countries to support Africa-led movements to end female genital mutilation. This and the UK government's upcoming July event aimed at empowering girls to reject mutilation and forced early marriage are to be applauded.
As ActionAid has pointed out in our #endfgm campaign, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage are very closely linked.
Often girls undergo female genital mutilation as a precursor to early marriage: in many communities, girls are seen as ready for marriage once they are mutilated and drop out of school soon after.
And as the government says, female genital mutilation is also linked to low levels of economic development. Girls who marry young are more likely to be poor and stay poor.
Effectively, female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage reflect deep rooted inequality between men and women and violate the rights of girls and women, whether in the UK or overseas.
A global problem, to which we need a global solution
The mutilation of hundreds of thousands of girls’ bodies is undoubtedly a global problem, to which we need a global solution.
Between 65 and 70 per cent of all women and girls coping with the devastating effects of female genital mutilation live north of the equator in Africa. It is also true that many of the British girls at risk of mutilation will be taken to have it performed in their parents’ countries of origin.
The truth is: we cannot eradicate female genital mutilation in the UK without ending it everywhere else it happens, which is why the UK government’s commitment is crucial, as is DFID’s focus on girls and women under Secretary of State, Justine Greening’s leadership.
It is also why international aid agencies have a key role to play in the fight against female genital mutilation.
ActionAid works in countries where female genital mutilation is rife. That’s why, at the request of local activists, we are educating whole communities about its devastating effects, and seeing real results. We provide direct support to girls escaping mutilation and our education programmes and campaigns reach thousands of survivors, their families and communities, and continue to save lives.
Freedom from violence is a fundamental human right
Our experience shows that if we are to see an end to the mutilation of girls in our lifetime, we must combat female genital mutilation and all other aspects of violence against girls and women wherever it takes place and with every tool at our disposal because freedom from violence is a fundamental human right.
For female genital mutilation, female infanticide, domestic violence and even accusations of witchcraft at the end of life are all part of the spectrum of violence that women face throughout their lives. And every day.
ActionAid has long believed that the denial of basic human rights to women and girls is the common thread that underpins all aspects of poverty.
Supporting improvements in women’s lives – ensuring women’s access to a decent education, better healthcare, economic and social security and most importantly to freedom from violence – is the best way to end poverty for good for everyone.