Webinar #3 ‘The impact of Covid-19 on ending FGM/C’

May 28, 2020

The 26th of May 2020, we organized a webinar entitled ‘Impact of Covid-19 on ending FGM/C in Asia‘. It was the third webinar of a webinar series about the impact of Covid-19 on our efforts to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C).

Current situation in Asia

The first webinar focused on the situation in Tanzania, the second webinar on the situation in Kenya and we decided that the focus of the third webinar would be on Asian countries. The webinar featured members of the Asia Network to End FGM/C, a joint collaboration between ARROW and Orchid Project in partnership with activists, organisations and researchers working on FGM/C in Asia.

Input on four questions

I started my presentation with an overview of the input I received from all participants since the first webinar on the four questions: risks, challenges, opportunities and solutions. I developed an 8-pager that I shared with all participants, including all preliminary research results and a list of resources on Covid-19 and FGM/C, that I will keep up to date.

(Temporary) decreased risk of FGM/C 

In the second part of my presentation, I shared some evidence (local newspaper articles, stories of journalists) that FGM/C is on the rise at the African continent, but that there seems to be a (temporary) decrease in FGM/C cases in Asia. I shared with our participants what a respondent had observed in India. She said that in urban areas, Mumbai in particular, the practice has stopped, as it is medicalized. The practices and clinics performing FGM/C have all been closed, only governmental hospitals focussing on Covid-19 are open. In addition to that, children under the age of 10 are prohibited from leaving the house, so are adults above the age of sixty. Since girls are usually cut at the age of 7 and cutters often are elderly women, it is impossible to get a girl cut. However, it has also been observed that in rural areas in India the practice continues in secret, since measures are not enforced as harshly as in cities and the people seem to be less afraid of Covid-19.

Even if it is great news that FGM/C is currently ‘on hold’ in India, I was also told about several challenges the pandemic is presenting for the efforts to end FGM/C in India. FGM/C is not criminalized in India, and efforts to change that have come to a standstill. Also, an important FGM/C case pending before the Supreme Court has been put on hold. On top of that, NGOs are severely restricted in their work by the measures against Covid-19 as it is impossible to do field work due to travel bans. This means communities and victims are very hard to reach. Campaigners have also found that meeting victims via e.g. Zoom is very difficult, because communities are not familiar with modern technology and these campaigners feel that FGM/C is too sensitive a subject for a virtual conversation.

We were also joined in this webinar by two experts from the field: Ms Retty Ratnawati from Indonesia, representing the National Commission on Violence Against Women, and Aarefa Johari from India, who is involved in the development of the app ‘Mumkin’, which helps girls to initiate and continue the dialogue on FGM with their parents.

But before they were given the floor, Ebony Ridell Bamber Orchid Project) gave more background information about the Asia Network to end FGM/C. She also shared with us some challenges in the Asian context, for example a lack of prevalence data from governments and a lack of criminalization of FGM/C, despite international commitments that have been made. Another challenge Ebony underlined is the fact that in many Asian countries FGM/C is seen as a religious duty within practicing communities. Although there is anecdotal evidence from Indonesia that large ritual-style ceremonies have been postponed, Ebony highlighted that this is unlikely to mark a permanent trend. She also shared important insights from Malaysia, where most health services not focussed on Covid-19 have become unavailable through the closure of clinics, which heavily impacts FGM/C survivors who are often reliant on health services. Ebony also confirmed that Orchid Project shares the fear that FGM/C will go ‘underground’ and expressed that it was likely that the practice “ will become further shrouded in secrecy ” and continue.

Afterwards, Ms Retty Ratnawati of the National Commission on Violence Against Women in Indonesia shared with us their important research and experiences related to Covid-19 and Aarefa Johari of Sahiyo India shared with us how the lockdown in India is impacting the prevalence of FGM/C at the moment and how the development of a new app might help campaigners in the fight against FGM/C during times of social-distancing and isolation.

  • The recording of webinar #3 is available here.
  • The powerpoint presentations of webinar #3 is available here.
  • The research that Ms Retty Ratnawati presented about FGM in Indonesia is available here and a policy brief about the research is available here.

It was very nice that webinar #3 was featured in the newsletter of Sahiyo a few weeks later: