Communication for social change strategy to eradicate female genital mutilation

female genital cutting
Tehn-Lennox AKPETEY

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting, is defined as partial or total removal of external female genitalia and injury to the female organ for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. FGM is performed in various forms in 28 African countries. The social drivers behind the practice are multi-faceted.

Statistics available indicate that globally 3 million girls are at risk of genital mutilation, and an estimated 200 million girls and women in the world have undergone FGM. Studies have shown that the overall prevalence of FGM in Ghana is 4 percent. Implementing interventions that will provide health education to communities and promote girl-child education beyond the primary level could help end the practice.

Emphasis on girl-child education

The majority of girls who go through female genital mutilation are circumcised before they turn 15 years old. In 1994, the Ghanaian government outlawed female circumcision.

According to this law, circumcisers can be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment (Criminal Code Amendment bill, Ghana, 1994). However, this traditional practice goes on predominantly among some ethnic groups of the Upper East Region despite the 1994 legislation against it.

Female genital mutilation is still being practiced in the Bawku municipality and the Pusiga district of northern Ghana – particularly among women with low socioe-conomic status. Implementing interventions that will provide health education to communities and promote girl-child education beyond the primary level to help end the practice should be the concern of all.

Some have said it is demeaning to womanhood. It violates and undermines the health and well-being of the girl-child. This act continues to persist despite its illegality. Researchers have also maintained that the practice can also be attributed to social pressure on women/girls to conform to social norms, peer acceptance, fear of criticism and other remote reasons such as religion.

Researchers further even attributed FGM roots to historical/ancestral legacy as well as a desire to distinguish tribes and ensure the virtuousness of young women in the community. FGM has long been regarded as a practice that helps to preserve societal standards and ensures chastity among young women before marriage.

Most men and older women justify FGM because they believe it instils societal morals and values in young girls before they assume a larger role in the community as wives and mothers. Mothers act as the go-between for circumcisers and their daughters.

In some communities, young girls exert incessant pressure on their friends to undergo circumcision to belong. With the use of insults, ridicule, isolation and name-calling, the girls are forced to succumb to their demands.

In some of the communities, FGM is viewed as a prerequisite for societal acceptance among friends, rivals and the entire community. FGM is embedded in religion, traditions and customs that are continuous. Cultures that put a high premium on the preservation of virginity for young girls, reducing premarital sex and early pregnancy, and minimising the risk of extramarital affairs are more likely to encourage FGM.

Communication for Social Change is a tool that can be used to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in this country. It is more effective than individual change. The onus lies on communities where FGM is practiced to fight it – not any external group of people.  Participatory communication and dialogue are the two approaches that have the potency to eradicate FGM.

Participatory communication is key. It is the fulcrum on which the strategy revolves. So too is dialogue. FGM is a cultural issue – therefore, solutions must come from the people who are affected by the problem. When that is achieved, the solution is permanent. The people will own the project because they contributed to its success. But when the solution is external, after the project people will go back to their old ways. Never forget, every development is local.

Communication for social change strategy should aim to tap into the local potential to end FGM. With the community’s attention on ending the practice, half of the battle is won. It is the families’ and peers’ discussions that will ultimately put an end to FGM.

As part of the strategy, the development communication consultant should advocate for the enlistment of NGOs to mobilise people to speak against FGM. Religious leaders should be engaged to speak to parents about the emotional as well as physical harm FGM has on development of the girl child.

Volunteer groups in the various communities should distribute Information, Education and Communication, IEC materials such as leaflets, posters, booklets with animation on the disadvantages of FGM in the various languages. Child Rights groups should embark on stakeholder engagements with citizens on how to prevent/end FGM.

Dialogue with influencers (respected citizens in the various communities) and stakeholders must be used to promote change of the cultural belief in FGM. The use of community radio stations to discuss the disadvantages of FGM must be a key component of the strategy.

Use victims to speak about the pain they go through during circumcision. This should have a lasting influence on the lifestyle of parents and community stakeholders, since it is coming from those who have undergone the cutting.

Health officials should sensitise citizens on the advantages of cultures that put a high premium on the preservation of virginity, reducing premarital sex and early pregnancy. But this must not be achieved through FGM.

Provision of prevalence data documentaries on effects of FGM on the various television stations and social media platforms such as youtube and Facebook. Use television adverts such as animation to educate citizens on abstinence, early pregnancy without going through FGM.

Empower the media on reportage by developing their capacity for reporting on FGM. Due to its delicate and sensitive nature, it must be reported with enough circumspection.
One of the crucial points in solving this problem is to educate young girls beyond primary education. The list is an emphasis on providing education for the young girls in communities where FGM is practised.

Empowering the young girls through their learning a trade should also be encouraged.
Empower them to take their place of pride in society by emulating other women who have carved a niche for themselves.

Every social change is a process. It is not an event. It may take time to achieve objectives of the project, but the essential goal is to use participatory communication, dialogue, education, information and communication to change the mindset of society on Female Genital Mutilation. With the collective efforts of all stakeholders, it is achievable.

>>>the writer is a development communication consultant. He can be reached on [email protected]

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