A group of young activists in Guinea is fighting to raise awareness about the dangers of female genital mutilation, which is often performed on girls during the summer break to give them time to recover before school resumes.
"Vacation is coming soon... danger!” reads a post on Facebook page of the Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée (Young Girl Leaders of Guinea Club). "Our parents, aunts and grandmothers will take advantage of this time of year to cut little girls.”
The Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée wrote in a Facebook post that genital mutilation is often performed on young girls during the summer break.
Nearly 97 percent of Guinean women between 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilation. The ritual typically involves cutting or removing female genitalia, especially the clitoris, for non-medical reasons.
Around 100 volunteers, mostly teenage girls and young women, monitor an emergency helpline for victims and travel to various communities to educate families about the procedure's risks.
"Some women believe that they are impure or sterile if they are not cut," the Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée wrote in a Facebook post after a visit to locals in the Hamdallaye district in the capital of Conakry.
"Young girls are not protected during the holidays”
Hadja Idrissa Bah, who launched the group three years ago when she was 16, said that girls are particularly at risk of being cut in July and August.
Children are always excited to go on vacation, but here, many parents take their daughters to stay with their grandmothers or aunts and tell them how fun it will be. Instead, they cut them or amputate them. I say “amputate” because that’s what it is. Some genital mutilation also takes place in the city, in Conakry. You see little girls dressed in red for the ceremony. Little girls are not protected during the holidays and that terrifies us.”
This year, we are trying to raise awareness among mothers and aunts, who are complicit in the ritual and whom we feel often don’t understand the repercussions. Many didn’t have the opportunity to go to school or learn about their rights.
Some women who had been cut told the Club des jeunes filles leaders de Guinée that their husbands no longer loved them because the women "were no longer able to satisfy them," the group wrote in a Facebook post.
Some women think that genital mutilation is a religious requirement, which is not true. We explain to them that traditions today are based on positive, not negative practices.
It’s also important for us to go and talk to the fathers, even if the topic is taboo and hard to talk about. Sometimes it’s clear that we are unwelcome. We get chased out of some neighbourhoods by residents who are angry at us.
Guinea has the highest rate of genital mutilation in West Africa, despite being banned since 2000.
"The authorities need to stand behind the law, not tradition”
The group encourages women to call the emergency hotline if they hear of genital mutilation being performed in their neighborhoods. "There are women who are against the practice but don't know who they should alert," Bah said. If a family refuses to cancel the mutilation ritual, the group calls the police, Bah added.
Bad said authorities had not put enough measures in place to protect young girls.
The police need to set up their own emergency numbers and officers need to be trained to respond to this issue. The authorities already have some structures in place, including a special police unit focused on genital mutilation cases. But there aren’t enough resources allocated to prevent this type of ritual, and the police haven’t done their job for a long time.
The authorities need to stop supporting tradition and instead support the law. Everyone needs to wake up, including religious leaders, community leaders and other influential public figures.
UNICEF estimates that there are at least 200 million girls and women globally who are victims of genital mutilation. The procedure can result in hemorrhaging and infections, as well as death.This story was written by Maëva Poulet (@maevaplt).