When Pion was 10 years old, her grandmother said it was time for her to get married and become a “real” woman. Pion was terrified; she knew what that meant – having her genitalia cut, a practice called female genital mutilation (FGM). In the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania where she lives, she had seen many girls cut and forced to marry. Her older sister was cut when she was 10 and made to marry a much older man a month later. “I got very afraid and used to cry every day,” Pion told Human Rights Watch.
Pion didn’t want to be cut or get married so fast, and was determined to stay in school. Despite pressure from her family, she sought help from a teacher who contacted a local organization to help. Their intervention protected Pion from FGM and child marriage.
The United Nations estimates that more than 140 million women and girls alive today – roughly the population of Russia – have undergone some form of FGM. At this rate, about 86 million more girls will be cut by 2030. The sheer scale of FGM makes it one of the most pressing human rights concerns.
FGM involves the partial or complete removal of female genitalia without medical cause. It disrupts the normal functioning of a woman’s body with no health benefits. Human Rights Watch has documented FGM in Tanzania, Egypt, and Iraqi Kurdistan, where women and girls described their fear before being cut and the terrible toll on their health, including excessive bleeding, shock, infection, complications during childbirth, infertility, and other long-term gynecological issues. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychosexual problems are also common.
February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, when governments are asked to commit to ending FGM. In addition to the political will needed to eradicate FGM, governments should also commit to policies and programs that integrate prevention strategies into reproductive health, education, and literacy development. International donors should support efforts to promote equality of women and girls, but also ensure vulnerable girls have access to prevention and protection services.
Governments need to ensure that girls like Pion around the world have the chance to achieve their dreams and live free of the pain and suffering FGM causes.