Picture: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Files – Ex-female genital mutilation (FGM) cutter Monika Cheptilak, shows a homemade tool from a nail used for FGM. Close to 140 million girls and women in Africa have undergone FGM, of whom more than 40 million also have experienced child marriage, the writer says.
By Kelly-Jane Turner
On Women’s Day, the topic of child marriage and female genital mutilation in Africa is a harsh reality to acknowledge, but it’s a reality that millions of girls face to comply with traditional gender practices.
According to a recent United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report, close to 140 million girls and women in Africa have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), of whom more than 40 million also have experienced child marriage.
FMG is a human rights violation and involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury for non-medical reasons.
This form of violence against girls and women is most often carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, though adult women are also subjected to these practices.
FGM has been known to cause severe bleeding and problems urinating. Mutilation can cause infections, cysts, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
In June, Unicef launched a report that found nine out of ten countries with the highest levels of child marriage in the world are in sub–Saharan Africa.
These countries include Niger, the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Guinea and Nigeria.
Unicef regional director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier, says that ending child marriage is a priority and there needs to be a shift to ensure that girls’ and women’s rights are protected.
“To accelerate efforts, we need to invest in areas for high impact, notably reducing poverty as a main driver of child marriage, ensuring girls’ access to quality education and learning at scale and social and behaviour change in favour of girls’ and women’s full and active participation in social and economic life,” she said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM is a social convention that varies from one region to another.
It involves the social pressure to conform to traditional practices, as well as the need to be accepted socially.
“FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male,” the organisation said.
In a study conducted by researchers in Ghana, researchers found that two commonly linked harmful practices have negatively impacted the health of girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa.
These practices are FGM and girl-child marriage.
Published in the Cambridge University Journal of Biosocial Science, earlier this year, the study interviewed close to 15,000 women from twelve countries.
Researchers found there was a strong association between FGM and girl-child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The overall prevalence of FGM in the twelve countries was 52.19 percent, with the highest prevalence in Guinea (97.17 percent). The overall prevalence of girl-child marriage in the twelve countries was 57.96 percent, with the highest prevalence in Chad (78.06 percent),” according to the study.
In some communities, the practice of mutilation on external female genitalia is regarded as a rite of passage into womanhood and has strong ancestral and socio-cultural roots.
“While many indigenous practices are useful to its populace, others can be detrimental, with women and children being the most vulnerable,” said authors of the study.
There are several serious negative consequences of FGM and girl-child marriage, which include unintended or early pregnancy and pregnancy difficulties.
The study found that factors such as education, residential status, age, ethnicity and wealth quintile, were found to be protective against girl-child marriage.
To accelerate its elimination, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Unicef Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM have launched youth-led innovation hubs to create dynamic solutions to address harmful practices that impede women and adolescent girls’ progress.
“Innovation incubators and accelerator hubs across Africa are expected to tap into their networks and innovative solutions, and pitch their best solutions to ending FGM in Africa.
“This call is open to hubs that are based in West and Central Africa, East and Southern Africa, Egypt, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, and FGM-endemic countries, as well as the Spotlight Initiative-supported countries of Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Uganda, and Zimbabwe,” the organisations said.
Women’s work wellness needs to be prioritised
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to prioritise women’s overall health and wellness in the workplace.
According to a recent study by Deloitte, 40 percent of South African women feel burnt out, while 51 percent feel their stress levels are higher than a year ago.
Around 43 percent of South African women reported their mental health as being poor or extremely poor, compared with 49 percent globally.
Human Resources director at Servest, a facilities management company, Melanie Ann Bauer, said Covid-19 has triggered uncertainty and anxiety in some employees.
Women have always faced unique challenges in the workplace because of the dual role they play as colleagues and caregivers in their families.
“Organisations need to take the lead in supporting true work-life balance for women in the workplace, considering that work is just a component of life and in reality, women are mothers to children and have families to take care of,” Bauer said.
In an effort to provide support to women, Bauer says Servest has been working on developing and implementing interventions to ease the day-to-day stresses imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and life pressures among colleagues.
The company has put together a wellness programme to equip colleagues with the correct tools to improve how they manage their physical and mental health.
“The programme is designed to help colleagues notice the tell-tale signs of stress, giving them the necessary tools to support themselves and one another when they are experiencing a mental health issue, fatigue, or stress,” Bauer said.
Kelly Jane Turner is a multimedia journalist at IOL News.