01 November 2020

Let’s end female genital mutilation

Together, making Burkina Faso a safer place for girls

woman holding her baby

It is estimated that globally 200 million girls and women have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and that 4.1 million girls* are at risk in 2020 alone.

Women often bear the consequences of genital mutilation for life.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that consists of altering or damaging the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is a centuries-old traditional practice that is a serious violation of human rights and is a public health problem, associated with both physical and psychological health risks. Female genital mutilation is nearly always carried out on minors and is therefore also a violation of the rights of the child.

In Burkina Faso, the practice is illegal. Yet it still makes victims among women and girls every day. Social norms and peer pressure play a major role in this. In the Centre-Est region of Burkina Faso, Enabel investigates the underlying motives together with the government, health workers, Burkinabe women’s and youth organisations and community leaders. The aim is to optimise the awareness-raising strategy and to fight FGM in a targeted way.

Legal framework


In 1996, Burkina Faso adopted a law punishing the practice. This law was revised in 2018 with a move towards additional prison sentences and fines.

A government survey conducted in 2015** shows that 84.7% of women interviewed think that FGM should be phased out. Women who live in cities reject the practice more often than women living on the countryside. Nevertheless, almost one in five Burkinabe – both men and women – (18%) think that the practice should be maintained.***
The government of Burkina Faso, together with development partners, has put effort into awareness-raising campaigns. These campaigns have yielded cautious positive results. The prevalence among girls aged 15-19 years is 42.4% while it is 87.4% for those aged 45-49 years..**Thus it is possible that excision is decreasing from generation to generation.
However, the legislative framework does not appear to be sufficient to completely eradicate the practice.

A law on its own is not enough


With more measures in place to reinforce the law, other challenges have come up. Women who have been circumcised in Burkina Faso sometimes do not seek proper medical care precisely because of it.

For example, they often do not dare to give birth in a hospital for fear that the midwife or gynaecologist will notify the police as is required by law. Or sick young girls who have undergone FGM are not taken to the doctor, because a doctor could establish during the medical check-up that the girl has been cut.
Therefore, investing in culturally-sensitive education and public awareness-raising activities to accompany these laws is crucial to continue to make the practice decline and to combat these negative side-effects.

Understanding why


But what is the best way forward? In order to get an answer to that, it is important to look at what reasons communities themselves cite for continuing FGM. Research interviews reveal the following:

Culture and tradition, social reasons like the possibility of marriage, perceived health benefits, pressure from elders, regulation of women’s sexual desire, and consequences like alienation within the community and its referral network.
Despite the legislation, the practice continues 24 years later. And that is precisely why Enabel really wants to understand why people use these arguments and why they think they are important enough for FGM to continue to exist. Together with the government and the citizens of the Centre-Est region we want to come up with long-lasting solutions.
To this end, we are working in partnership with research institutes in Burkina Faso and Belgium. The University of Liège, the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, the University of Ghent and the Institut Supérieur des Sciences de Population in Ouagadougou, all join forces to carry out an extensive socio-anthropological study. The first results are expected in the spring of 2021 and will be gradually refined.

Taking action together


When practising communities decide themselves to abandon female genital mutilation, progress can be made. Within these communities there are a lot of people working towards solutions, people who are speaking out, trying to get the subject up for discussion and out in the open.

 Blandine, Frédéric, Philomène and Zakaria are raising their voices to sensitise on FGM and violence against women.

Enabel wants to reinforce voices like theirs. Working side-by-side with change makers within Burkinabe communities. 

Religious and cultural leaders also have an important role to play here. Through radio broadcasts, for example – the first source of information for many people, especially in rural areas – they speak directly to people from Burkina in the most widely spoken languages. Theatre performances about FGM at parties and in villages are also a successful way of getting a debate going.
“If we want to end FGM, everyone has to get involved. It can no longer remain a taboo subject.” Frédéric – head of the Tenkodogo Municipal Youth Council

Violence against women, an issue going beyond FGM

Enabel supports the government of Burkina Faso not only in the fight against FGM, but presents a global approach, fighting against any form of gender-related violence.

“In Burkina Faso 41% of women are beaten because they refuse to have sex or to care for children. And 54% of women are excluded from decision-making about their own health. Yet, in a this highly patriarchal society, a lot of people find this normal, creating awareness is therefore complicated.” Explains Thierry Nkurabagaya, Enabel expert and coordinator of the She Decides project in Burkina Faso.

Because of this complicated context and because different forms of violence are intertwined, it’s vital to offer an approach that looks at the issues from different angles: “The promotion of family planning and the eradication of violence against women and girls constitute the common thread throughout all our actions. Starting from a holistic approach, combining the right to information, the right to protection of victims of violence and the right to access to quality community-based care,” says Thierry.

Need for continuous efforts


In the Centre-Est region we are currently renovating a hospital where we will set up a Centre for Mother and Child, where victims of violence can find refuge. In time, it will also offer clitoral recovery operations there.

The Burkinabe Ministry for the Protection of the Family, Women and Children established a system of family foster care for girls who ran away from home to avoid FGM, forced marriages or other types of domestic violence. “We are working to strengthen this service by identifying possible suited foster families and offering trainings to those families and community women’s organisations,” explains Thierry.
Finally, we are closely working with schools to incorporate classes on sexual and gender-based violence. Making sure that children and young people – both girls ànd boys – know that they can be heard at school. Together with UNFPA we also invest in the expansion of an online youth platform called ‘QGJeunes’, which offers fact-based information on sexual and reproductive health and rights specifically targeting a young-adult audience.
“We are advising our elders to stop the practise of FGM, the negative effects on girls and women’s health are just too many.” Blandine – member of the youth movement of Koupela

The project at a glance


  • An estimated  200 million girls and women have undergone FGM worldwide.
  • In 1996, Burkina Faso adopted a law punishing the practice.
  • In Burkina Faso among girls under age 15 the practice has declined. Falling from 13.3% in 2010 to 11.3% in 2015.**
  • In the Centre-Est region where Enabel works, 75% of women have been cut according to statistics from 2018.***
  • Budget: the total budget is 4 million euro, of which 850 000 euro is used for information, communication and awareness-raising and 750 000 euro for sheltering victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Actions specifically on FGM prevention are a part of this.
  • Project duration: 2018-2023

Sources used for this webstory:

* UNFPA State of the World Population report 2020 
**Les Mutilations Génitales Féminines (MGF) – INSD Burkina Faso (2015)
***l’étude pays SIGI-Burkina Faso (2018)

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