Fighting FGM with Football

Around the world, more than 140 million girls are victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).   FGM involves the agonizing removal of external female genitalia with significant health risks and no health benefits.   Those who practise it do so in the belief that is reduces a woman’s libido and helps her resist “illicit” sexual acts to remain modest and pure.  It is a deep rooted tradition carried across ethnic, religious and racial groups.
FGM is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, but thousands of girls across Africa and Asia continue to be cut every day.   In Burkina Faso, West Africa, over 70% of women have undergone the procedure.  This is despite the fact that Burkina Faso has strong laws against the practice and a Ministry dedicated to its elimination.  As FGM has been so deeply rooted in culture and tradition in the area, it will take time to win hearts and minds to eradicate this violent crime.
In the Bobo Diaoulassou district of Burkina Faso, over 80% of women have undergone FGM, many of them as young as five years old and many others also on a non-voluntary basis.   This is where Laureus Sport for Good is funding the newly launched Coaching for Hope project, “Kick out Female Genital Cutting”. 
The project is working alongside teachers, parents, school children and local leaders, using football and coaching to help the wider community to understand how harmful FGM is.   Despite it being incredibly painful, distressing and endangering the lives of young girls, many cultures regard FGM as a “rite of passage” for girls as young as five.  It can lead to infertility, constant pain, incontinence, fistulas, problems with intercourse and childbirth, shock, infection and death.
Working in 5 primary schools, the project uses simple football sessions, regular coaching sessions with newly trained coaches and inter-school tournaments to pass on messages about a girl’s right to physical integrity, the dangers of FGM and basic sex education.  In addition, the programme addresses a girl’s right to play and be physically active and how girls feel about the choices they have to make in life.   
The programme is supported also by a booklet funded by Hogan Lovells law firm in graphic novel style, telling the story of one girl who underwent FGM and the impact on her contrasting it to the healthy life lived by a girl who was uncut.
The convening power of football can bring together families, neighbours and students where we will raise these issues and promote discussion.  
Changing practices like this which are deeply embedded in the culture, is a slow and delicate process and it is our belief that by changing the beliefs and attitudes of the younger generation we can begin to turn the tide against this violation of girls’ rights.

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