Ending FGM: it begins with young people

Petrider is a founding member of Youth For Change Tanzania, and sits on the Youth Advisory Panels of DFID and UNFPA Tanzania. Drawing on her personal experience, she explains how young people in Tanzania are fighting to end FGM…

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in its various forms has been practiced in every continent on earth. At the moment FGM is most prevalent in African – but the custom can also still be found in parts of Asia and the Arab world. Although it’s commonly viewed as an “African problem”, FGM was also practiced in United States and England during the 1940’s to treat hysteria, lesbianism and female deviance.

Girls between one month to 18 years are the most affected by FGM, and the practice is mostly rooted in ritual and tradition. Young girls have no power to reject this, since it’s mostly influenced by their parents and guardians.

What's behind the practice of FGM?

Youth For Change Tanzania conducting outreach in Mara, tanzania

Youth For Change Tanzania conducting outreach in Mara, tanzania

In the case of Tanzania, the practice of FGM is part of traditions inherited from ancestors – it’d intended to win respect and make women more faithful in their marriage, reduce ones sexual desires, as a treatment of the disease ‘’Lawalawa’’ a condition which is perceived to be curable only by FGM.

In many communities, women and girls who have not undergone FGM are seen as uncivilized, not mature, as traitors to traditional values and as dirty people. These perceptions are particularly held by their fellow womenand girls who have already undergone FGM .

FGM is also an prerequisite of marriage, as uncircumcised girls are seen as minors - circumcised girls normally attract a more handsome dowry than uncircumcised.

How can youth lead the fight against FGM?

Young people must be at the center of the fight against FGM - and they can do so in many ways. First of all, change can begin at home. Youth can educate the community - parents, guardians, local leaders - to challenge and change the attitudes behind harmful traditional practices.

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This can go side-by-side with young people influencing government leaders to work towards an end to FGM. Through advocacy work they can help to foster dialogue between decision makers on the practice of FGM.

Youth For Change Tanzania is a youth-led movement of young activists fighting to end child and early forced marriage and FGM. We’ve worked in rural communities and urban areas crossing over six regions with high prevalence rates of child marriage and FGM. We’ve worked together with religious leaders, police, Ngaribas (FGM practitioners), and policy makers to showcase how these practices affect young girls’ welfare.

We’ve also consistently engaged with government officials, held public local debates and attended international forums with other young people in coalition to increase the capacity for youth to collectively end FGM.

Young survivors of FGM can be role models of change, and can work together with youth who fight for girls rights.

Young survivors of FGM can be role models of change, and can work together with youth who fight for girls rights. Together, we can form coalitions to advocate for an end to such harmful practices done to fellow girls.

Young people can also take steps to report on the acts of FGM to the respective institutions working with policy makers and law enforcement at all levels. Young people can also work through religious proceedings, and use use this platform to strategize on how elders can be bought on-side in the fight to end FGM.

Why is Zero FGM vital?

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Zero FGM is vital since the act of FGM is a violation of human rights and is fundamentally discriminatory towards women & girls. It contributes to the lowering of women & girls self- esteem, and also increases the spread of transmissible diseases such as AIDS due to sharing of instruments.

Having a community with Zero FGM will help to improve a women & girls health, can reduce the risk of girls being married off at a young age, and will also reduce birth complications and improve maternal health.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Goal 5 Target 5.3 aims to end all forms of violence including child & early forced marriage and FGM. The international community has committed to this goal – but young people can and must lead the fight for a world with zero FGM.

This blog is part of our #WhyZeroFGM series marking Zero Tolerance to FGM Day.