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Female Genital Mutilation and the Media

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is defined by the World Health Organisation as:

“all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” [1].

FGM is classified into different types depending on the extensiveness of the cutting, although almost all forms involve the removal of the girl’s clitoris. Most prevalent in Africa, FGM is most often practiced on young girls. This ‘cutting’ is carried out by a traditional practitioner, although there is an observed increase in the number of medical practitioners carrying out FGM[2]; under the erroneous belief that this is safer.

Fundamentally FGM is a violation of girl’s human rights, and laws are slowly coming into force across the world with the aim of prosecuting FGM practitioners, ‘cutters’, and parents and caregivers who subject girls to this harmful practice. Away from the legalities of court, a very real and everyday battle against FGM is being fought within the media.

Girls are frequently caught in a cross-cultural mesh of tradition of female circumcision and an increasing backlash against the dangers and violations of the practice. The media provides a space for discussion, sharing of experiences, access to resources and help for girls who have undergone FGM or may be at risk. For society at large, the media plays a crucial role in bringing FGM into the public consciousness and opening dialogue with the ultimate aim of helping to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of young girls.

An increasingly media driven generation, Google is our go to encyclopaedic tool for anything and everything. A Google search for ‘FGM blog’ generates 469,000 results (April 2016) and this is a representation of the increase in information and awareness circulating online. Major newspapers in the UK more frequently report issues surrounding FGM and many now have FGM tags for articles on their online sites. In some situations increased media may possess the risk of tabloid sensationalism, and associating FGM with negative views on immigration and religious extremism, which are widely circulating in British media currently. This is worrying in a political climate of EU referendum’s and concerns over national security, as it may detract from the more important message at the heart of these reports; that FGM is real and present in the UK. Media attention is needed to address the balance of perceptions of cultural relativism and a universal commitment to protect children.

As of 2014, an estimated 10,000 girls aged 0-14 who were born in FGM practicing countries and had undergone or were likely to undergo FGM were living in England and Wales. [3]. 60,000 girls of aged 0-14 in 2011 were born in England and Wales to mothers with FGM, also placing them in a vulnerable category for undergoing the practice.

The 6th of February was ‘International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation” coordinated by the UN. The day aimed to promote awareness of FGM and to engage the social media public with the UNFPA and UN development goal of eliminating FGM by 2030. Twitter hashtags such as #EndFGM bring the conversation to an audience who may not have considered the issue before, or who have been too scared to speak out about the practice. Additionally, the connectivity of social media enables the #EndFGM movement to fit into wider narratives of ending child marriage and promoting education and equality for girls.

This cross media platform extends to film and television. Solomon Onita Jr’s film ‘JOY’ which premiered at film festivals across America, as well as in Brazil, Canada and Australia. The film describes the struggle of a Nigerian woman in America trying to convince her husband not to circumcise their 10-year-old daughter Joy.[1] Available on the HBO from February 2016, JOY has the potential to reach a wide audience and prompt discussion within communities about FGM and it’s impact.

Critics of the media campaigns against FGM may argue that hashtags and Facebook likes are a meaningless and empty contribution to doing anything tangible to end FGM. Particularly so when considering the poor distribution of access to Internet technology across many poorer and rural African societies. One report suggested that Internet access is highly variable, but as low as 1.1% of Ethiopian women had access to the Internet in 2011/12, with 13.4% recorded as having access in Nigeria. [2] This is not a battle to be fought on only one front however, and while FGM is not as prevalent in the UK as in countries in the Horn of Africa or Indonesia, increased awareness, discussion and opportunity for dialogue of change can be no bad thing. FGM is a dichotomous topic, celebrated in some cultures, stigmatized in others. In an age of media over-sharing amongst selfies, avocado based Instagrams and Daniel and his white vans, there is a highly important and relevant media space for the topic of FGM and it’s prevention.


[1] JOY trailer available.






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