Africa's Youth Spark Debate on International Day of the Girl

Monday, 22 Oct 2018
  • The Girl Generation ambassador Chiamaka Uzomba, presents an open letter to Ministry of Health official, Dr Chris Ugboko
  • Activist Sadia Hussein delivering an open letter to CEO of the Anti-FGM Board Bernadette Loloju
International Day of the Girl Child on 11th October saw The Girl Generation continue the campaign to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The ‘I Will End FGM’ campaign gained new champions and reached out to politicians to publicise the programme’s aim of eradicating FGM within one generation.

The Girl Generation provided a platform for young people to deliver open letters to policy makers, calling for new measures to end FGM within their country. Thanks to the additional publicity surrounding the International Day of the Girl Child, new audiences were reached and approximately 11 million people were exposed to the “I Will End FGM” campaign.

In Kenya, public speaker and activist Sadia Hussein gave one of the open letters to the CEO of the Anti-FGM Board Bernadette Loloju, who heads the governmental organisation tasked with prohibiting FGM.  It was signed by 62 organisations, from grassroots groups to religious institutions, and called for an end to the medicalisation of FGM within health care services. Almost one-fifth of FGM cases in Kenya are undertaken by a medical practitioner, despite the procedure being just as harmful when conducted in a clinical environment. “The medicalisation of FGM will not reduce the long-term complications of FGM [and] has no benefit what so ever,” wrote Esmael Omar, Programme Officer at The Girl Generation. The open letter urged Kenyan authorities to place harsher disciplinary measures on practitioners who performed FGM, to reverse this trend and reduce the number of girls undergoing FGM in the country.

In Nigeria, The Girl Generation ambassador Chiamaka Uzomba, presented an open letter to the Ministry of Health. The letter asked for extra government funding to support the end-FGM agenda. Due in part to its population size, Nigeria has the greatest number of FGM cases worldwide. The practice was outlawed in 2015 but the centralised ruling has not been accepted or applied by the majority of federalised states, enabling FGM to continue in much of the country. Despite this, there is an appetite for change, as advocacy networks and civil society organisations work together with policy makers to bring an end to FGM throughout Nigeria.

The open letters created a national conversation about FGM, in the press and online.  Chiamaka, was interviewed by BBC Igbo and several other national radio stations. The story was the fifth most-read news article the following day on BBC Igbo online. Major Kenyan and Nigerian publications covered the campaign, along with several pan-African publications. High-profile influencers also added their voices on social media, with Tunisian actor Hend Sabry and Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselaisse reaching an extra 5 million people through their networks.

 The theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl Child was “A Skilled GirlForce”, to stress the need for girls to receive training and gain employability skills before entering the workforce. FGM has been identified by the UN as a factor which disadvantages girls and can hinder their future prospects, with the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka describing the act as “[cutting] away equality”. She argued that FGM is a “harmful [practice] that makes it almost impossible for the girls affected to have the same life chances as boys,” meaning it is a vital issue to address if girls are to be able to continue their education further.

The Girl Generation’s I Will End FGM campaign was launched in July and has already reached an audience of over 18 million people. There have been 5,000 commitments on social media, with the hashtags #IHaveSpoken and #EndFGM being shared widely. The campaign hopes to harness this increased support next month, when the African Union will meet in Burkino Faso to discuss measures to end FGM. Through online engagement, The Girl Generation will bring the voices of Africa’s young people to the forefront, as politicians discuss how to end FGM within a single generation.

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