Amref Health Africa and the Fight Against Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises of procedures that involve the partial or total removal of female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural reasons and other non-medical reasons. FGM must be thought of as a sensitive practice that is embedded within complex sociocultural systems dating back over 2000 years.
It is estimated that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation. FGM and other forms has been documented in 30 countries, primarily in Africa, Middle East, South America and Asia. These procedures can result in death, Infertility, infibulations, defibulation, overwhelming infections and trauma.
Despite FGM being outlawed by most countries and the United Nations General Assembly adoption of a worldwide ban of FGM, FGM is still practiced in various communities across different continents.
Traditionally, ethnic communities state that FGM was practiced for the preservation of the cultural identity of the group, to mark women different social status, for the preservation of women’s chastity and marriageability, for hygiene and beauty, for the promotion of fertility and to promote the community’s religious identity.
This interview was conducted between The Thinking Watermill Society and Guglielmo Micucci the Executive Director of Amref Health Africa-Italia , an organization that has made significant progress on the fight Against FGM in Africa.
Amref Health Africa is the largest African Health organization operating on the African continent. Amref operates in 35 countries south of the Sahara with over 160 health promotion projects primarily focused in nomadic and rural populations in extremely isolated and rural areas.
Their mission is the protection of mothers and children, the fight against endemic diseases and pandemics, access to clean water, the training of local health workers and the strengthening of public health services.
Read the interview here…
- Why did Amref Health Africa choose to take part in the fight against FGM, what prompted your interest in the societal issue and your choice of countries to implement your various projects?
Amref Health Africa is the leading African health organization, founded in 1957 in Kenya. Today, Amref works with the most vulnerable communities in more than 30 African countries, promoting health programmes in the most remote areas of the continent.
Amref has chosen to work on FGM as this harmful practice is, at the same time, a violation of the human rights of girls and women, a severe form of gender based violence, an issue of sexual and reproductive health and right, and it also violates the rights to health, security and physical integrity of the person and the right to life when the procedure results in death. Therefore FGM falls within Amref’s mission. Amref’s comparative advantage lays in its experience of leading community-based initiatives on sexual reproductive health and rights, gender based violence amongst the underserved communities, with a rights based approach.
Amref has been working with communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Senegal and Malawi for several years to fight FGM. Amref has developed a model and in many communities has replaced FGM with Alternative Rites of Passage, sensitizing the communities, making them protagonists of their own change and working in close partnership with the relevant governments and Ministries. Amref promotes an integrated approach in the fight against FGM focusing on the whole ecosystem in which this practice thrives, promoting a prevention approach that considers the legal context, community systems, education, health systems, data and research. In Italy,
- Amref Health Africa-Italia has recently launched a project in collaboration with ASL Roma1/Samifo, the Regional Reference Center for the Contrast against Female Genital Mutilationand and San Camillo-Forlaini Hospital what will be the aims of this project and how will the project be conducted?
The project intends to prevent and fight the practice of FGM in the city of Rome by strengthening the response of social and health services for women coming from countries with high FGM prevalence, empowering migrant communities involved and raising awareness on the topic with communication, advocacy and information activities. The project, in close collaboration with Italian Health System, promotes the exchange of experiences and best practices between Africa and Italy being aware that the proven experience and expertise of Amref in Africa on this issue can benefit the most recent Italian (and European) need to address this violation of human rights
The project intends therefore to create bridges between complementary competences in Africa and in Italy, to offer appropriate responses to a phenomenon that – accompanying the growing international migrations – has to be faced in an increasingly structured way in Italy and Europe in the coming years
- In the fight against FGM organisations with European origins have been lauded as interfering with African culture and wanting to erase African cultural traditions. Can you speak as to why you believe Amref Health Africa’s approach is different, specifically your Alternative Rites of Passage as well as Good African Practices initiatives?
Amref Health Africa is the leading African health organization, founded in 1957 in Kenya. It is truly African by its origin and current approaches. In order to eradicate FGM, Amref Health Africa believes that it’s pivotal to focus on the entire ecosystem in which FGM thrives. This means understanding and respecting the traditional values that communities attach to FGM.
From our experience of partnering with communities, Amref Health Africa has learned that combating FGM is complex and multifaceted. Legislation against FGM is not enough to establish the needed change in behaviour, beliefs and attitudes. Our approach, therefore, is founded on the understanding that lasting and sustainable change in the eradication of FGM must first and foremost come from and be led by the communities themselves.
We believe in patiently and respectfully engaging and partnering with communities to change these harmful cultural norms. This is a slow and challenging process, but any anti-FGM program must be community-owned and multi-sectoral in nature.
Successful best practices and models in Africa can be relevant for the new needs in Italy and Europe, and our African approach is very well welcomed.
- What challenges did your organisation face when trying to break the societal perceptions of Female Genital Mutilation as a rite of passage? This also includes hurdles such as the stigma faced by some girls who do not take part in FGM in communities where FGM is still practiced despite there been various initiatives against it.
Amref works to strengthen capacity, skills and knowledge of local communities and civil society to foster SRH rights of girls and women. Amref empowers women and girls, men and boys as a key action to break the cycle of discrimination and violence and for the promotion and protection of human rights, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Challenges are: decision makers at local community level show resistance to change, awareness raising and sensitization are the most powerful tools to address this obstacles.
- Societal issues affecting women, specifically health and reproductive rights have often been dismissed as women’s affairs with men only taking part in the political angle of these issues. As a man what role would you say men, specifically in the African context play in the fight against FGM?
Amref uses a methodology successfully implemented that ensure high level of male involvement. Men’s engagement programs rated as gender transformative — using messages that challenge existing gender inequality and encourage positive change to traditional gender roles — have higher rates of effectiveness. Gender-transformative approaches are more likely to bring about reductions in men’s support of harmful gender norms and positive changes in related health behaviours and outcomes. They encourage critical awareness of and reflection on gender norms that underpin harmful behaviours and poor outcomes rather than just having the participants focus on health issues in isolation. This methodology ensures a good balance between men’s engagement and men’s decision-making about sexual reproductive health and rights, gender based violence especially FGM.
- What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your organisation’s fight against FGM?
Saving thousands of girls, giving them tools to take decisions on their own, empower them to build the life they want and contribute to global development.