At the age of nine, Edell Otieno-Okoth came into contact with female genital mutilation for the first time. "My best friend in Kenya was a girl from our neighborhood at the time. I went in and out of her house. Her family belonged to a different ethnic group that also practiced female genital mutilation," says the 43-year-old, who now lives with her family lives near Bremen.
After a mysterious ceremony in the village, her friend suddenly disappeared completely. "From one day to the next, contact with her was no longer possible. I was chased away by her family and insulted as unclean. In the evenings I could hear her screams when her wounds were cleaned."
Best friend's genitals circumcised
Edell Otieno-Okoth was only able to explain what happened back then in retrospect: her best friend - like millions of other girls in Kenya and other African countries, but also in Indonesia or Yemen - had her genitals cut. In this unimaginably cruel practice, girls and young women have their clitoris removed, and sometimes also their labia minora and majora. During pharaonic circumcision, the vaginal opening is sewn shut - and usually only reopened on the wedding night. Circumcision of the female genitals, also known as Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), is a serious human rights violation and is banned in most countries - but is still practiced.
“Women who are not circumcised are considered unclean in the practicing communities,” explains Edell Otieno-Okoth, who has been campaigning against FGM for many years - since 2020 as an expert at the children's rights organization Plan International based in Hamburg. FGM is a deeply rooted cultural tradition that is based on the inequality between women and men. "This is an extreme form of discrimination against girls and women. It's about controlling women's sexuality. In the end, women are only there to satisfy men and give birth to children," explains the mother of two children, who came to Germany at the age of 23 and studied law here - also to stand up for women.
Around 200 million girls and women are affected worldwide
Due to migration, FGM is now spread worldwide. According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 200 million girls and women worldwide have their genitals cut - and every year three million girls are at risk of being cut. To draw attention to this serious human rights violation, the UN Human Rights Commission has declared February 6th International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation. According to the women's rights organization Terre des Femmes, there are now more than 100,000 girls and women in Germany whose genitals have been cut, and more than 17,000 girls in Germany are currently potentially at risk.
The children's rights organization Plan International has been active against FGM in Egypt, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Sierra Leone for many years. “In collaboration with local partners, we are carrying out projects there that aim to move away from this practice,” says Edell Otieno-Okoth. It is important to convince people and offer them alternatives, including economic ones. For example, through alternative initiation rites in which the girls are not circumcised. “We also ensure that circumcisers can earn their own income in other ways,” says the 43-year-old. In Kenya the numbers have dropped noticeably.
Children's rights organization Plan also works in this country
In Germany, Plan also works with local partner organizations to reach the various communities. In Lower Saxony, Plan cooperates with the Baobab - Together association. Those affected can get advice there and there is training for specialists such as doctors and midwives. "Many parents travel home with their daughters to have them circumcised there. If we find out about planned genital mutilation, we inform the responsible authorities in order to work together to find a solution to protect the girl." Even though she has already persuaded many people to change their minds, Edell Otieno-Okoth only wants one thing: "That no girls will be circumcised anymore."
Plan International Association baobab Plan information on FGM BMZ on genital mutilation Terre des Femmes on genital mutilation