28 Too Many, a UK based research charity set up to campaign against the continuing practice of Female Genital Mutilation [FGM] is running a series of workshops in an effort to halt the resurgence of FGM which has occurred worldwide, including the UK, during the coronavirus pandemic.
The online workshops, which are mainly taking place in African communities where the FGM ‘cutting’ season is currently underway, are focusing on advocacy and social media communications in order to support local champions and address the scaling back of ‘on-the-ground’ projects caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
A report published by the Orchid Project* stated that levels of FGM are increasing following the global spread of Covid-19. The lack of health services, on-the-ground support services for girls most at risk, economic hardship and restricted access for community based groups carrying out FGM mitigation programmes have all contributed to the increases in FGM being reported. As a result, girls and young women are being forced to flee their homes or face being ‘cut’ and married off in exchange for a desperately needed dowry.
Dr Ann-Marie Wilson, the founder and executive director of 28 Too Many and a Church Mission Society mission partner, said: “At the start of 2020 many countries were reporting their lowest levels of FGM since records began in 2004 yet with the escalation of Covid-19, thousands of girls and young women are at risk of being ‘cut’ and sold into marriage or forced to work in the sex industry.”
Across Africa, from Kenya to Senegal, and Nigeria to Sierra Leone, multiple factors emanating from the coronavirus crisis have combined to cause charities and NGOs concern. Ann-Marie explains: “Restrictions on travel, reductions in funding for FGM programmes and the fear of contracting the disease, as well as the closure of the school year for pupils across Africa, has meant many girls are now isolated, under the radar and exposed to the dangers of FGM.”
Since Dr Wilson set up 28 Too Many in 2010, the organisation has compiled detailed country profiles for every country in Africa where FGM was practised. Ann-Marie commented, “Over time we’ve built a reputation and we are a bit like the ‘Google’ of FGM. 28 Too Many’s reports are used by DFID, the Metropolitan Police, the Home Office and UNICEF, as well as NGOs and UN teams around the world.”
The reality of the situation is clear to Dr Wilson. She warned: “We will continue to work within the health and education sector, as well as partnering with law enforcement agencies and governments both in the UK and around the world. Yet the gains of the last 10 years are now being threatened and the lives and wellbeing of tens of thousands of girls and young women is in the balance.”
Dr Wilson continued, “2020 presented challenges few people could have envisaged and now as the world enters a new year, it more important than ever, that governments, NGOs and agencies like 28 Too Many work together. Unless we integrate our strategies for fighting Covid-19 with FGM elimination programmes, decades of hard work highlighting and legislating against the practice of FGM are at risk.”
* “Impacts of Covid-19 on female genital cutting”, Report issued by Orchid Project September 2020