End FGM EU has conducted an internal survey among our Members and Ambassadors around their work in Europe and beyond, including the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls affected by FGM, as well as the impact on organisations working on FGM.
Impact on women and girls at risk
In terms of impact on women and girls at risk, there are several factors to consider which might heighten it or lower it depending on the national and community context. Among the factors of increased risk, there are:
- The confinement at home and the disruption of protection measures for girls which might put them in jeopardy. Specifically in places where communities live in shared houses with compatriots, it might be easier to get a cutter in.
- The fact that in some countries schools are not reopening until September means enough time to heal wounds and let the violation pass undetected.
- In some other countries, there are cases of missing children who are not responding to messages from schools since the lockdown, which have mainly migrant background. Those children might be exposed to violations, which would also pass undetected and not reported.
On the other hand, a main factor of decreased risk, specifically for the European context, is the temporary travel ban, which definitely lowers the chances of FGM being carried out abroad during the holiday season. However, this does not mean that other ways cannot be found to perform the practice (see above). Moreover, we have information of another factor entailing a lower risk for girls in this period in Africa and Asia: due to the crisis, ritual ceremonies have been sometimes postponed, because of respect for social distancing measures as well as due to the fact that resources are shifted towards basic needs. Again, of course this does not prevent the practice from still being performed in secrecy. Finally, medicalised FGM is temporarily also reduced due to the re-focusing of all healthcare services on the pandemics management.
Impact on women and girls already affected by FGM
Concerning the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women and girls already affected by FGM, this is definitely huge, in terms of disruption of support services for FGM survivors:
- All non-COVID related medical service has been suspended.
- When services are still available (such as telephone lines for violence, or gender-based violence shelters) they are more difficult to access due to the limited mobility of women and girls as well as the heightened family control.
- Even if some psychological support is being continued via phone, it is very difficult to ensure confidentiality and privacy in crowded households.
Impact on organisations working on FGM
In terms of impact on organisations working on FGM, it must first be noted that NGOs and community-based organisations are at the forefront of work to ending FGM and supporting survivors. The type of work they carry out in this sense ranges from service provision, to training professionals, community engagement, awareness raising, advocacy, research, and so on. These areas are of course all impacted by this crisis, including access to funding, staff management and well-being. But the crisis has also brought new ways of working on new issues and with each other. When asked from 1 to 5 how much this crisis had impacted their work, 60% of our members answered 4 (very much) and 40% answered 5 (severely).
When looking at the main challenges that our members face during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are:
- Lack of privacy at home to access activities and/or that might still be ongoing, since women might not feel comfortable to share their feelings when children or partners are around;
- Lack of appropriate IT tools, specifically for people from affected communities;
- Behavioural change activities have stopped since they need a face to face interaction;
- Shift in communities’ needs, in terms of new priorities arising such as loss of job, health issues, lack of income, home schooling and care for children, anxiety, etc.;
- Shift in priorities for front-line professionals, decision-makers and donors, which brings them to a lack of availability beyond the crisis response [in terms of funding: usual funding mechanisms are devoting huge parts of their funding basket to the COVID-19 response, meaning less funding available already now, and it is still not clear whether usual funding programs will be available to finance activities in 2021];
- Moving activities online takes time and adaptation to new tools, as well as preparation, learning and strategic thinking, which is not always taken into consideration by donors;
- Some donors ask to reduce staff costs while activities are reduced or postponed, which causes the need for organisations to move towards temporary technical unemployment, when such scheme is possible;
- Stress for present and future for organisations’ staff, due to job and salary instability;
- Working from home, parenting and home schooling children at the same time, which too often affects disproportionately women due to the still persistent traditional gender roles.
From our survey, common solutions also came out to face this situation, such as:
- Moving some activities online, such as virtual meetings with community members and peer educators already working together, e-learning platforms on FGM to train professionals (such as the e-learning platform UEFGM);
- Keeping connected to communities through social media and keeping sharing FGM prevention messaging at community level through those means (including through innovative apps, such as the one from The Restorers);
- Re-shaping community work within the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic, including new activities to spread information among communities on the current situation, translating official governmental information on the pandemics in community languages, producing flashcards on the subject and distribute them at local level;
- Mainstreaming COVID-19 response in activities and re-strategise advocacy/awareness raising/research/community engagement, FGM prevention, etc. linking with COVID-19 response;
- Innovative fundraising through crowd funding, selling merchandise, etc.;
- Online wellbeing/psychological support for staff and community members, including sessions on emotional management and psychological support online;
- Emergency funds covering home-working expenses (online services + staff phone and internet bills).
If we slow down the prevention of FGM and support for survivors, we risk to lose a lot of achievements reached so far. A general recommendation that emerged from the survey is to keep working in coordination, collaboration and alliance with civil society and women's organisations , including grassroots ones, to develop new strategies to ensure that the achievements are not lost and to build on the opportunities this crisis may bring.
End FGM EU strongly recommends the EU and its Member States, as well as donors, to:
- Ensure a gender-sensitive COVID-19 response which adequately involves women and girls-led initiatives within the crisis response;
- SRHR and GBV services, including FGM, must be kept at the core of COVID-19 response, ensuring an intersectional approach towards the most vulnerable;
- Ensure that COVID-19 response measures are not adopted at the expenses of budgets for gender equality, women’s rights, GBV & FGM;
- Keep supporting CSOs and fully fund their ongoing activities on FGM;
- Continue prioritising funding FGM activities in the future , including mainstreaming them through wider interventions on COVID-19 crisis response and health programmes;
- Ensure funding flexibility and the creation of emergency funds for CSOs to face the situation;
- Ensure sustainable funding for grassroots organisations;
- Support community-level data collection on COVID-19 impact on FGM.