On December 20, 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in which it “Calls upon States, the United Nations system, civil society and all stakeholders to continue to observe 6 February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and to use the day to enhance awareness-raising campaigns and to take concrete actions against female genital mutilations.” (1)
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.
A global & traumatizing phenomenon
Every 11 seconds, a girl is being mutilated through the so-called ritual of female genital cutting. 8,000 little girls share this fate every day. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are some 150 million mutilated women and girls worldwide. FGM does not only occur in the countries of Africa, but also where it is actually banned.
Although primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, FGM is a universal problem and is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America. FGM continues to persist amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that over 600,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM in Europe and that a further 180,000 girls and women are at risk of undergoing the harmful practice in 13 European countries. Even in Germany, alone, live about 50,000 victims of female genital mutilation!
Moreover, UNHCR estimates that every year for the past five years at least 20,000 women and girls, as asylum seekers coming to Europe, might be affected by FGM.
The women are deeply traumatized. The horrors they went through have a lasting impact on the rest of their lives. Inflammations in the genital area, incontinence, fistula problems, the resulting societal isolation, an unbearable feeling of shame, and even death are most often the consequences.
“I was only 10 or 11 years old, when my father decided to circumcise me”, shared Purity Soinato Oiyie, a women’s right activist. “I was to become the fifth wife to a 70-year-old man. I talked to my class teacher and she informed the police chief. Just two hours before the cutting ceremony, the police came and took me away,” she recalls. Oiyie was the first girl in her village to say no to FGM.
In the eight years that followed, Oiyie lived in a rescue center in Narok, Kenya, far from all that was familiar. “The hardest thing for me was leaving home, leaving my family. I couldn’t sleep…I would wake up in the middle of the night and think, should I go back and get FGM?” she says.
For Oiyie and thousands of girls with similar stories, her escape impacted her family dynamics, and the consequences weighed heavy on her shoulders. “My father started beating my mother at home, blaming her for my escape. But my mother didn’t want me to go back and get circumcised. I stayed in the rescue centre and finished school.” (2)
Desert Flower Center – Waldfriede Hospital
Globally, there are numerous organizations and associations that fight against this phenomenon. In Europe, there is, in particular, the End FGM European Network - a European umbrella network of 30 organizations working to ensure sustainable European action to end female genital mutilation.
The End FGM EU is based in 14 European countries operating to sustain European action to ending female genital mutilation by connecting grassroot communities with non-government organisations. The Network strives to build bridges and cooperations with all relevant actors in the field of FGM both in Europe and globally. All this by platforming community voices to influence European governments and policy makers to work towards the elimination of FGM.
Partnering with a Foundation established by a former supermodel, Waris Dirie, a Seventh-day Adventist hospital in Berlin took action by opening a new center to help restore victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
The Waldfriede Hospital, in cooperation with the Vienna, Austria-based “Desert Flower Foundation,” which was launched in 2002 by Somali model Waris Dirie, opened the Desert Flower Center on september 11, 2013,
Waris Dirie, herself a victim of FGM at age five, is an international activist and established the foundation to raise awareness of the ritual. Her 1997 book “Desert Flower” was made into a movie in 2009.
“Female Genital Mutilation has nothing to do with culture, tradition, or religion. It is a torture and a crime, which needs to be fought against,”, declared Waris Dirie, founder of the Desert Flower Foundation.
Waldfriede Hospital is the first and only European hospital to treat the problems of mutilated women in a holistic manner. “Since the opening in September 2013, more than 600 women have sought our medical help,” affirmed Dr. Cornelia Strunz, medical coordinator at Desert Flower Center. “Surgery was necessary for half of them,” she shared.
A few testimonies
"I am from Eritrea. I want to tell you that it is good to have such an opportunity. In our homelands there are still no such possibilities. Now I can finally live and love without fear nor pain. I am so grateful. Thanks to this surgery I can now live a new life,” gushed a beneficiary of the Desert Flower treatment.
“I am feeling well now. I feel comfortable. The doctor's treatment was very nice and reassuring. I was very afraid at the beginning, especially of the pain, but the surgery cured me,” shared another woman treated at the Desert Flower Center.
“During a training course for doctors and midwives at the end of September, I had the opportunity to gain an insight into this valuable work » said Dagmar Dorn, midwife and Women Ministries director at the Inter-European Region of Seventh-day Adventists office (EUD). “It made me sad as well as angry to see the pain and misery these women have endured throughout their lives and how, once more, innocent girls and women are made targets of violence. The biggest wish of the women is the restoration of their physical integrity. As a worldwide church, we are called upon to take up the fight against FGM and not to tolerate this appalling practice anywhere”, concluded Dagmar Dorn.
“Let’s give little girls a chance to have a different future and avoid experiencing one of the most cruel practices. We urge all who may have any influence and power to move forward and stop this cruelty, to speak: advocate and act now! Tomorrow is too late!” echoed Elsa Cozzi, EUD Children Ministries.
“Together, we can eliminate female genital mutilation by 2030. Doing so will have a positive ripple effect on the health, education and economic advancement of girls and women”, affirmed UN Secretary Antonio Guterres (3). This is also our purpose.
(1) https://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/67/146 (21)