Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting (FGC), affects more than 125 million girls and women all over the world, with long-lasting and devastating consequences.
FGM involves using a razor or knife to remove all or part of the clitoris, often without anesthetic. Some girls are as old as 15 when they have it done, which means they remember it for the rest of their lives.
Traditionally the practice was seen as a joyful and essential rite of passage for adolescent girls, but since the 1970s there has been a concerted global push to recognise FGM as a way of controlling and oppressing female sexuality. New initiatives in education, support, community outreach and legislation are changing this - but today's International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM is a timely reminder that we must do more.
Here are five ways you can help eradicate FGM…
1. End the FGM taboo
The issue of FGM is not confined to the developing world. Despite it being a criminal offence in the UK, it was recently revealed that 170,000 girls and women have been victims in the past 10 years. But it's still a taboo subject and there's not been a single prosecution to date. "You don't know it's happening unless it's happening to you," says one girl to the camera in the Justice for FGM Victims UK film. Find out more about the causes and extent of the problem in the UK by watching the film and show the government this issue is important to you by signing this petition.
2. Help change the law
For FGM to end, legislation banning the practice needs to be passed, supported and enforced. Without this legal backing, it's hard to make progress. After a breakthrough moment in 2012, girls' rights organisation Equality Now is reaching out to governments and local authorities and urging them to support the introduction and passage of new, country-specific laws. Working with communities in Egypt, Kenya, Indonesia, Liberia and Mali, Equality Now relies on letters from the public to build its campaigns. Take action, select a campaign and send a letter online.
3. Support community education
"It is not enough to tell people that FGM is illegal," says FGM victim-turned-activist Gladys Kiranto. Changing laws is essential, but as FGM is often a deeply embedded cultural tradition in communities, large-scale education about why it is harmful is needed to effect major social change. Tostan's Community Empowerment Program has so far seen more than 6,500 communities across eight countries declare an abandonment of FGM. By hosting a fundraiser or volunteering you can help this number grow.
4. Fully understand FGM
It's not just reports, policy documents and research papers that can provide information and raise awareness of FGM. When the Games Froze is a new novel that helps North Americans understand more about FGM. Contextualising FGM in a story that people can relate to makes sure that information about the practice gets spread. Other FGM-related novels, Do They Hear You When You Cry, Flight of Life and Me, the Bud also use storytelling as a tool. By reading these novels and encouraging others to do the same, the global movement to end FGM will spread to the communities who need to hear this message most.
5. Use the power of social media
Although the fight to end FGM will take longer than a day, there's undeniable power in joint, collective action. That's why, on International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, the UK Department for International Development is staging a Thunderclap. To help #EndFGM in a Generation, sign up on Facebook or Twitter to tap into your social influence and share this statement: I'm calling for an end to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting. Retweet and take a stand this Zero Tolerance Day! Together we can #endFGM.
Read about how simple economics can end FGM
Hear the inspirational voices fighting FGM
Photo courtesy of DFID