By Lennox Akpetey, a Communication Development Analyst’
Female Genital Mutilation, FGM, is a partial or total removal of external female genitalia and injury to the female organ for cultural or other non-therapeutic reason. FGM is performed in various forms in 28 African countries. The social drivers behind the practice are multifaceted. Statistics available indicate that globally, 3 million girls are at risk of genital mutilation, and an estimated 200 million girls and women in the world have undergone FGM. Studies have shown that the overall prevalence of FGM in Ghana is 4%. Implementing interventions that will provide health education in communities and promote girl-child education beyond the primary level could help end the practice. In 1994, Ghana government outlawed female circumcision. According to this law, circumcisers can be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. Some have said it is demeaning to womanhood. It violates and undermines the health and well-being of the girl-child.
This act continues to persist despite its illegality. Researchers have also maintained that the practice can be attributed to social pressure on women and girls to conform to social norms, peer acceptance, fear of criticism and other remote reasons such as religion. Researchers further attributed FGM roots to historical and ancestral legacy as well as a desire to distinguish tribes and to ensure the virtuousness of the girl child in the community.
FGM has long been regarded as a practice that helps to preserve societal standards and ensures chastity among young women before marriage. Most men and older women justify FGM because they believed it instills societal morals and values in young girls before they assume a larger role in the community as wives and mothers. In some communities, young girls could exert incessant pressure on their friends to undergo circumcision in order to belong. Due to insults, ridicule, isolation, and name-calling, the girls are forced to succumb to their demands. In some of the communities, FGM is viewed as a prerequisite for societal acceptance among friends., rivals, and in the entire community. FGM is embedded in religion, traditions, and customs that are continuous. Cultures that put a high premium on the preservation of virginity of young girls, reducing premarital sex and early pregnancy.
Communication for Social Change is a tool that can be used to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation as this is effective than individual change. The onus lies in communities where FGM is practiced to fight against it. Participatory communication and dialogue are the two approaches that have the potency to eradicate FGM. FGM is a cultural issue. Therefore, solutions must come from the people who are affected by the problem. When that is achieved, the solution is permanent. The people will own the project because they contributed to its success. But when the solution is external, the people will go back to their old ways after the project. Let’s not forget that every development is local. Communication for social change strategy should aim at tapping into the local potential to end FGM. With the community’s attention to end the practice, half of the battle is won. It is the families’ and peers’ discussion that will ultimately put an end to FGM. Religious leaders should be engaged to speak to parents about the emotional as well as physical harm FGM has on the development of the girl child. Volunteer groups in the various communities should distribute Information, Education and Communication, IEC materials such as leaflets, posters, booklets with animation on the disadvantages of FGM in the various languages. Child Rights groups should embark on a stakeholder engagement with citizens on how to prevent/end FGM. Dialogue with influencers (respected citizens in the various communities) and stakeholders to promote change in the cultural belief in FGM. The use of community radio stations to discuss the disadvantages of FGM must be a key component of the strategy. Use victims to speak about the pain they go through during circumcision. This should have a lasting influence on the lifestyle of parents and community stakeholders since it is coming from those who have undergone the cutting. Health officials should sensitize citizens on the advantages of cultures that put a high premium on the preservation of virginity, reducing premarital sex and early pregnancy. The media must be empowered to report on FGM and its devastating effects. One of the crucial points in solving this problem is to educate young girls beyond primary education. Every social change is a process and not an event. It may take time to achieve the objectives of the project. But the essential goal is to use participatory communication, dialogue, education, information and communication to change the mindset of society on Female Genital Mutilation. With the collective efforts of all stakeholders, it is achievable.