FGM is about gender – it’s also a “men’s issue”
Female Genital Mutilation is a gendered harmful practice, a type of gender-based violence (GBV) and one of many expressions of power and control over girls’ and women’s bodies and their sexuality. It is “rooted in unequal power relations between men and women that are embedded in a system that sustains itself through discriminatory gender stereotypes and norms, and unequal access to and control over resources”. (UNICEF, 2020)
While practiced on women and girls, FGM is not only about women, it’s about gender roles, norms and inequality.
In this section we will give a few examples of how FGM relates to gender and how men have power over whether or not FGM continues.
Men have power
In patriarchal societies men have power over norms and practices. As fathers, husbands, religious- political- or cultural leaders, men can have a direct influence on whether FGM is seen as a necessary and traditional pratice for girls or instead a human rights violation.
As fathers and as husbands, men can choose whether to openly push for the practice, to silently consent to it or openly take a stand and work to end it. Men can ask for a woman to be cut before agreeing to marry her, or for a wife to undergo a second FGM if he deems the first not done as he deems it should. A future husband can, on the contrary, decide to marry a woman who has not undergone FGM. A husband can support the practice being performed on his daughters or can instead protect her, including when female relatives push for it being performed.
In 2021, an Ugandan newspaper reported of two men being arrested for forcing their wives to undergo the FGM, despite the practice being outlawed in the country.
As men constitute the majority of community leaders in many societies, men have a central role to play in maintaining or abandoning FGM. Examples exist of men in religious spaces who have used their influence in society to maintain the practice over the years or instead have spoken publicly against the practice. This is of great importance in communities, such as for example the Gambia or Somalia, where religion is an important justification of the practice of FGM. (UNFPA The Gambia, 2017) The same goes for men in political spaces who may choose to support FGM, avoid the issue or instead work actively towards its abolition.
As persons with power in their communities, men have an important role to play in pushing for the continuation or discontinuation of FGM.
FGM is linked to marriageability
In many communities, marriage is a matter of economic security and social inclusion for girls. This is especially true when families are poor and girls’ possibilities are limited. As a result, parents may have their daughters undergo FGM, even when they are aware of the health consequences, as they may consider that the gains (economic security and social inclusion) outweigh the loss (health consequences). In such communities parents cannot decide to stop the practice without compromising their daughter’s marriage prospects. Everyone in the community must agree to stop the mutilation and to change the social norms around the practice. (UNICEF, 2020)
Men in the Maasai Community in Kenya, for example, are not allowed to marry uncut women as they are not allowed to join important cultural celebrations and children born out of relations with an uncut woman are considered illegitimate. (Batha, E. 2018),
A systematic review of research addressing the role of men in abandonment of female genital mutilation (BMC Public Health, 2015), showed that in many African communities, FGM was deemed important for good marriage opportunities for girls, and to ensure fidelity in marriage and that FGM helped men maintain polygamy in some communities. According to one study quoted, fathers in Egypt thought that uncut girls were promiscuous.
In these communities, boys and men have a role to play in showing that they accept to marry uncut women.
- How is FGM linked to ideas about marriageability, honor and respect for women or girls in your community?
- What role do men play to perpetuate these ideas and how can they contribute to change them?
FGM can affect men
Some studies have explored how FGM affects men. Almroth and Amroth-Berggren at al. (2001) explored complications and attitudes with regard to FGM in a community in Sudan. They found that male complications resulting from FGM were reported by a majority of the 59 men interviewed and included difficulty during penetrative sex, wounds/infections on the penis and psychological problems. A majority of the younger men who participated said that they would have preferred to marry a woman without FGM.
If men are also negatively affected by FGM then they have incentive to help put an end to the practice.
- Do you know of studies that explore the impact of FGM on men in your community?
- How can this type of data be used to further advance FGM prevention?
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