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UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, together with the European Union Delegation to Tanzania, the High Commission of Canada, the Embassy of Ireland, the Embassy of the Netherlands and the British High Commission highlighted the collaborative efforts that are needed across all sectors of society in Tanzania to intensify efforts to end female genital mutilation at an event held at the Alliance Française on the 16th July, 2018. Although criminalized since 1998, FGM is still almost universal in some communities and girls under the age of one are increasingly the most affected group.

The fight to end FGM is now global, and UNFPA is the lead agency in Tanzania supporting the government to end this practice, which a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights.  There has been a decrease in the practice over the last five years but recent data from UNFPA show that population growth is jeopardizing progress made to date as the real number of girls at risk is growing.  And the “cutting season” for 2018 is approaching; many communities in Tanzania practice cutting during the month of December, which coincides with school holidays.

The critically acclaimed film: “In the Name of Your Daughter” was screened at the event.  The film tells the story of girls, some as young as eight, fleeing mutilation in Northern Tanzania and of Rhobi Samwelly, who has dedicated her life to ending FGM in her community in Serengeti, and who has set up a safe house where girls can take refuge during the “cutting season”.

The challenges of tackling FGM

An African proverb says that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ but it will take a whole country to end the practice of FGM, which is so deeply entrenched in cultural traditions and social norms.  The Q&A session that followed the screening of the film highlighted the challenges to tackling FGM and the coordinated multi-sectoral efforts across programme areas to address supply and demand issues that will be needed to eliminate the practice. Engaging men and boys in FGM programming was also highlighted as a critical element to end FGM in Tanzania.

Sijali Hamisi Nyambuche, the Gender and Children’s Desk Officer in Serengeti, noted that with criminalization, FGM is now conducted at night and in great secrecy, with guards armed with machetes.

Interventions to eliminate FGM

The Government of the United Republic of Tanzania is committed to reviving the National FGM Taskforce to ensure that legislation and policies that protect young girls are implemented. UNFPA has supported the Tanzania Police to establish Gender and Children’s Desks; they now have increased capacity to detect and investigate FGM.

The Masanga Centre, with UNFPA’s support, provides alternative rites of passage that over 2,000 girls have attended.  UNFPA is committed to continuing its support to girls at risk from FGM including through the provision of professional counselling for parents to ensure that there is parental consent for girls to attend alternative rites of passage and stay at the camps.

UNFPA is working with both the traditional media and young influencers on social media to ensure that every young girl across the country hears the message that they don’t need to undergo FGM to be accepted as a person.  As a young girl says to her mother in the film: “In the Name of Your Daughter”, “It is not you I’m rejecting, it’s the cutting” – no young girl should ever have to make such a choice. The young influencers have already started their mission to raise awareness about FGM; information about FGM has been posted on the school’s notice board at the Centre For Foreign Relations and awareness-raising sessions will be held with students and teachers, ensuring the involvement of men.

Young influencers raise awareness of the need to end FGM among
students and tutors

Putting FGM on the international agenda

In September, UNFPA will take some of the champions fighting to end FGM in Tanzania to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly and place the need to accelerate efforts to end  FGM on the international agenda. In October, in collaboration with the Government and the European Union, a national dialogue will be held to assess opportunities for scaling up programmes across the country.

FGM can and will be eliminated but every member of Tanzania society must be aware of the laws that exist to prevent the practice and its harmful and life-threatening impact.  As Hashina Begum, Deputy Representative, UNFPA, concluded at the event: “We must work together to challenge traditions and cultural beliefs that drive this practice, and work with all sectors of society to ensure that no other girl becomes an FGM statistic.”