What do we mean when we say “zero-tolerance” to FGM?

Feb 6, 2017

Today marks the UN’s International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. FGM is a traditional practice which affects millions of women and girls all around the world.

Feed the Minds is one of countless charities, organisations and individuals who work to end FGM. It is a terrible abuse of often very young and vulnerable people, and it cannot be tolerated. It is widely outlawed, with governments and authorities beginning to take a tougher stance on it, yet it still occurs. With this zero tolerance position in place, shouldn’t FGM already be a thing of the past? Sadly, it’s not quite that simple — the reasons it is still performed are wide ranging and complex – and you can read more about them here.

Of course, we all want to live in a world where FGM is no-longer practiced and a world where zero tolerance means that no community will turn its back whilst young women and girls suffer. However, the truth is that much work needs to be done until that is the case.

Quite simply, going into communities, saying “No” and holding a zero tolerance position is not the most effective way of bringing around change.

We can draw a parallel with work done in the 1980s and 1990s when organisations were campaigning and working to bring an end to the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Then, it was not as straightforward as offering contraception and explaining the health and physical risks of unprotected sex. To challenge years and generations of behaviour takes interaction, patience and dialogue, not just a one-size-fits all ban. This is a similar situation to the one we find ourselves with when trying to bring about an end to FGM.

We have been working in Kuria for over a decade, supporting the community to help end FGM. The Kenyan government outlawed it in 2011, yet it continues. We work with ECAW, implementing projects which focus on dialogue, workshops and engaging different community groups. We have shown a specific focus on working with young people, who are able to spread a positive message and engage their elders, who are usually more pro-FGM than them, in conversations which change minds.

Last year our project in Kuria was evaluated, which you can find here. It was a very positive conclusion, emphasising the huge change that had come about thanks to our work with ECAW. Naturally, there is a great more to be done. Whilst working with girls was very successful, there are always more groups to reach. In particular, we found that those who wield power in communities – fathers, grandmothers and males in general – are the least receptive to change and will need more focused work in the future. Does a zero tolerance ban change their behaviour? No, it doesn’t. People either flee the country and head over the border to Tanzania, or take it underground. It will take many years of dialogue, community engagement and careful planning.

Feed the Minds is committed to the UN’s zero tolerance stance but we firmly believe that the way to rid the world of FGM is through educating and engaging with the communities who still perpetrate it. It may not change overnight, but in the end, we will win. To help educate and protect more women from FGM, you can donate to our work here.

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