Female Genital Mutilation in humanitarian and fragile contexts – a neglected issue

Why should we care about Female Genital Mutilation in humanitarian contexts?

Many countries where FGM is practiced are also those that suffer from humanitarian crises or/and are defined as “fragile countries”. Indeed, of the 15 countries with the highest FGM prevalence rate, 9 countries are in this situation.

These situations may include armed conflicts and natural disasters. However, according to the END FGM EU Network (policy briefing on “FGM in Humanitarian Context”, 2018), FGM is often not a priority for donors and policymakers, including those responsible for programming and humanitarian workers involved in fragile contexts.

Little research has been done up until now on the impact of humanitarian and emergency situations on FGM. However, data shows that girls and women, including those affected by FGM, are often disproportionately affected by such crises. Population displacements in times of crisis dramatically increase the vulnerability of women and girls, including increased exposure to GBV including FGM. Emergency contexts also generate additional challenges for organisations to provide long-term care to FGM survivors and implement sustainable prevention activities in the affected areas (including due to logistical issues). Moreover, in fragile contexts there is often a lack of adequate support services, including to FGM survivors, and girls’ education is often disrupted, leading to an enhanced risk of FGM. 

Covid-19 shed light on a neglected issue

In 2020, on top of other ongoing humanitarian crises, most countries in the world faced an emergency situation due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The global nature of the crisis tragically demonstrated that any country can rapidly fall into a state of emergency, including those not typically used to experiencing such situations. In response to the pandemic, governments imposed measures for the general population such as social distancing, limited movements, curfews, school closures – which, on the one hand helped contain the spread of the virus, but on the other, placed girls and women at a higher risk of being subjected to GBV overall, and FGM in particular (see UN Women, 2020). The COVID pandemic shed light on the unpreparedness of anti-FGM actors and stakeholders, mostly unaccustomed to working in crises. As a result, UNICEF estimates that 2 million more girls will undergo FGM by 2030 because of COVID-19 related programme disruption.

Unfortunately, FGM is still considered a secondary issue in situations of emergency, since working on its abandonment and supporting survivors entails a long-term process of awareness-raising, behavioural change, prevention and care, which does not fit in the rapid response strategy shaping the work in emergency settings. 

In terms of humanitarian aid, Gender-based violence (GBV) in general remains a hugely underfunded area in comparison to other sectors, with funding not matching the scale of the problem. In fact, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, GBV funding accounted for merely 0.12% of all humanitarian assistance – representing only one third of funding requests for GBV (International Rescue Committee, 2019). The under-prioritization of FGM in humanitarian/crisis contexts and the already limited GBV funds explain that very little funding is available for FGM prevention and care in these contexts.

A virtual stakeholder dialogue aiming at providing concrete recommendations to donors and key actors

Given the under-prioritization of FGM in humanitarian and crisis contexts, AIDOS, GAMS Belgium and the End FGM European Network decided to organize a stakeholder dialogue on the theme “Preventing and Responding to Female Genital Mutilation in Emergency and Humanitarian Contexts”, within the framework of the Community of Practice on FGM. 

This Virtual stakeholder dialogue was held between October and November 2020 and gathered 76 experts – including grassroots activists, national or international NGOs, UN agencies, researchers and academics – from 44 organisations, in 31 countries and 5 world regions. They gathered online to participate in multiple virtual sessions in the run up to the FGM Donors Working Group meeting on 16-17 November 2020. The explicit aim was to provide a concrete set of recommendations for donors and key actors in the field. These results were presented in a public webinar on November 12th, 2020.

In this section you will find information collected through the stakeholder dialogue, on the challenges faced in preventing and responding to FGM in humanitarian and crisis settings, as well as on the good practices identified and recommended solutions. 

You can also download the report of the stakeholder dialogue here 

UNFPA and UNICEF, 2020, COVID-19 Disrupting SDG 5.3: Eliminating Female Genital

« 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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