An estimated 3.9 million girls around the world are at risk of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) every year. About 513,000 women and girls in the U.S. are at risk of or have undergone this procedure. Ending FGM/C is an issue that many funders can engage in; those who are interested in gender equality, who want to end gender-based violence and child abuse, who want to defend women’s bodily autonomy, and who want to make sure all girls are safe, educated and empowered.
Dr. Ghada Khan is a health program analyst and the network coordinator for the U.S. End FGM/C Network, a collaborative group of “survivors, civil society organizations, foundations, activists, policymakers, researchers, health care providers and others committed to promoting the abandonment of [FGM/C] in the U.S. and around the world.” She spoke to Philanthropy Women about her work and how philanthropy can be more effective in the fight to end FGM/C.
The U.S. End FGM/C Network formed loosely in the mid-2000s and officially launched in 2018. It supports FGM/C survivors and grassroots organizations, facilitates collaboration, works to influence policy and law, and strives to frame the issue in a “broad and intersectional manner.” In June 2019, it engaged in a pre-conference at Women Deliver in Vancouver, which culminated in a Global Call to Action with an overarching goal to end FGM/C by 2030.
The Wallace Global Fund has been one of the main supporters of this organization. Between 2016 and 2018, it funded research on the issue in the U.S., sponsored the first-ever summit on ending FGM/C and backed the formal launch of the network. Along with the Wallace Global Fund, philanthropies who engage with the topic of FGM/C include Amplify Change, Associated Country Women of the World and Donor Direct Action, among others.
The Importance of Sound FGM/C Laws and Policies
Khan points out that while the U.S. has had a federal law banning FGM/C since 1996, only 33 states have anti-FGM/C legislation. Seven of these laws were passed this year, demonstrating that this is an active time for the movement. The case U.S. v. Nagarwala dealt a blow to advocates in late 2018, when a judge voided the U.S. female genital mutilation law and declared the issue to be within states’ purview. But Khan says it “helped raise awareness on the issue and highlighted the fact that while existing child protection laws can be utilized to prosecute cases, there is a need to create more [FGM/C]-specific state laws that protect girls within and across states, while engaging communities in this process.”
She says one of the best ways for allies to fight FGM/C is to “support advocacy efforts around sound FGM/C laws and policies both here and abroad.” She says, “without a proper legal framework, girls have no recourse to protect their rights.” Khan thinks sharing accurate resources, breaking the silence around these topics and supporting or volunteering with organizations in the sector are also good options — the network site is a plentiful resource and support system for these kinds of efforts.
Other Funding Strategies for Ending FGM/C
Khan calls on philanthropy to support FGM/C education, prevention and survivor services. She recommends “flexible and substantial funding streams for grassroots organizations,” with a focus on groups led by survivors, communities and youth. She says funders should collaborate more and “create easily accessible platforms where financial resources on FGM/C, new and existing, are routinely shared.”
Khan would also like to see funding for “more comprehensive participatory research across sectors to understand what is working and what is not to end FGM/C.”
And, the U.S. End FGM/C Network calls on the anti-FGM/C community to “better understand and respond effectively to adaptations to the practice which continue to violate women’s rights.” These adaptations include the medicalization of FGM/C (having a health professional carry out the procedure), moving girls across borders to evade local laws, and lowering the age at which FGM/C is carried out.
Finally, Khan emphasizes the importance of placing girls at the center of the anti-FGM/C advocacy movement and community. She says, “Girls need to be empowered through education, specifically with knowledge about their bodies and rights, so [they can] recognize FGM/C as an issue of gender inequality,” and address it accordingly with their communities. “Girls need to be supported by their families, communities, faith-based leaders, educational institutions, health care providers, governments and all entities that are supposed to protect them, if they are to stand up against FGM/C.”