Spotlight B2 - "Bringing it all Together: Ending FGM Through Strong and Effective National Action"

Context: Cathy Russell introduced one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). The Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Profile of speaker: Cathy Russell currently serves as the United States (US) Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. Prior to assuming this position in August 2013, she served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, focusing on military families and higher education. During her tenure at the White House, Ambassador Russell coordinated the development of the Administration's strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence (GBV) globally. She previously served as a Senior Advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on international women's issues.

Strategy overview: Cathy Russell reminded the audience that 120-140 million women have undergone FGM globally, and 3 million girls and women - even those living in the US - are at risk every year. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, said "these statistics were a challenge for all of us". Ms. Russell said that the US has been dealing with FGM as part of their GBV strategy. The country is working to strengthen reporting and is working on community-based approaches (for example, in partnership with Guinea) to eliminate harmful practices. Since 1986, the US has funded a centre for excellence tackling FGM domestically. Through such efforts, the US Department of Health has provided support to communities and medical providers. Going forward, Russell expressed a need for an improved approach in community-led response, changing social norms, and political responses.

From "Highlights of Government Progress since the Girl Summit towards the Elimination Female Genital Mutilation and Child and Forced Marriage" [PDF]:

  • Overseas work since the 2014 Girl Summit: The US Government has been working to prevent and respond to CEFM and to end FGM/C by providing "appropriate health care and access to education to married children and educated students, teachers, and community leaders on the importance of delaying marriage and the harmful effects of CEFM including the Safe Schools program in Nepal. We have also studied the effectiveness of programs to delay marriage in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Burkina Faso and the impact of programs in India that provide financial incentives to families who keep their girls in school. Results will be released in early fall 2015 (Tanzania and Ethiopia) and 2016 (Burkina Faso). In Bangladesh, the Protecting Human Rights program supports the development and momentum on amendments from the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MOWCA). A divisional level workshop on child marriage was held and one immediate outcome was the announcement of an annual national day on prevention of child marriage, to be observed every September 29 in Bangladesh. A new program in Benin targeting approximately 100,000 beneficiaries was launched to raise community awareness of the harmful effects of CEFM and the law prohibiting forced marriage and to establish 'one-stop' GBV care centers to provide medical, legal, psychosocial, and economic support to survivors of GBV, including married children."
  • US/international partnerships have included: "In March, the [US President Barrack] Obama Administration announced Let Girls Learn, a new whole-of-government initiative to ensure adolescent girls get the education they deserve. The U.S. Government launched a new program in fall 2014 to address FGM/C in Guinea. Through partnerships with the Government of Guinea, UNICEF, Guinea's First Lady and 26 local civic and human rights organizations, Embassy Conakry established nationwide educational and media campaigns that encourage policymakers, health professionals, excisors, religious leaders and the general public to abandon FGM/C. The U.S. government recently updated its FGM/C notice and made it available in six different languages, reflecting the main languages of the 29 countries of high FGM/C prevalence."
  • Domestically: The US government has provided information on FGM/C to educators and immigrant and refugee service provider organisations in communities throughout the country that have large populations of girls at risk. It has also established an information and resources depository with links to health/legal providers in order to inform women and girls of their rights and provide options for those seeking help. On the International Day for Zero Tolerance for FGM/C, the US conducted its "first-ever social media campaign to raise awareness of FGM/C, engaging with over a million individuals."

Overview of this Summit session: Speakers from African and European countries came together in this session to discuss what they have done to ensure coordinated and comprehensive national action towards ending FGM in their own countries and seek insight from each other's experiences. They talk about how they have creatively brought together diverse groups to achieve consensus on what needs to happen to end FGM, highlighting critical steps towards success as well as challenges. Following an opening by Cathy Russell, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues, United States, the speakers, in order of appearance, are:

  • Hon. Dr Linah Jebii Kilimo, Chair of the Anti-FGM Board, Kenya
  • Dr. Alain P. Zoubga, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity, Government of Burkina Faso
  • Norman Baker, MP Minister of State for Crime Prevention, Government of the United Kingdom
  • Zsanett Shashaty, Anti-Slavery Officer for the Welsh Government
  • Vitor Almeida, Senior Advisor in the Portuguese Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality, Government of Portugal
  • Dr. Morissanda Kouyate, Executive Director, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices

The session was moderated by Susan Bookbinder, who is a journalist, broadcaster, columnist and media consultant with a particular focus on FGM.

Footage of this (available below) presentation and others are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.

The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.


"Girl Summit 2014: Spotlight session outlines"; and "Highlights of Government Progress since the Girl Summit towards the Elimination Female Genital Mutilation and Child and Forced Marriage" [PDF] - both accessed on August 17 2015. Photo courtesy of DFID - UK Department for International Development - sourced from "5 Powerful Stories About FGM/C You Need to Hear", by Catherine Russell, The Huffington Post, February 5 2015

See video