February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, and Seventh-day Adventists are among the many faith groups, NGOs and organizations working to end the practice.
FGM/C, often referred to as Female Circumcision, is practiced in nearly 30 countries in Africa and Asia. Young girls are subjected to procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to their genital organs for non-medical reasons, often as part of a coming-of-age cultural tradition or ceremony.
FGM/C is sometimes viewed as a status symbol and some practitioners say it controls sexuality and promotes chastity. Its effects often include infection, chronic pain and infertility. The United Nations banned the practice in 2012. The World Health Organization estimates that 140 million women are victims.
Many people, especially in Western countries, are not aware of FGM/C and are often shocked to learn about it. Seventh-day Adventists are opposed to the practice, according to a document adopted by the Adventist Church’s Christian View of Human Life Committee in 2000.
“Our Church should continue to seek loving ways to discourage this practice as well as to educate of its dangers,” said Dr. Peter Landless, Health Ministries director for the Adventist world church. “It is our desire that young women may grow in the natural way God created them.”
Landless urged respect for culture and sensitivity for those who are victims of the procedure.
“It is very important that we do not inadvertently add insult to the injury of this mutilating procedure by inferring such patients are irreversibly shamed,” Landless said. “Such an attitude or approach may give them the feeling that they are less than normal people. Plus, there are millions of women affected and one needs to be concerned lest the issue becomes a face off of cultures, rather than a compassionate concern for the well-being of women and their status in their society.”
Heather-Dawn Small, Women’s Ministries director for the Adventist world church, said her department at the world headquarters and its affiliates in local communities are continuing to bring awareness to the problem in order to end it.
“We’re doing what we can to help and heal our sisters who have suffered FGM/C through setting up homes for the victims, reaching out to communities where the practice is perpetrated on young girls to help stop this practice through education.”
One country where the Adventist Church has worked to combat FGM is Kenya. The Kajiado Rescue Centre is a girls rescue home and education facility that celebrates adolescence with an alternative rite. “It is seen as a blessing by many families in many villages,” said Denise Hochstrasser, Women’s Ministries director for the Adventist Church’s Inter-European Division, which helps sponsor the project.
Already, Kenya’s government has worked to eradicate FGM/C. In 2001 the Children’s Act criminalized the subjection of children to FGM/C, and the new Constitution, which was approved in 2010, offers clauses meant to protect children from any cultural practice that is harmful to their health.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) has also worked in Kenya with anti-FGM/C projects over the years. One recent project helped educate more than 2,500 people about the issue by young girls performing songs and skits about the issue to their families and government officials. Also, the initiative trained 189 trainers to work with community leaders in bringing awareness to the issue. The program also helped support those who formerly performed FGM/C with other income generating activities.
This year, ADRA is implementing a program called the Girl Child Empowerment Program in Kenya’s western province of Nyanza. The project will offer a 10-week skills course that includes healthy relationships and the dangers of FGM/C.
“Being a part of the church’s efforts in this global initiative to bring awareness to this issue is just one of the many ways in which ADRA is committed to empowering women and girls around the world,” said Jason Brooks, an ADRA senior program manager.
Also, in Germany last year, the Berlin Adventist Hospital opened the Desert Flower Center, an FGM/C reconstruction surgical center in partnership with supermodel Waris Dirie, one of the world’s most prominent advocates against FGM/C.
“As always, the Adventist Church seeks to restore the image of the Creator and to avoid adding grief and pain to those in suffering,” said Landless, the church’s Health Ministries director.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is an international community of some 18 million members. Approximately 37 percent of members live in Africa. Another 32 percent live in Latin America. In the U.S., where the denomination started in 1863, there are approximately 1.1 million members.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is committed to the development of minds and characters through education and joyous living in celebration of health. The denomination promotes healthful living and operates the largest Protestant network of hospitals and schools worldwide.
Seventh-day Adventists also strive to defend religious freedom of belief. The denomination launched in 1893 what is now the International Religious Liberty Association (irla.org), a non-sectarian organization promoting freedom of conscience for all people everywhere. The church also provides disaster relief and community development projects worldwide through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (adra.org).