Two major non-governmental organisations in Malaysia and the United Kingdom have teamed up to end the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in several Asia Pacific countries, including Malaysia.
The Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) based in Malaysia and British charity Orchid Project today announced that they have joined forces to work with grassroots organisations to end FGM/C in Malaysia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Maldives, Thailand and Singapore.
“FGM/C is practised in over 45 countries globally, but the global focus has not responded strongly enough to the situation in the Asia region. For example, in Indonesia 49 per cent of girls have undergone FGM/C,” the two NGOs said in a joint statement coinciding with their launch in Vancouver, Canada today.
The United Nations population fund (UNFPA) estimate that by 2030, a further 15 million girls in Indonesia will be mutilated if efforts to end the practice are not accelerated.
“FGM/C has for long been presented as a traditional practice with harmful consequences for girls and women primarily taking place in Africa. What is lesser known is that there are many girls and women in Asia who are affected by the same practice,” ARROW executive director Sivananthi Thanethiran said in the statement.
She said the lack of advocacy in the region and pressure from the international community to end the practice in the region means that governments continue to shy from taking measures to end FGM/C, which is in direct contradiction of a number of human rights commitments.
Once established, the network will actively lobby governments in the Asia Pacific to end the practice to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and empowering all women and girls, and specifically SDG target 5.3 which relates to ending FGM/C.
“The first step in this process is to invite organisations across the region to help shape the Asia Network to End FGM/C,” said Orchid Project’s Head of Advocacy and Policy Ebony Riddell Bamber, adding that they will work with other international organisations like Sahiyo and Equality Now, as well as grassroots organizations.
“Our goal is to create a platform to jointly advocate for change, and identify how best to support and amplify the great work underway at the grassroots to end FGM/C. If we don’t act now, many more girls across Asia will be subject to this harmful practice, and progress in ending FGM/C will be severely compromised.” she added.
According to Unicef, 3.9 million girls are at risk of FGM/C annually, and at least 200 million girls and women have been mutilated in 30 countries. However, this figure does not include many countries in Asia Pacific where FGM/C is known to take place, so the true scale of the problem is unknown because of these gaps in data.
Community and media reports indicate that FGM/C is prevalent in many Asian and Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, the Philippines, Maldives, India and Pakistan.
The network will be a platform will gather data and evidence on prevalence, take survivor needs and viewpoints into account, engage with religious scholars who can influence communities positively, and urge governments to report on the SDG indicator (5.3.2) related to FGM/C.
FGM/C has several immediate and long-term health complications on women including infections, painful menstruation, urinary and vaginal problems, complications during childbirth and even death.
Proponents of FGM/C justify the practice on the basis of religion, or some unproven health benefit or claim that it doesn’t harm women and girls. But religious scholars from different countries are divided on this, and some Muslim countries have banned FGM/C through fatwas and the law.