How to act on the economic level?
In order to act on economic factors, FGM must no longer be considered as a criterion of eligibility for marriage, and marriage must no longer be seen as necessary to ensure the material survival and social acceptance of women. As a result, it is necessary to change the consciousness, material conditions and decision-making possibilities of women (Meditarranean Institute of Gender Studies, 2015). Part of this involves empowering women through better education and improved employment opportunities. In this way, their survival is ensured even without marriage, and economic dependence is reduced (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2015).
According to the WHO, economic empowerment programs have a positive impact on the fight against FGM since they “can encourage women to modify the traditional behavioral patterns which bind them as dependent members of the household, or allow them to gain some freedom from traditional access to economic benefits and the power associated with them. Paid employment allows women to gain greater autonomy in various areas of their lives, influencing their reproductive and sexual health choices, their education and their health behavior.”
What concrete actions must be taken
Implement economic empowerment programs through education and employment:
- Influence gender relations and allow women to exercise their rights: through human rights education, the implementation of discussions promoting the human rights of girls and women; differences in treatment by gender; gender roles.
- Provide women with opportunities to abandon the practice: provide them with the means to support themselves, independently of whether they’re married or not, through management, leadership and decision-making training (Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, 2015).
Promote the education of girls and women
If action on education is to be taken, it is not enough to educate the women of a single village, it is necessary to improve education more generally at the community or country level. Indeed, if a woman is better educated, but her entourage is not, she will nonetheless have to comply with community social norms requiring the practice of FGM. The effect of the programmes can be seen a generation later
Act locally, but also nationally
The most effective action is on the national level: national action policies will have the broadest and deepest impacts (UN Women, 2016).
Take into account the realities and contexts specific to each community when implementing projects
A specific project carried out in one village will not necessarily work in another village, or another country
Integrate actions to fight FGM into broader programs (mainstreaming)
The affected communities often have other priorities than the end of FGM, such as food, access to education, access to health care, water and sanitation. Integrating the fight against FGM into wider programs would improve community ownership of the projects and the actions would be better received by the affected communities because, in addition to fighting against FGM, the programs would meet their basic needs (Meditarranean Institute of Gender Studies, 2015). (See also the thematic note of the CoP-FGM about Mainstreaming FGM (UN Women Egypt, 2019))
Take action to ensure that FGM is no longer considered a criterion for eligibility for marriage
In order for a new social norm to be implemented, the decision must be collective, explicit, and widespread within the community. This new social norm will allow girls to marry even if they are not cut, and it will guarantee the status and honor of families that are not cut (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2019).
Allocate resources to prevent and manage FGM
Attention should be paid to the economic resources allocated to both the prevention and the fight against FGM as well as to the expenditure currently devoted to supporting the impacted women, including medical or psychological care. In this sense, exploring the question of the budget allocated to the fight against FGM by various governments and the existence or not of a specific budget line for FGM can help identify their contribution and effectiveness in the fight against the practice.
UNFPA recommends, for example, the existence of a specific budget line to adequately fight against FGM and points out the difficulties of governments in the event of insufficient allocation and availability of economic resources (OMS, 2008).
Economic empowerment programmes
The Jesuit-Brother Development Association in Minya is working to empower women in several areas ranging from education to health and, of course, economics. “Empowering women and girls through the development of their skills and resources is the key to breaking the cycle of violence” says Magdy Nosshy, the association’s field coordinator (Les discussions de la CoP-MGF, 2020)
Al-Reyada Association based in Alexandria is specifically dedicated to the economic empowerment of groups, through partnerships with both governmental and non-governmental organizations and support women who are victims of violence. The association aims to create a safe and reassuring environment for women, allowing them to ask for help if they need it but also to fully develop their skills. (Les discussions de la CoP-MGF, 2020)
The Maasai Women’s Development Organization (MWEDO) participates in the fight for the abandonment of FGM within the Maasai community in Tanzania by promoting economic emancipation and the empowerment of women. The organization provides training for women on entrepreneurship, setting up a business, property rights. “The trainings give our women the confidence to come out of their boma (house) and earn a living like men” says Mama Nalepo (Finke E., 2006).
In Sierra Leone, for the traditional leaders performing FGM (the soweis), the practice is an important source of income and a way to obtain an elevated status in the community. According to Mabinty Kamara, a sowei for 30 years, “We do it not out of love, but out of custom, ignorance and poverty”. According to Fatmata Koroma, a former sowei, to achieve the goal of ending FGM, it is necessary “to create means of survival for those who consider the initiation as employment” for example by promoting women’s inclusion in agriculture. She concludes stating that “to end FGM, women need to be empowered economically”. (Gruenbaum E., 2001)
In Somaliland, the International Solidarity Foundation works with rural and/or internally displaced populations and integrates FGM prevention activities into their economic empowerment projects. Engaging communities in the prevention of FGM through income-generating activities helps the ISF and its local partners to establish their legitimacy and build a relationship of trust. In the longer term, this mainstreaming approach is able to address one of the root causes of the continuation of FGM: the socio-economic subordination of women and their dependence on marriage for their social security and status. More details on ISF’s approach are available on the FGM-CoP website in the summary of the discussion on mainstreaming FGM. (UN Women Egypt, 2019
“The Community of Practice on Female Genital Mutilation” is part of the “Building Bridges between Africa and Europe to tackle FGM” project, supported by the “UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM”.
The project is coordinated by AIDOS in partnership with GAMS Belgium.
The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UNFPA, UNICEF or any other agency or organization.
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