The truth behind Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and how this relates to women and girls in Tanzania

EdUKaid is committed to improving access to education for all children and are actively working to remove the additional barriers they face due to attitudes towards gender and disability. This blog provides an insight in to the world of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and explores the impact of this practice on women and girls in Tanzania.

About FGM

FGM, also known as Female Genital Cutting (FGC) is defined as ‘all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’.Today, there are over 200 million females alive today that have undergone FGM.

The term ‘mutilation’ was adopted to give a glimpse into its harsh reality. FGM occurs worldwide but most notably in Africa and the Middle East and is often deeply entrenched within cultural identity. The age girls undergo FGM is community-dependent but generally between four and fourteen; though there have been instances reported within the first few months of life.

Usually carried out by a 'traditional practitioner', cutting often takes place as an initiation rite to mark the entrance to adulthood. Other reasons include social acceptance, the increase of marriage potential, preservation of culture, the belief of spiritual appeasement, decreased likelihood of promiscuity/sexual desire leading to infidelity and enhanced fertility. The practice of cutting away healthy genital tissue often impacts girls both long and short term - many survivors experience problems with childbirth, battle infection, painful sex, infertility, trauma and an increased chance of neonatal mortality and even death.

Many people assume the origin of FGM is rooted in religion however, neither the Qu'ran nor the Bible mention or promote the practice. FGM’s origin can actually be traced back to thousands of years ago, before the genesis of these faiths. The term ‘female circumcision’ was first adopted for use by missionaries and those exploring countries within the continent of Africa.

Global and Local Response to FGM

Since the 1970s, FGM has attracted international attention and action. FGM is now viewed as both a human rights and public health violation; it’s essentially a form of gender-based violence. Prevention of the practice has taken the form of advocacy by human rights groups, governments, international and national organizations.

Despite international progress, the practice is being increasingly reported amongst diaspora communities worldwide. In countries where legislation has been instated, FGM has continued to take place with an increased level of secrecy. There’s a stigma attached for those who choose to speak out against the practice with wide-held belief in communities that the repercussions from ancestors are as bad as death. Whilst the medicalisation of FGM offers a safer way to undergo the practice, it has been widely condemned; it doesn’t negate the long term consequences of healthy tissue removal on the human body.

FGM in Tanzania

In Tanzania, women are legally protected from the practice of FGM however an estimated 20 of 130 ethnic groups are reported to still be carrying out the practice. The instance of FGM within Tanzania is highly connected to marriageability and preparation for such as it is thought that the chances of girls finding potential suitors are highly increased as a result. Very often, a woman who has not undergone FGM and has still managed to get married is considered only to have been done 'a favour’ by the man who decides to marry her. Girls who don’t undergo the procedure within specific communities may be outcast and deemed unsuitable for marriage. In Tanzania, ‘Cutting Season’ as it is commonly known, is in December (school holidays).

Figures from 2018 show a massive reduction of FGM within East Africa in comparison to previous years; in 1995 the rate was 71.4% and this figure dropped to 8% in 2016 though it is thought to remain much higher in rural areas such as Mtwara. 

In July 2019, EdUKaid launched The Heshima Project across 16 partner schools in the Mtwara region; empowering girls to make informed decisions about their bodies in a safe and supportive environment.  Girls will be able to share any concerns about FGM as well as other gender related issues and receive support to ensure their rights are protected and their choices respected.