By Tomi Jaiyeola, Humanitas Global
On July 22, the UK government, in partnership with UNICEF will hold the first ever Girl Summit, leading efforts to end female gential mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) and early child marriage. The goal of the Girl Summit is increase awareness about these issues and to mobilize domestic and international efforts to FGM/C and child, early and forced marriage (CEFM) within a generation. It will not be easy.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have suffered some form of FGM/C with 30 million more at risk before they reach the age of 15. Though FGM/C is predominantly practiced in 29 African and Middle Eastern countries, it is spreading and has been known to also occur in Asia, Europe and the Americas.
I grew up in a country where certain cultures practice FGM/C, or what is otherwise referred to as “circumcision.” The first time I heard about this practice was while watching a movie on the topic at the age of 12. I remember being absolutely horrified, learning that there were cultures in Nigeria that practiced this tradition. Culturally, the many reasons given were that it was a part of marriage rituals, an inclusion into the community, to make the girl “clean” or to prevent promiscuity. However, with more people becoming aware of the long-term health effects of FGM/C, 66% of 15-49 year old females in Nigeria – myself included – believe it should be discontinued.
In addition to highlighting the practice of and impacts of FGM/C at the Girl Summit, early child marriage will also be a focus issue. With 1 in 9 girls marrying before the age of 15 and 1 in 3 before 18, there still so much that needs to be done – including in my country, where this is also practiced.
Many of these child brides end up having children themselves, with those under the age of 15 being five times more likely to die from giving birth because their bodies are not ready. This puts both them and their babies at risk of death. Child brides are usually from poor households, and more likely to remain poor because of a lack of education and are also more vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Both FGM/C and early child marriage are a violation of girls’ rights and both have lasting effects – physically, socially, emotionally and psychologically. That is why many are pushing for an end to these abominable practices. For example, in December of 2012, a UN General Assembly resolution called for a global ban on FGM/C and since then, there have been organizations, leaders, countries and policy makers pushing this movement.
The Girl Summit in London next week is the next step. It will bring girls, women and community leaders from around the globe, together, along with governments, international organizations and the private sector to agree on the actions to end FGM/C and CFEM. The global community will be watching as the summit aims to secure new commitments from these actors and ensure FGCM/C and CFEM end within a generation.
Together, we can take a stand to end these practices and give girls the chance to live their life to the fullest – free from violence, harm, and suffering.
To learn more about the Girl Summit visit http://www.girlsummitpledge.com/ and follow the conference on Twitter using #GirlSummit.