Georgia: FGM Criminalised Following IWPR Investigation - State takes immediate action to outlaw practice and raise public awareness.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been criminalised in Georgia following an IWPR investigation that revealed the practice was ongoing in an area in the east of the country.

The Georgian government and human rights groups said that they had all been previously unaware that ethnic Avars living in three villages of the Kvareli district, which borders Russia’s Dagestan republic, routinely carried out the procedure.

IWPR’s November 2016 report sparked a rapid response from the state institutions, with the office of Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili taking immediate action.

 “The first thing I did was convene a meeting with some NGOs, UN agencies and IWPR in order to get more information about the practice,” said Sopo Japaridze, advisor to the prime minister of Georgia on human rights and gender equality issues. “I wanted to learn more about the experience of other countries dealing with the same problem and to plan further action accordingly.

“I also held a meeting with officials from various state agencies where we discussed short and long-term strategies regarding FGM-related issues,” she continued.

The ministry of justice then quickly moved to prepare a package of legislative amendments to bring Georgian law into compliance with the Council of Europe (CoE)’s Istanbul Convention, which bans FGM. Parliament is expected to approve the amendments in its upcoming session.

At the same time, the state agency on religious issues met with faith leaders and families in the three villages affected, while the state ministry on equality and civic integration organised a meeting with students and teachers in one of the local public schools.

The ministry of labour, health and social affairs also put together and published a brochure on health risks of FGM.

Japaridze emphasised that the problem had to be treated with great caution to ensure it was eradicated rather than continued in secret.

“The issue is very sensitive and requires a thoughtful approach by the state,” she said. “This is to avoid consequences such as denial of the practice or it moving underground.”

The first step was to raise awareness, she said.

“We will make sure that community members are aware of subsequent complications of the practice, both from its medical and legal perspectives, and we hope that with the help of legislation and qualified professionals we ensure that FGM is prevented.”

IWPR’s investigation was also immediately picked up by all of Georgia’s leading broadcast media.

Republished in Russian, Georgian and English, the revelations sparked intense debate both in popular news and discussion programmes and on social media.

“The [IWPR] article brought to public attention a limited yet extreme form of violence against girls and women practiced on the territory of Georgia, which cannot be justified by any ‘traditions,’” said Erika Kvapilova, country representative of UN Women, a body which campaigns on this issue.

“Raising awareness about FGM as a gross form of violence, and education about the health and other implications of FGM on girls and women is as important as banning such practice by law.”

Kvapilova stressed that state agencies and the public defender’s office were taking the problem extremely seriously. 

“The public defender visited the location and verified with local people and health care providers that this so-called ‘rite of passage’ on small girls was practiced there,” she said.

“The public defender issued a statement condemning the practice as an extreme form of violence and an abuse of human rights, with negative implications on both health and personal wellbeing. The statement was followed by a public debate with ministry of health specialists who underlined the importance of addressing the problem effectively, including through education about the health implications of FGM.

“The issue has been taken very seriously by the Georgian authorities, as well as by civil society partners working towards ending violence against women and girls in Georgia,” Kvapilova concluded.

The author of the IWPR investigation, Aida Mirmaksumova, was also honoured for her campaigning journalism. In December 2016, the Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics and UN Women awarded her a special prize for “unveiling important problems in the field of women’s rights”.

Explaining why the jury had chosen to award Mirmaksumova this special prize, Georgian Charter of Journalistic Ethics executive director Natalia Dzvelishvili said, “No one had known about these [cases of FGM] before.

“This work became the starting point for very important discussions on women's rights, not only in society, but among government officials and the prime minister as well,” she said. “As we all know, this investigative report led to changes in legislation. So the jury decided that this very piece was one of the most important and influential reports of 2016.”