Geneva Health Forum Archive

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Micro-credit Financing and Impact on Female Genital Mutilation

Author(s): Berhane Ras-Work1
Affiliation(s): 1NGO, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, Geneva, Switzerland
Key issues:

Gender is a cross-cutting issue that determines the health and lives of women and men in different ways and at different levels. The health of the majority of women, in particular their reproductive health, is impacted by the role and status attributed to them by the society in which they live. Systematically women are affected negatively by social attitudes and practices. Gender-based violence with all its variations is a strong health determinant across the life cycle of women. The unequal power relationship between men and women both socially and economically render women vulnerable, forcing them to accept in silence and with apathy even the most gruesome forms of violence. The most brutal form of violence is perpetrated on African women in the name of preserving cultural values. Female genital mutilation is practised in at least 28 African countries. Reasons advanced for the persistence of the female genital mutilation include: religious, e.g. misconceptions; family honour, e.g. virginity; economic, e.g. bride price; aesthetic; social integration; prevention of child mortality. The benefits received by those who carry out the excision and ignorance on the part of the women are also important reasons to be considered. Although the cost of such forms of violence is high to the nations, governments tend to be silent, thus justifying this violation of Human Rights as an inevitable tradition and integral par of culture. In recent times, gender inequality and violence have been gaining international recognition. NGOs have played a crucial role in bringing the issue of violence on the agenda of the relevant bodies of the UN. A very important outcome of this lobbing is the appointment of the Special Reporter on Violence against Women. The experience of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC) shows that with intensive education and information tailored to respond to the varying cultural contexts, it is possible to impact positive changes of attitudes. IAC has realized the underlying factor for gender-based violence proves to be the economic vulnerability of women as well as their ignorance. Women subject themselves and their daughters to practices such as FGM to ensure the security of marriage and the survival it provides. Empowering women through education, skills training and micro-credits can change the status of women for a better life. IAC has embarked on a micro-credit scheme with excisers to enhance alternative income generating activities. Through this experience it has been proven that excisers, once reoriented and supported, can stop their traditional practice and engage themselves in productive activities. They can also act as agents of change. Although a sufficient number of protective international and national instruments exist, the political will to fully protect women and girls is still lagging. The responsibility of civil society lies in holding governments accountable for compliance.

Meeting challenges: Changing deep-seated traditional attitudes and practices in favour of promoting the health and status of women.
Conclusion (max 400 words): Women themselves have to be continuously informed and made aware in order for them to be empowered to value themselves, including their body, and to protect their rights. The socializing system of boys and girls should be gender sensitive with built in values for equality.

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