As we know too well, the COVID-19 pandemic has kept us all indoors for many months now. For some, this has allowed them to learn new skills, find new passions and spend time with loved ones. Sadly, this hasn’t been the case for everyone, with many people spending lockdown in home environments that are unsafe for them. For example, during this time, authorities and charities like Savera UK have seen an increase in the amount of cases of FGM reported. These increases have been reported as a worldwide problem, with the UNFPA estimating an extra 2 million cases of FGM having occurred during the lockdown, that otherwise would not have.
What is FGM?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as ‘cutting’ or ‘female circumcision’, is defined as any procedure that involves the partial or total removal of external parts of the female genitalia, without any medical reason for doing so. This procedure often impacts the future physical and mental health of the FGM survivor.
Why has COVID-19 impacted rates of FGM?
The spread of COVID-19 has forced countries into lockdown restrictions and seen schools closing globally, which has caused an increase in the reported cases of human rights abuses. Going into lockdown has meant that girls have stayed at home rather than going to school or college, and therefore have been more vulnerable to FGM. Without going to school or non-essential hospital appointments, there is less chance of anyone outside of the family who will recognise the signs of trauma or that the cutting has taken place. Additionally, the closure of schools means that ‘cutting season’ is prolonged.
Although in some parts of Africa FGM has been outlawed, it has begun to carry it out again because, during this difficult time, it is seen as a way to ‘obtain income’. This is because some believe that females must have the procedure in order for them to get married. Families are more likely to marry off a daughter in difficult times.
Where does FGM take place and who does it affect?
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been very little acknowledgment of how it is specifically affecting FGM.
The majority of reports worldwide are covering COVID-19, leaving little support for the girls who are being forced to undergo this practice in their communities. A report from the Orchid project shows that there is an increase in the cases of FGM in East and West Africa as the new lockdowns are an opportunity to carry out the harmful practice.
Josephine Kulea, who is the founder and executive director of the Samburu’s Girl Foundation, reported that in Kenya, in 3 villages alone, more than 500 girls were subjected to FGM (and child marriage) in the months of March April, May June and July 2020 – when the lockdown was put in place and the rules were strict. According to the Five Foundation, based on reports from activists, between September and mid-October 2020 around 2,800 were subjected to the practice. Since schools began closing in March, cuttings have taken place earlier than expected as the school year usually finishes in November.
In Somalia, circumcisers have been going ‘door to door’ to carry out the procedure within communities, with nurses reporting an increase in parents wanting to get their daughter ‘cut’ while off school during the lockdown.
FGM takes place worldwide and it happens a lot closer to home than you may think. A report in the Liverpool Echo in late 2020 revealed that doctors in the city had found almost 100 new cases of FGM in 2020 alone, with there being 3,005 newly reported FGM cases nationally in the UK during 2020. Sadly, FGM is usually carried out on the youngest girls in communities, with some girls getting cut at only a few months old. This often results in long-lasting mental and physical pain for the victims.
What can be done?
There has been a huge impact on those at risk of FGM but it does not have to be this way. Savera UK Youth is continuing to speak out against FGM for those who cannot and raise awareness of the practice to make sure survivors and vulnerable people get the help and support they need. To help make a change, we think there should be:
- Access to mental health and legal support to help prevent cases of FGM. More effort should be put into ensuring this support is available to those who need it.
- Action should be taken to include FGM in the response plans that have been made for COVID-19. This could include different forms of communication and support delivery, such as online services that would not be affected by COVID-19 restrictions. While creating these plans, it is important to include the opinions of an FGM survivor so they can speak for those at risk and make sure FGM is not overlooked.
What can you do to help?
- Donate to charities that help raise awareness for FGM and support its’ victims, such as Savera UK
- Volunteer with groups to keep the conversation going, help raise awareness of this practice and highlight pathways to help and support
- Write to your local MP encouraging them to raise the issue of the increase of FGM cases in Parliament
- Look out for signs that FGM has happened or is about to. You can learn about the signs here
- You can find more information about FGM, harmful practices, and where to get help and support below
- 0800 107 0726 – Savera UK’s helpline. (9am-5pm from Mondays to Fridays)
- 0800 5999 247 – Karma Nirvana’s free helpline
- 0808 2000 247 – Refuge’s domestic abuse helpline.
Useful Organisations and Websites
Written by Hannah Gloudon and Kusqaum Adam