Millions of girls are subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) every year, but efforts are being made to end the harmful practice.

The cultural practice is usually carried out on young girls, but women may undergo it too. Islamic Relief’s office in Sudan has been reducing instances of FGM/C. In Sudan, a national survey in 2010 found around two-thirds of females underwent FGM/C. Islamic Relief staff started raising awareness of the issue and the hazards of the procedure, and are carrying out legislative reform to ban FGM/C in the future.

Speaking on International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, Sadig Sidieg, regional child protection manager for Africa, said: “We are working hard to mobilise the community towards ending the practice. At the heart of our work is a focus on human rights and the empowerment of girls and women. We’re taking a sensitive and respectful approach. We’ve challenged cultural practices and traditions that allow FGM/C at the community level and are continuing this work as changing these long-held traditions will take time.”

Positive social change

“We held awareness-raising sessions on health practices, including FGM/C, and we used mass media, group theatre and sports to explore the theme with different communities and explain the health and well-being consequences of the practice. Once a community is educated about their rights and responsibilities, they then take the lead on encouraging friends, relatives and neighbours to join the movement for positive social change.

“Following our work in Khartoum State, we found the rates of the practice had fallen. A local imam confirmed he was opposed to the practice and supported Islamic Relief’s work. We also found 82 per cent of mothers spoken to both formally and informally were openly opposed to the practice.”

Islamic Relief’s Child Protection team have also been working to end the practice. A three-day workshop was held in Kenya in partnership with World Vision in May 2014. The workshop explored abuse, and how faith leaders were working to ensure the right message was being filtered through to the community.

Powerful words

Neelam Fida, Child Protection Project Manager for Islamic Relief, said the practice of FGM/C was widely discussed during the workshop.

“The session concluded with one of the female faith leaders standing up and giving a personal testimony of her experience of FGM/C and the impact it had on both her and her family. She cried as she told her story. It was a very emotional and powerful tale. She urged faith leaders to educate their communities about the practice and take from the message of Prophet (pbuh) who spoke out against abuse of children and women.

“As she finished sharing her story, a male faith leader stood up. He praised her courage at speaking out, admitting it was the first time he had heard about the pain and impact of FGM/C against women. He promised he would be a voice against such practices from that moment on.”

Islamic Relief is committed to improving the well-being of women and girls, carrying out, for example, education, economic empowerment and health programmes.