The use of shocking images in the fight against FGM

Is the use of shocking images a tool to strengthen the fight against FGM or does it just create further harm?

Around the world, institutions and grassroot organisations use varying strategies and approaches to better communicate about FGM and support their stance to end the practice. As part of our discussion on Media & FGM, Valentina of AIDOS – an Italian organisation working with migrant communities in Europe and African organisations – raised the question of using shocking images when raising awareness on FGM.

A shocking image is a representation of FGM signifiers like knives, blades, blood, real-life/staged images of girls/women undergoing FGM or consequences of the practice. The use of these images is to create a strong reaction so that people understand the gravity of the practice and decide to stop it.

Organisations have different views on the use of these images to support their campaign. Depending on the target audience, objective and strategic approach, we have seen organisations uphold the “do no harm principle” and have chosen to not use shocking images in their campaigns. On the contrary, we have equally seen organisations that continue to use shocking images in their campaigns and have recorded great impact over the years.

As part of the discussion, members of the CoP FGM shared their viewpoints on the use of shocking images and additional resources to enrich the fight against FGM. Here, we have gathered the perspectives, thoughts and examples from the members and organisations on the subject.

Arguments against using shocking images

For organisation’s like AIDOS, who have chosen to not use shocking images in their campaigns and work against FGM, the primary goal is to prioritise protection and ensure no further is inflicted. According to Valentina, “using shocking images in Europe is counterproductive because it can fuel further discrimination and racism towards migrant communities. We also believe that using shocking images within affected communities is dangerous because it can trigger post-traumatic stress in survivors and harm viewers in general.” 

Like AIDOS, Sahiyo does not use shocking images in their campaign. In addition to the reason shared by Valentina, Mariya Taher, Co-founder and Executive Director of Sahiyo shared “We have also found that in work with the Bohra community, it can serve to deter conversations on FGC and therefore stop dialogue more than help.” Sahiyo has further developed a resource guide on how to promote sensitivity and effectiveness and depict FGM based on their experience working with the Dawoodi Bohra community.

A Sex Therapist, Psychotherapist and member of the CoP FGM shared her clinical experience working with children and young people who have experienced a situation of sexual violence because they have been exposed to shocking images. She shared “I believe that if people who have experienced excision are exposed to shocking images related to the practice, this could lead to a revival of symptoms (the impression of continually reliving the event) or difficulties in connection with the event. I, therefore, remain convinced that exposure to this type of image should be avoided. Likewise, I think that people who would not have experienced excision could also develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress (for example intrusive images or thoughts (flashback), hypervigilance, insomnia, etc.).”

Arguments for using shocking images

The Global Media Campaign to End FGM through the activists and community leaders they work with, shocking images of FGM is a tool used in initial meetings to convince and persuade influential men to speak up against the practice in Media. A member of the Global Media Campaign to End FGM shared “showing the images to adult males, activists have persuaded many of them to become public champions on local media ending FGM.” This video (Viewer discretion is advised) shows how the Global Media Campaign to End FGM uses shocking images in their interventions to persuade religious and community leaders to speak up about FGM.

A Global Media Campaign to End FGM activist in Mali shared “It is thanks to the projection of shocking images that I managed to convince the Mayor of the rural municipality of Pelengana to accompany me on the radio for my broadcasts.”

In Ivory Coast, in the regions of Tchologo, Hambol, Bounkani and Gontougo, a member of the CoP FGM shared how the use of shocking images has supported her campaign and created a positive ripple effect. She shared “when setting up watch committees in said regions, I used strong images to train and convey the message on the dangers of excision. The members of the watch committees joined and in less than a month of activities, they managed to sensitize more than 6,373 people through the images.”

According to a member of the CoP FGM and politician engaged for more than 15 years in the fight for the abolition of FGM “I confirm that the use of images, perhaps shocking, but which only show reality, is essential to reveal to some the atrocity of these mutilations, their consequences and their unacceptable nature.”

For one of the CoP FGM members, with the proper psychological preparation with the target audience, a use of shocking images is the most productive as it is the best way to depict the practice.

In Nigeria, Dr Ugwu Christorpher the Executive Director of Society for the Improvement of Rural People (SIRP) shared “There is this case, where 3 fathers were seen crying as they watched the video clip on mutilation of girl child. After watching the video, this father publicly apologized to his little daughter for inflicting such pain on her, whom he professes to love. Publicly, he declared: Never again would l take part nor encourage anybody connected to me to engage in FGM practice.”

The use of shocking images in the work against FGM or otherwise is strongly influenced by demographic, target audience and the goal. It is however important to prepare your audience and obtain public consent if you do decide to use shocking images.

“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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