Search This Blog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What does UNHCR do to combat Female Genital Mutilation?

Posted by: lisacollste
September 22, 2009

Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and the procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later, potential childbirth complications and newborn deaths. The practice is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15 years. WHO estimates that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM and that about three million girls in Africa are at risk for FGM annually. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

Promoting gender equality and working towards the elimination of violence against women and girls, including Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), is an integral part of UNHCR’s protection mandate in its work for refugees and other people of concern. UNHCR staff have an obligation to uphold rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights instruments; therefore a harmful traditional practice which violates the individual rights of refugees will normally require the intervention of UNHCR. UNHCR’s Policy on Harmful Traditional Practices (1997) advises field staff to plan their strategy to address the occurrence of FGM practices carefully, in conjunction with the refugee community, implementing partners and any other relevant UN organizations. UNHCR advanced its policy in 2008 by being one of nine agencies which signed an Inter-Agency statement on eliminating female genital mutilation (FGM). This statement provides UNHCR’s operations with new and targeted guidance to address FGM.

In 2009, UNHCR published a Guidance Note on Refugee Claims relating to Female Genital Mutilation. The note affirms that FGM is a form of gender-based persecution and can constitute a ground for refugee status according to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The guidance is intended for use by those who may be involved in refugee status determination.

UNHCR has also updated the Guidance on the Use of Standardized Specific Needs Codes for the registration of refugee populations, which now includes specific codes on persons at risk of FGM, thus allowing field operations to identify and follow up on individual cases.

Below are some examples of UNHCR’s activities in 2008/09 in to combat FGM:


In Eastern Ethiopia, UNHCR is in partnership with a community-based NGO, Mother and Child Development Organization (MCDO), to raise awareness on FGM. In 2008-2009, MCDO conducted weekly group discussions, referred to as “coffee ceremonies”, and mobilized youth clubs against FGM in three Somali refugee camps. They identify role models against FGM within the refugee community and provide support to those who choose not to perform FGM on their children. They train health staff on how to respond to FGM and conduct vocational skills training targeted at former FGM practitioners and groups at risk in the camps. MCDO has also established a women’s centre in Aw-bare refugee camp where women talk exclusively about their economic, social and domestic problems. Organized discussions related to FGM are held in the centre to raise awareness. In the Kebribeyah refugee camp, a workshop on FGM was conducted in August 2009 by UNHCR, the International Rescue Committee and MCDO. The workshop targeted 50 participants, amongst whom there were representatives of district authorities, FGM practitioners and spiritual leaders. The workshop included the religious aspects of FGM and used spiritual leaders to highlight that FGM is a traditional practice, not a religious one, in order to demystify some of the conceived perceptions of the practice. During the workshop, FGM practitioners underlined that they did this work due to a lack of any alternate income, and 15 boys declared that they wanted to marry a woman who has not undergone FGM.


In Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, which hosts Somali refugees, UNHCR is raising awareness of the serious health risks of FGM through community dialogue. Inter-generational debates are held between older persons and youth to discuss the negative aspects of the culture. Support groups to fight FGM have been created, including religious leaders’ committees which support the abolition of FGM and emphasize the distinction between FGM and religion. Men Against FGM, a group of three hundred individuals, is mobilizing the refugee community, conducting peer education activities, acting as role models, and working in close cooperation with the police and agencies. There are support groups for families who have abandoned FGM, groups of former FGM practitioners, Youth Against FGM and groups for girls who have not undergone FGM. The awareness on FGM among the youth in the camp has greatly improved, through a project using sports to address FGM. This is being implemented in partnership with CARE. It has organized sports tournaments where the participants discuss FGM before and after the matches. Teachers, sports coaches and FGM survivors have been trained and the sports activities are used as a safe environment to discuss and create awareness on FGM. Radio communication has also been used to share information on the consequences of FGM. In Kakuma refugee camp, there are eleven anti-SGBV clubs targeting boys, their parents and teachers in the school, who campaign against FGM and other harmful practices.


In 2008 solar-powered radios were distributed to community points in the camps to support dissemination of messages on prevention of FGM and other types of SGBV. In 2009 a follow-up sensitization campaign against FGM was organized in the Koukou refugee camp.


A Women’s Association has been established with the aim of combatting SGBV and FGM.


In 2008, workshops were conducted on SGBV, with a particular focus on FGM, for the Refugee Women Committee, Youth Club, Block Leaders and Religious leaders in Kharaz refugee camp.


UNHCR, in partnership with Cairo Family Planning & Development Association, continues to implement awareness-raising sessions for refugee women on SGBV prevention and response, and the issue of FGM has been included in these sessions. The activity reaches around one hundred refugee women yearly. Moreover, discussions on community mechanisms to address SGBV and FGM regularly feature in UNHCR’s work with community-based refugee organizations.


The Men’s Association in the Ali-Addea refugee camp raises awareness among the refugee community focusing on FGM.

Other projects in partnership with UN agencies, governments and NGOs

In partnership with other UN agencies, governments and NGOs, UNHCR has also been involved in awareness raising among teachers, traditional and religious leaders and FGM practitioners, in Sudan, Liberia, Chad and Djibouti. In 2008, UNHCR joined the Donors Working Group on FGM/Cutting which supports a common approach among key governmental and intergovernmental organizations to promote the abandonment of the practice and make a major difference for girls and women worldwide.

If your field office is doing anything else to combat FGM, please let us know!