Governments must provide resources to inform the public and communities which practice FGM about the harmful consequences and potential liability of practicing FGM.
Information should focus on:
Public education programs should be tailored to the needs of immigrant communities which practice FGM, keeping in mind language barriers and immigration concerns. Governments should rely on NGOs, local religious and community leaders, and health care and service providers to collect and disseminate information about the harms and consequences of FGM to the community widely.
Privately owned and community-based media should be encouraged to present information on the harmful consequences of FGM, the right of women and girls to be free from FGM, and the legal consequences of practicing FGM.
Access to Health Education and Services
Health education is a critical strategy for eliminating the practice of FGM. Governments have a duty to ensure health care and specifically to undertake educational efforts at the community level to inform women of the health risks of FGM. Education and treatment should also address the healthcare needs of women and girls who have already been subjected to FGM and are suffering from complications.
The following statute from Italy contains some of these legislative provisions with regard to addressing the practice of FGM in Italy.
Law of Italy, No. 7, 2006, “Provisions Concerning the Prevention and Prohibition of the Practice of Female Genital Mutilation” (unofficial translation):
Article 3: Information Campaigns
1. In order to prevent and combat practices [criminalized under] Article 583-bis of the Penal Code [FGM], the Minister for Equal Opportunity, in agreement with the Ministers of Health, Education, University and Research, Work and Social Policies, Foreign Affairs and Interior and with the Standing Conference on Relations between State, Regions and Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, prepares special programs directed to:
a) develop information campaigns for immigrants from countries where [FGM] is carried out . . . at the time of granting the visa at the Italian consulates and their arrival to the Italian border, directed to increase awareness of the fundamental rights of individuals, in particular women and girls, and the ban in force Italy on the practice of female genital mutilation;
b) Promote awareness-raising, with participation of voluntary organizations, non-profit organizations, healthcare facilities, particularly centers of excellence recognized by the World Health Organization, and with the communities of immigrants from countries where FGM is practiced to develop socio-cultural integration while respecting the fundamental rights of persons, in particular women and girls;
c) Organize informational courses for women [who have been infibulated and are] pregnant, for sound preparation for childbirth;
d) Promote appropriate training programs for teachers in primary schools, including through figures with acknowledged expertise in the field of cultural mediation, for help to prevent female genital mutilation, with the involvement of parents of girls and boys immigrants, and the class to spread knowledge of the rights of women and girls;
e) Promote in healthcare facilities and social services the monitoring of past cases already known and recognized locally.
2. For the implementation of this article spending is authorized [in the amount of] 2 million euros annually from 2005.
Article 4: Training of health personnel
1. The Minister of Health, in consultation with the Ministers of Education, University and Research and for Equal Opportunity and Permanent Conference on Relations Between State, Regions and Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, [shall] issue, within three months of the date of entry into force of this Act, guidelines for health professionals as well as other professionals working with communities of immigrants from countries where [FGM is] carried out . . . to create an activity of prevention, assistance and rehabilitation of women and girls already subjected to [FGM].
2. For the implementation of this article spending is authorized [in the amount of] 2.5 million euros annually from 2005.
EXAMPLE: United States, Minnesota
Minnesota law also contains some of the suggested statutory language for education and outreach.
Minn. Stat. § 144.3872. Female Genital Mutilation; Education and Outreach
The commissioner of health shall carry out appropriate education, prevention, and outreach activities in communities that traditionally practice female circumcision, excision, or infibulation to inform people in those communities about the health risks and emotional trauma inflicted by those practices and to inform them and the medical community of the criminal penalties contained in section 609.2245 [statute criminalizing FGM]. The commissioner shall work with culturally appropriate groups to obtain private funds to help finance these prevention and outreach activities.
The Health Communication Partnership of Maryland, United States, in collaboration with several Nigerian NGOs, designed an FGM awareness project intended to foster public dialogue and encourage abandonment of FGM in three regions of Nigeria. Statewide program activities included radio phone-in programs, newspaper feature articles, and celebration of Zero Tolerance of FGM Day. In addition, in three regions with high prevalence of FGM, program staff met with community leaders and arranged public viewings of “Uncut,” an anti-FGM video, to stimulate community dialogue. In each of these communities, one hamlet was selected for further community mobilization activities, particularly the formation and capacity-building of core groups in each hamlet to address its own health concerns, including FGM-related health problems. Evaluation of the program showed that those who had been exposed to program activities had a better understanding of the harmful effects of FGM. The program also led to a decline in the level of individual approval of FGM and prevalence of the belief that FGM was a religious requirement.
The Awash Female Genitalia Cutting (FGC) Elimination Project began in January 2003 as a follow-up to CARE Awash’s primary health care project in the Afar Region of Ethiopia, an area with a high prevalence of FGM and various health problems and low level of knowledge about disease prevention and family planning. The objectives of the program were to disseminate quality information on FGM elimination, reproductive health and family planning, HIV/AIDS, and primary health care; advocate for the elimination of FGM in any form; and create and strengthen sustainable community-based health systems. To achieve these ends, the project implemented a variety of activities in rural areas, including airing a radio program in the Afar language. Advocacy workshops were also conducted at the regional level to reach people outside the project area.
A program evaluation found that the project had resulted in more open public discussion of the damaging effects of FGM and other harmful traditional practices. Many religious leaders had condemned the practice of FGM and declared it inconsistent with Islamic teachings. The program’s activities had also resulted in higher level of awareness of the negative consequences of FGM as well as other reproductive health issues
TOSTAN, a Senegal-based NGO, implemented a basic education program in the Kolda Region of Senegal, which has a high prevalence of FGM. The program aimed to enable its participants to become self-reliant in finding solutions for themselves, and consisted of four modules: hygiene, problem solving, women’s health, and human rights. A total of 2,339 women and 221 men participated in the program. Two-hour classes on these issues were held three times a week, with one facilitator for every 30 participants. Participants also engaged in community mobilization activities. 300 villages took part in a public declaration to abandon FGM. Traditional and religious leaders and the elected politicians of the area were informed about project activities and facilitators and supervisors were selected from the communities that participate in the program. Evaluation of the program found that among program participants, fewer women believed that FGM was necessary, and fewer women were willing to have their daughters undergo FGM. Even men and women who did not attend the classes became more knowledgeable about the issues discussed as a result of interaction with program participants. Among women directly and indirectly exposed to the program, the prevalence of FGM reported among young daughters declined significantly.