Female genital mutilation is on the decline worldwide, but is seeing an increase in support in Guinea where girls feel overwhelming social pressure to undergo the procedure.
In Guinea, 97 percent of women and girls have undergone FGM, a practice that involves the partial or total removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Though the practice is forbidden by national and international law and comes with a host of health risks, girls and women in the African country are becoming increasingly in favor of getting cut, and are getting it done at younger ages, according to a new report released by the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.
According to the U.N., a study conducted by the Institut national de la statistique found that 65 percent of women and girls were in favor of FGM in 1999. That figure jumped to 76 percent in 2012.
Support for the practice comes from both social expectations and the perceived rewards that come from getting cut.
Girls who don’t undergo FGM are considered “dirty” and saying that a female is non-excised is considered a “grave insult,” according to the U.N. report. Many girls also fear that not getting cut could lead them to be excluded from society and lose out on marriage prospects.
Though the practice comes with numerous health risks, including heavy bleeding, developing sepsis, urinary tract infections, cysts and becoming infertile, many girls see FGM as a symbol of “female power,” the report added.
“Excision gives women and girls an identity, a certain social and adult status, collective recognition and a sense of belonging to a community,” the authors noted.
Additionally, during the FGM ceremonies, women are exempt from chores and free of male authority. They’re also showered with presents, clothes, jewels and food, which “contribute to encouragement and acclaim for the practice.”
Another contributing factor is the inaction among judicial authorities.
The legal texts prohibiting the practice aren’t respected and excision practitioners and medical professionals who carry out FGM are rarely subjected to legal proceedings. And justice personnel who have attempted to address FGM issues have been frequently met with severe pressure and threats.
The rate of FGM cases in Guinea is second only to Somalia. Even there, however, leaders have vocalized their commitment to ending the practice.
After Avaaz, a human rights group, presented a petition with more than 1 million signatures, Somalia Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke vowed to end FGM in his country.
“I’m committed to outlaw FGM in Somalia through legislation, advocacy, education and community engagement to confront the social norms that encourage the FGM practices within the society,” Sharmarke said in March in response to the Avaaz campaign.