FGM in Emergency and Humanitarian Contexts

UNICEF estimates that 2 million more girls will undergo FGM by 2030 because of COVID-19 related programme disruption.

In 2018, END FGM EU published a policy briefing on “FGM in Humanitarian Context”. They note that most of the countries with the highest FGM prevalence rates worldwide are also countries suffering from humanitarian crises and defined as “fragile contexts”. In the brief one can find a list of these states by FGM prevalence. (END FGM, 2018)

The Network notes that little research had up until then been done on the impact of humanitarian and emergency situations on FGM. Moreover, “FGM is considered to be a secondary issue in situations of emergency, since working on its abandonment entails a long-term process of awareness-raising, behavioural change and prevention, which does not fit in the rapid response strategy shaping the work in emergency settings.” (END FGM, 2018)  It has also been stressed that very little of global humanitarian funding goes towards GBV services, between 2016 and 2018 this amount was only 0.12% of the funding

From October to November 2020, AIDOS, the End FGM European Network, and GAMS Belgium organised an international virtual stakeholder dialogue on “Preventing and Responding to Female Genital Mutilation in Emergency and Humanitarian Contexts”.

This dialogue was held within the frame of the work of the Community of Practice on FGM. The dialogue gathered stakeholders from the public, private and CSO sector, in Africa, Europe and beyond, and was held in the run up to the Donors Working Group meeting taking place in November 2020.  The results of the working group are presented in a public webinar on November 12th 2020.

Following the presentation to donors, the discussion and knowledge-exchange is further opened up to the whole Community of Practice.

Current understanding of the impact of crisis on FGM

Although research is scarce, END FGM EU (2018) and 28 Too many (2014) listed some of the impacts that humanitarian and crisis contexts can have on FGM:

  • Reinforcement of some traditional harmful practices and other forms of GBV in times of crisis
  • Population displacement can lead to the spread of FGM
  • Humanitarian contexts make prevention of FGM more difficult (including due to logistical issues)
  • Lack of adequate support services in fragile contexts
  • Disruption of girls’ education, leading to an enhanced risk of FGM
  • Being an FGM survivor can enhance negative consequences of rape, which increase in times of crisis

28 Too Many stressed that FGM is seen as a secondary concern in the eyes of the international community in times of crisis when primary needs such as food, water and healthcare is prioritized.

They also stressed that because FGM prevention requires long-term work, working closely and patiently with local communities, emergency situations can lead to the pause of FGM prevention programmes. In Somalia, for example, the unstable situation has lead to difficulties in implementing long-term programmes against FGM with a consistently high prevalence rate just under 100%.

The END FGM EU Network made the following recommendations:

  • Address all forms of GBV in emergencies, not just conflict-related sexual violence, since they are all exacerbated and deeply interconnected;
  • Focus on ensuring comprehensive specialised support for FGM survivors, provided by fully trained professionals;
  • Focus on programmes guaranteeing women’s economic empowerment and education in fragile contexts, which would protect them from undergoing GBV connected to economic hardship and poverty;
  • Anti-FGM programming should be explicitly incorporated into all areas of emergency – preparedness, response and recovery;
  • Include in programmes both host and displaced communities.

Furthermore, in a Policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on FGM, Orchid project (3) also found that rates of FGM have increased across East and West Africa as a result of lockdowns, that there is an urgent lack of FGC integration within COVID-19 response efforts, leaving girls with no recourse to essential prevention, protection and support services, and finally that the space for civil society working on FGM has shrunk and funding decreased.

“Emergency situations and humanitarian crises, including health epidemics, have disproportionate impacts on women and girls and exacerbate these existing structural gender inequalities, which lie at the heart of FGC. Applying a gender-lens to the COVID-19 response is vital in continuing and accelerating work to end FGC, and all forms of gender-based violence, in order to achieve SDG 5 by 2030.” Orchid Project, 2020

28toomany, 2014, THE IMPACT OF EMERGENCY SITUATIONS ON FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION – Briefing Paper. Access here

EndFGM EU Network, 2018, Briefing – FGM in a HUMANITARIAN CONTEXT, Access here

Orchid Project, 2020, Policy briefing: Impacts of COVID-19 on female genital cutting (FGC). Access here

UNFPA and UNICEF, 2020, COVID-19 Disrupting SDG 5.3: Eliminiating Female Genital Mutilation, Access here

« 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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