FGM: Countering the ‘Business of Cutting’

by Paula Kweskin


Amid many new initiatives aimed at eliminating female genital mutilation (FGM) is an important and new program which will launch this fall to provide income and an alternative business to women who perform FGM in Douentza, Mali.

One of the problems continually identified in the fight to end FGM is the “business of cutting.” In poverty-stricken countries, those who do the actual cutting make good money. Cutters are often the sole providers of income for their families.

What researchers have found is that as much as education can change a community’s views about FGM and thus lower the percentage of girls being cut, it hasn’t been enough to completely eradicate it.

new pilot program launching this fall is aimed specifically at the business of cutting. The project, initiated by the Northwestern University’s Access to Health Project will be conducted in Mali in the town of Douentza.

The program will work with the cutters, providing them with comparable income for a six-month period and the tools to run a small, alternative business.

“Our initial assessment in Douentza indicates that if the cutters were provided with the opportunity to earn a substitute source of revenue, they would set aside their knives and razor blades,”  writes Juliet Sorensen, the director of the project and a professor at Northwestern Law School.

The Northwestern Access to Health Project is an interdisciplinary program comprised of students and faculty from the Northwestern University’s schools of law, management and medicine. With partners from Douentza, a working group previously conducted an assessment to identify projects and interventions that have the greatest chance of working.

“In interviews conducted last year by a women’s advocate in Douentza, Laya Ongoiba, the cutters said they would cease performing the excisions if they had an alternative source of income,” writes Sorensen. “One woman reported that she would like a freezer to sell cold drinks in the market; another woman said she would buy several goats to raise for meat and milk.”

To qualify for the program, cutters must commit to not performing FGM during the tenure of the program. At the same time, they will be educated by Ongoiba about the horrific effects of FGM on a woman’s health (both physical and psychological). At the same time, the cutters will receive crucial training in running their businesses. The supplementary income will be denied to any cutter in the program found to be performing FGM.

The director of the local radio stations and a local women’s leader will serve as the project managers.

Members of the Northwestern working group will return to Douentza in March 2015 to evaluate the project.

FGM, includes all procedures involving partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is generally practiced on girls between the ages of four and 12 and affects 3.6 million girls a year.

Although a third less girls are being cut compared to the numbers 30 years ago, according to a recent report by UNICEF, the actual number of victims is projected to grow over the next 20 years due to population growth.

Currently, seven girls have their genitals mutilated per minute. That’s seven girls too many.