Lessons learnt from the discussion
What to take from our member’s contributions?
The main ideas emitted by the members during the discussion on Cross-border FGMs:
- Reconsider and question the notion of border. Several members emphasized that many borders in Africa are “artificial”, divisions inherited from colonization, which helps explain why the practice is conducted across borders.
- Begin thinking in terms of communities who live and share cultures and traditions which go beyond borders. People crossing borders do not perceive themselves as “foreigners” in the country they visit. Thus, increased cooperation and collaboration is needed between countries who house the same communities.
- Introducing border controls is not seen as an efficient or ethical solution to fight Cross-border FGM.
- Consider law enforcement and the efficiency of controls rather than the existence or not of legislation.
- Do not forget diasporas and migration flows which make the notion of borders less relevant in terms of FGM as some communities practice it in their host country where it is illegal.
- Acknowledge and support local activists in communities, especially in countries where activists are strongly repressed.
A common issue raised by the members during the discussion was that the enforcement of laws in various countries has pushed the practice of FGM underground in several communities. Members showed that the prevalence rate of Cross-Border FGM was higher in communities where the same people sharing the same culture lived across country borders. Cross-Border FGM is most likely to happen in countries with no or fragile Anti-FGM laws as people travel into communities where they can escape prosecution.
According to the three experts – Felister Gitonga, Josephine Wouango and Natalie Robie, there are two main factors that increase cross-border FGMs’:
- The presence of a same community but also of a family and/or home on both sides of a border
- Differences in legislation, law enforcement and controls between neighboring countries
How to tackle this phenomenon?
In order to fight against this phenomenon, the main advice of the three experts was to put in place better collaboration and cooperation between authorities and community-based organizations, integrating members of the community. They stressed that End-FGM strategies must be adapted to each specific context and composed of a combination of approaches and actors.
When members were asked whether identifying people at the border who travel to practice FGM is the solution to eradicating Cross-Border FGM, most members disagreed. Instead, they argued, authorities and activists need to employ other measures to tackle the issue.
“Will we not create a sentiment of ‘ infantilization” when we question people on their reasons for traveling inside their own countries?
Shouldn’t we better believe in the capacity of people to self assert, through reinforcing their capacity to make decisions – Or count on controls (and fear) of the people who have the right to travel freely?” Social worker, GAMS Belgium.
“People who cross a border do not feel like foreigners on the other side, they go to see their parents, their family that live in ”the other country’. This person will not say that she is going to undertake a practice that is illegal in her/his country, they go because it is a practice prepared by their community [on the other side of the border].” Educator, Senegal
“I think it’s very vital and important to do a screening of the young girls crossing into the ‘red zone’…the security personnel should cross examine the girls and the guardians who are crossing the borders to find out why and to what purpose …” Activist, Kenya
Members stressed both the need for community education and of working towards girls’ and women’s empowerment:
“We must make sure that girls are able to go to school so that they may make informed decisions on their own, and we must educate girls and women on FGM through the introduction of age-appropriate topics in learning institutions. Economic empowerment of women is key to enable them to be independent and not rely on men or traditional beliefs for their livelihood.” Joycelyn Mwangi, from the Gender Rights Network, Kenya
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