The UK is to give £50m ($64m) in aid money to help stop female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa.
The government says this is the biggest single investment to date in the world to help end FGM by 2030.
The practice involves removing all or part of a girl or woman’s external genitalia, including the clitoris, with some treating it as a rite of passage.
ActionAid welcomed the funding but said focusing on FGM alone “was not enough” to eradicate violence against women.
The aid package will help fund organisations such as the Saleema project in Sudan, which aims to show girls they can feel empowered if they are left uncut as well as trying to shift the attitudes of older members in the community.
Ministers have said the money will also have a beneficial effect in the UK as it will be used to help reduce the risk of girls being taken abroad to be cut.
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 and further legislation in 2003 and 2005 made it an offence to arrange the practice outside the country for British citizens or permanent residents. But there is yet to be a successful prosecution.
The government says there are an estimated 24,000 women and girls at risk of FGM in the UK.
Announcing the aid money, International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said FGM could not be eliminated in the UK “without ending it globally”.
“Inspirational, courageous African women are leading efforts to end the practice in their own countries, and thanks to them, more communities are starting to abandon the practice,” she said.
“But progress is at a critical juncture and we must work to protect the millions of girls that are still at risk of being cut.”
Anne Quesney, ActionAid’s senior women’s rights advocacy adviser, called the UK aid money a “vital effort to provide much needed support to ending one of the most extreme forms of violence against women and girls”.
“From our work in nine African countries, we have seen how this life-threatening practice not only impacts on girls’ lives and health, it limits their futures,” she said.
“Many girls never return to school and are forced into early marriage, for example.
“However, focusing on FGM alone is not enough… If we seriously want to eliminate violence against women and girls, we urgently need a holistic, well-resourced approach to tackling gender inequality more widely.”
Female genital mutilation
- Includes “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”
- Practised in 30 countries in Africa, and some in Asia and the Middle East
- An estimated three million girls and women worldwide are at risk each year
- It is commonly carried out on young girls, often between infancy and the age of 15
- Often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, to prepare a girl or woman for adulthood and marriage, and to ensure “pure femininity”
- Dangers include severe bleeding, problems urinating, infections, infertility and increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths
Source: World Health Organization