FGM in Emergency and Humanitarian Contexts

Challenges faced by actors during crises


Participants of the stakeholder dialogue on Female Genital Mutilation in humanitarian and crisis contexts identified the challenges they face when implementing FGM prevention and care in such contexts.

Many organizations observed that the work they usually undertake – when there is no crisis – slowed down or was discontinued during a humanitarian situation or other type of crisis. One of the reasons is the lack of funding which is channelled or redirected to more pressing issues. Participants also found that monitoring their work becomes increasingly difficult when operating in an emergency context with institutional and social disruption, poverty, food scarcity and population displacement, and existing partnerships between stakeholders working in the field are difficult to maintain.

Moreover, prolonged crisis situations undermine the possibility of establishing multi-year planning and budgeting, since the immediate needs of the population are the utmost priority. This results in extremely slow progress for the abandonment of FGM in fragile countries suffering from long-term crisis situations.

Somalia has the record for the highest FGM prevalence in the world since 1993. Unfortunately, the practice has not substantially decreased since then, if compared to the pace of FGM abandonment in more stable countries. (28 Too Many, 2014)


Working in development vs humanitarian settings

When a crisis hits in an otherwise stable country, stakeholders working on development and cooperation towards the abandonment of FGM often do not have the means or capacity to work in such contexts, which require alternative planning and response. We have seen this with the disruption of FGM prevention interventions caused worldwide by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of this, two million additional girls may be subjected to FGM. (UNFPA-UNICEF, 2020)

On the other hand, staff working in the humanitarian sector often lack awareness around the importance of preventing FGM and do not prioritise providing specific care to FGM survivors. Humanitarian staff are not always aware that a crisis can potentially increase the practice of FGM. In fact, many consider this issue only in the light of a centuries-long traditional harmful practice, deeply rooted in culture and gendered social norms. The mandate of humanitarian staff covers short term situations and immediate needs while FGM is seen as an issue to be dealt with at later stages when communities have recovered from the crisis. In fact, long-term processes of behavioural change and awareness raising, as well as long-term provision of care, are not perceived as a competence of humanitarian actors, who mainly focus on responding to the immediate needs of the population hit by the crisis through a rapid and time-bound response. Thus, while both the provision for sexual reproductive health services and the prevention of gender-based violence are generally part of the humanitarian response, FGM is often not included.

Stakeholders stressed that within the various clusters, or groups of activities, organised during a humanitarian response, the “protection cluster” and “health cluster” should logically cover FGM. While the “protection cluster” includes gender-based violence (GBV), interventions mostly focus on physical abuse and violence happening at the moment of crisis. Issues such as FGM, requiring long-term social norm change, are generally not included in the “protection cluster”. Likewise, the “health cluster” focuses on life-saving and emergency conditions. Holistic care for FGM survivors is therefore not prioritized.

Yemen has faced one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world for the last ten years. Although child marriage and FGM are a social norm in the country, human rights and women’s rights specifically are considered a secondary priority by governments and donors, directing all resources to the crisis response. Since there is no recent data on FGM (last dating 2013), women’s rights organisations have had to reorient their activities to the humanitarian sector, as their thematic areas are not funded. (Saoussen Ben Cheikh, Internews, during stakeholder dialogue)


Disconnection from local stakeholders and lack of data on FGM

Stakeholders working on FGM prevention and response have repeatedly stressed the importance of working together with affected communities. Unfortunately, the nature of humanitarian response does not often allow actors to properly connect with local stakeholders and communities. This is because humanitarian actors are generally in a specific community for a limited period of time and focus their attention on the emergency response.

Finally, lack of data on FGM is one of the issues stressed by participants of the stakeholder dialogue. General disruption of institutions and services during emergencies, coupled with population displacement, makes it extremely challenging to collect and monitor data in humanitarian contexts, especially on issues such as FGM and other types of GBV. Data collection is particularly complicated when humanitarian actors do not work with local stakeholders. Moreover, governmental health information systems often do not include FGM within their indicators in humanitarian settings. 

The long format of the report on the FGM in humanitarian settings can be found here

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