The Independent View: Ending female genital mutilation and early marriage will also help tackle HIV

Youth group, SRH, BangladeshThe leadership shown by the UK government – and in particular the Liberal Democrats and Lynne Featherstone MP – on ending female genital cutting or mutilation (FGC/M) in a generation has been ground breaking and inspiring. The upcoming Girl Summit is a timely opportunity, hot on the heels of the recent Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, to promote girls’ and women’s rights to live free from violence and discrimination and achieve their potential.

There’s no doubt that ending child, early and forced marriage and female genital cutting/mutilation for all girls will contribute to efforts to address gender inequity, promote sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and tackle the global HIV epidemic. Take Bangladesh for example which has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Two in three girls marry before the legal age of marriage, which is 18 for girls, and one in three start childbearing before the age of 20. Many parents actively push their daughters into early marriage to avoid stains on the family honour by pre-marital sexual activity. Marrying at a young age and early sexual contact put girls at higher risk of sexual health problems, including HIV which remains the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age around the world.

When it comes to FGC/M, there are clear risk factors between this egregious practice and HIV. After the “surgery”, the girls are often stitched so tightly that first sex is traumatic, often forced, resulting in the loss of blood, in addition to the usual bodily fluids, which increases the likelihood of transmission of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. HIV aside, FGC/M also has other negative sexual and reproductive health implications, including infections resulting from the cutting, and trauma and complications during childbirth.

Empowering young people with the necessary knowledge to understand and be able to advocate for and realise their rights is just one of many critical elements in the fight against early and forced marriage and FGC/M. Many young people around the world do not have access to adequate information about their right to protection from these practices and their sexual and reproductive health rights because of strong social and cultural taboos. With young people aged 15-24 now accounting for 40% of new HIV infections, ensuring access to integrated youth-friendly HIV and family planning services and information is critical.

The Girl Summit will help to deepen the dialogue between affected communities, civil society organisations, governments, faith leaders and the private sector and accelerate efforts to stamp out FGC/M and early and forced marriage. Whatever the outcomes, it will also play a part in helping to change the direction of the global HIV epidemic and so has our wholehearted support.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Helen Parry is the Senior Adviser on Sexual and Reproductive Health for The International HIV/AIDS Alliance which s a unique alliance of national civil society organisations dedicated to ending AIDS through community action. The Alliance works on HIV, health and human rights through local, national and global action with communities in over 40 countries on four continents. It is also a member of Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organisations from over 50 countries committed to ending child marriage.

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  • Aren’t those people in the photo Hindus? I think it should be pointed out that all forms of circumcision (male and female) are forbidden in Hinduism, and I don’t think it is practised in Hindu communities.

    Apart from that, good article.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Jul '14 - 2:42pm

    Like pretty much any secular person I want to see this practice banned and stopped, but the key is how to do it? It seems there is a lot of resistance towards reform. Personally I believe in cutting diplomatic ties with countries who refuse to reform. I’m no expert, but I warn against the softly softly approach that always puts the short-term economy first. Going too tough can also turn the local people against us. It is a fine balance.

    I’m an amateur, but I’m broadly aware of the dilemma between the nice approach and the tough approach.

  • Richard Carden 2nd Jul '14 - 7:52pm

    Please let’s have equality here. If it is right to stop females being mutilated by their misguided parents surely it is right that males should have the same protection?
    I am sorry if it upsets Jews but why should they be able to claim a “god-given” right to mutilate their male children any more than Muslims or members of other faiths should be allowed to mutilate their female offspring?

  • jenny Tonge 2nd Jul '14 - 8:48pm

    10 years ago the All Party group on Population and Development and reproductive Health held hearings on FGM and produced a report–ignored.
    3 years later I co sponsored a bill to make FGM illegal when a girl is taken abroad for FGM — no prosecutions.
    Recent pressure from the group and MPs backed latterly by Ministers, put pressure on the DPP to do something and he produced guidelines and directives.
    Following a Guardian Campaign, Michael Gove was persuaded to issueadvice to schools.
    We await with interest and in anguish, to see if it has done any good.
    The long summer holiday is the FGM season and we need PROSECUTIONS of the perpetrators of this evil practice, even if the victim refuses to testify against an otherwise loving parent.
    My APPG under my chairmanship produced a big report on child marriage, enttitled ‘A Childhood Lost” It was well received by DFID and the Home Office and legislation has followed.
    The Home Office Select Committee has produced a hard hitting report today.
    The photograph Stuart mentions probably relates to this and not FGM.
    Just wanted to put the record straight and show how long it takes to change things.
    All credit to the Coalition Government for its determination to stick to our 0.7% GNP pledge and to promote women’s health and reproductive rights in all their policies.
    I am no fan of this government but on this, they have been brilliant!!

  • Melanie Harvey 6th Jul '14 - 4:17pm

    There is no link between FGM and HIV.. If you do your homework the latter was developed and introduced by the US in the same way any germ warfare is, one that came back and kicked the west in the backsde. Further FGM is being overhyped as a foot in the door in predominately African countries.

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