Every year, in Africa alone, three million girls are subjected to female genital mutilation. That's about 8,000 every day.
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Every year, in Africa alone, three million girls are subjected to female genital mutilation. That's about 8,000 every day.

And it doesn't just happen in Africa. Millions are at risk across the world including girls and women in Western countries.

In half of the countries that practice FGM, the majority of girls are cut before they are five-years-old. But other age groups are at risk too.

In some countries cutting takes place between the ages of five and 14 years. FGM can also take place when someone is pregnant with their first child or when they have just given birth.

Girls who are subjected to FGM have some or all of their external genitals cut away. This can be part or all of their labia, part or all of their clitoris and part or all of the clitoral hood.

Sometimes all of the external genitals will be cut away. This often happens in basic conditions with basic tools, often without an anaesthetic.

In the more extreme cases the wound that is left may be stitched up using thorns or string. A small hole is left for menstrual blood and urine.

Increasingly the practice is being 'medicalized' - performed by health providers in clinical and other health care settings.

This gives the erroneous impression that FGM is beneficial to women's and girls' health.

But FGM - whether performed by traditional or medical means - is only ever harmful. We believe it must be condemned and health care providers must be dissuaded from carrying out the procedure.

And let's be clear - it's not just the health aspects of FGM that concern us. FGM breaches a series of well-established human rights including the right to health, the right to bodily integrity and the right to life.

Despite the fact many countries have laws banning FGM and that many governments want to eradicate it, FGM is still widely practised. Thankfully there's a growing movement to end FGM within a generation.

As well as ending FGM we want to ensure that we don't forget the 140 million women who are living with the effects of being cut.

Often those women will end up with lifelong problems and will be in pain when they have sex, menstruate or give birth. That's not to forget the psychological impact on women and girls and the violation of their rights

At IPPF we look for a comprehensive approach to tackle FGM - from advocacy for the enforcement of laws and policies to end FGM to working with communities to tackle this harmful practice, as we did in Mauritania and Uganda, to make sure that women and girls who have been cut are not stigmatised.

We have carried out successful projects in a number of other countries too including Cote d'Ivoire where FGM was widely practised despite having been banned in 1998.

Our Member Association, the Association Ivoirienne pour le Bien-Etre Familial (AIBEF), ran a project in one of the districts with the highest prevalence of FGM.

AIBEF worked closely with community leaders, a local women's rights charity and traditional FGM practitioners to raise awareness of the negative consequences of FGM and to ensure that the law was enforced.

The impact was staggering. More than 200,000 people went to events aimed at ending FGM, four arrests were made and 17 ex-practitioners received micro-credit grants when they agreed to abandon the practice of FGM.

Another FGM project, which focuses on girls who are at risk of being cut, is taking place in Tanzania with a partner organisation called 'Forward'.

Again, the results speak for themselves. We've heard testimonies from scores of girls who say their lives have been changed and their communities have also altered as a result.

One girl said: "In my society the problem is now ending because this project has helped many people to see the effects of FGM, they now see no need to practice it."

At IPPF, we want to challenge the attitudes that have meant so many millions of women and girls have been subjected to FGM so that we can start shifting the social norms that have made such a harmful practice acceptable.

FGM violates women's rights to health, life and bodily integrity. It's time to act. It's time to let girls decide for themselves what happens to their own bodies.

You can make your voice heard for the millions of women and girls who don't have a voice by joining our 'I decide' campaign. Please sign our petition at www.idecide.ippf.org


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