The 18th of June 2020, we organized a webinar entitled 'Impact of Covid-19 on ending FGM/C - focus on the youth'. It was the third webinar of a webinar series about the impact of Covid-19 on our efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).
Current situation in Asia
The first webinar focused on the situation in Tanzania, the second webinar on the situation in Kenya, the third webinar on the situation in Asia and we decided that the focus of the fourth webinar would be on the specific role of the youth. We organized this webinar in collaboration with Sanne Thijssen and Adrija Das from Stories to Action. Stories to Action is a global online platform to amplify youth voices and catalyze action ensuring that their sexual & reproductive health & rights are guaranteed.
We invited two young activists to give a presentation during this webinar: Natalie Robi Tingo and Dr. Mariam Dahir. These two girls are very passionate about ending FGM/C and guaranteeing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) to young women and girls. Natalie is the Founder and Executive Director of Msichana Empowerment Kuria, a Kenyan grassroots organization led by young women that fights for the fundamental rights of girls and young women. Mariam is a medical doctor who often treats women and girls for the complications of FGM/C and Chair of Youth Anti-FGM Somaliland, a national movement to end FGM/C by reaching and influencing youths to end FGM/C in the next generation.
Preliminary research findings
I started the webinar by sharing our preliminary findings: namely an increase in FGM/C on the African continent and a (temporary) decrease in FGM/C in Asia, specifically in India. Sanne and Adrija prepared two ‘mentimeters’ for our viewers to poll their opinions and ideas on certain issues around FGM/C. When asked which 3 words came to mind when they thought of FGM/C, youth and Covid-19 sadly words like 'vulnerable', 'frightening', ‘isolation’, ‘suffering’ and ‘powerless’ came up, but also ‘activists’ and ‘hope’, see below.
Presentations of two youth activists: Natalie & Mariam
Natalie underlined that due to the economic hardships caused by the Covid-19 lockdown more and more girls are getting married. As many will know, FGM/C is a precondition for marriage in many communities, especially in East Africa. Natalie also confirmed that her work as an activist has been seriously disrupted; as we have seen before, it is currently not possible to campaign through community activities. Most disturbingly Natalie has heard stories of people blaming uncut girls for spreading the Covid-19 virus because they are considered to be ‘unclean’. Fortunately, Natalie also saw some opportunities, one of which was to innovate campaign strategies, for example the use of social media to spread awareness of girls at risk, community radio programmes and telephone hotlines for girls at risk.
Mariam told us about the difficult environment she is operating in. Somaliland has high rates of infant mortality, maternal deaths and illiteracy. On top of that, an estimated 99.1% of women and girls in Somaliland have undergone FGM/C. She explained to us how a combination of religious conviction and culture result in this high prevalence of FGM/C, even if though a 2006 survey showed that about a third of women in Somaliland and Somalia did not support the continuation of the practice. Mariam also elaborated upon the work of Youth Anti-FGM Somaliland, like campaigns through social media and on schools and Universities, and advocating for the passing of a bill against FGM/C i.a. through petitions. Something also Mariam has seen in her work is the incredible power of a social norm in Somaliland. She said: “If you ask a mother why are you cutting your girls, she answers; ‘Who will marry her? Who will marry my daughter?’”
During the Q&A session, Natalie and Mariam shared with the audience many interesting insights about their work and the impact of Covid-19 in their respective countries. After the Q&A session, I shortly draw attention to the Impacts of Covid-19 on FGM/C Survey of the Global Platform for Action to End FGM/C. With this survey, we aim to gather more stories from the field about the impact of Covid-19 on efforts to end FGM/C.
If you would like to view the entire webinar and learn more about the role of youth and FGM/C, you can use the following link to watch the full recording: