2 Million Girls Worldwide Are at Risk of Undergoing FGM During Pandemic: UNFPA
Two million girls worldwide who would otherwise be safe have now been estimated to be at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) over the next decade, due to the Covid19 pandemic, according to a United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) report. Describing this finding as a “catastrophe within a catastrophe,” UNFPA’s deputy executive director, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, has said the pandemic will undo the small gains made to end this practice by 2030, a deadline that had been set by the organization.
FGM is the practice of partial or total removal of a woman’s external genitalia, or of injuring the genital organs, not for medical reasons, and is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, the WHO states. The practice poses serious mental and physical health risks for women who undergo it; the immediate consequences after being cut include infections, bleeding, and psychological trauma.
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Campaigners against FGM believe these numbers are going to increase around the world as a result of Covid19 for several reasons. First, being in school is one way girls avoid being cut. But because girls are home from school during lockdown, parents feel they will have enough time to heal from the procedure. “With the schools closed, there’s no alternative – they are left to the mercy of their parents and communities,” anti-FGM campaigner Domtila Chesang, from Kenya’s West Pokot county told The Guardian.
In the face of economic insecurity caused by the pandemic, campaigners say parents are also keen on their daughters being cut immediately to be able to marry them off for financial gains, as FGM is traditionally considered proof of sexual purity and allows families to negotiate better marital arrangements.
Practices like FGM not only have implications on girls’ health, but also drain a country’s vital economic resources. Treating complications such as chronic infections, complications during childbirth, or mental health disorders arising out of FGM, costs $1.4 billion a year according to the UN, a figure that could be saved and utilized for something better if countries joined hands together to end the practice.
But the findings of the report suggest that improvements in this area are a far-fetched dream with the pandemic only set to make it worse. “Under the guise of coronavirus, a lot of abuses against women are taking place, whether it’s FGM or domestic violence at home,” said Reem Abdellatif, an Egyptian-American anti-FGM activist and journalist to The Guardian. “And Covid-19 has allowed FGM to take place without anyone watching at all.”