October 15, 2014 | 12 Comments

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Awareness Poster Campaign (Amnesty International & Volontaire)

From the curators: Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female circumcision or cutting, is a term that encompasses all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. The physical and emotional complications and harm inflicted on girls and women who experience FGM is unarguable. However, the practice of FGM is rooted in a mixture of social, cultural, and religious factors, and is therefore a complex and controversial issue. The poster design by the Swedish agency Volontaire for Amnesty International illustrates the stitches and closures used in three of the four different categories of FGM (the fourth, “other,” is a catch-all for procedures other than clitoridectomy, excision, or infibulation). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the 29 (mostly African and Middle Eastern) countries where the practice of FGM is concentrated, more than 125 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. Recognizing it as a contravention of human rights, multiple agencies of the United Nations and Amnesty International are, in collaboration with the WHO, leading the charge to end the practice of FGM as as part of a larger campaign to eliminate violence against women.

So much artistry and money is devoted to the design of advertisements. Campaigns are everywhere and their purpose is simple: they want to sell you something, to have you desire it. Most of all they make you want to be part of the glamorous image of a brand.

There is one exception: when an advertising agency creates a campaign for a charity, what does it sell? It’s not a car, not a perfume. They don’t sell you anything, they want to mobilize you, to make you aware of an unbearable reality that exists somewhere in the world and that you could help change.

This is not an easy task. I’ve traveled to the poorest parts of Africa with UNICEF and I’ve witnessed many dire situations where the most basic needs are left unfulfilled. When it is time to come back to the Western world and speak to the media, I sometimes feel powerless to express my outrage. If you’re too angry, you’re going to turn people off; if you’re too soft, nobody will care. The traditional singers from my country, Benin, have given me some advice on how to express my outrage. I was always surprised by the contrast between the depth of their message and the uplifting quality of their music. They taught me that the way the message is delivered is as important as the message itself. Don’t make people feel guilty if you want to have a lasting effect on their conscience.

In order to manipulate our emotions and to drive us to buy products, advertising agencies have designed many techniques that include the use of shocking and violent images. Are all those techniques fair game for charities when they are supposed to promote the well-being of humanity? The answer seems obvious: a graphic ad will make us react and react fast. It will use our predisposition for compassion and pity to push us to donate right away. Our donation will staunch our guilty conscience and we will soon feel good again.

But this manipulative strategy comes with a cost. Not only does it border on voyeurism, it also perpetuates some preconceptions on how Africa is perceived—a continent of poverty and disease. More importantly, the unbearable pity we experience prevents us from having a long-lasting connection with the people we’re trying to help. When an ad displays the extent of people’s misery, and only that, not only is their pride taken away but they are also made to seem like they belong to a different, distant world. It feels like we’ll never meet these people in person. They cease to be human like us.

Excision, as denounced in this Amnesty campaign, is a complex and tragic issue. It’s a hurtful tradition, a rite of passage, in which the perpetuator—the older woman who “operates”—is also a victim. Passing laws won’t be enough. It is smart advocacy and long-term education that are needed.

Creating an ad campaign to raise awareness on this subject must have been a challenge. Because of its intimate nature, using graphic images—which other campaigns could have used with few qualms—is not an option. Instead of pushing the boundaries on violent imagery or watering down the message with beautiful faces of poor girls, the designer has used a powerful solution that, in my view, expresses the outrage without degrading the viewer or the victim. Even though the practice of infibulation is almost literally pictured here, those ads use strong symbolism and the power of imagination to make sure we won’t stay indifferent. And we should not.

RosesSmall (1)


"Don’t make people feel guilty if you want to have a lasting effect on their conscience:" is outrage counterproductive when fighting for human rights?

  1. October 17, 2014, 10:35 am


    injustice et cruaute

    ces hommes refusent aux femmes de disposer de leur corps comme elles l’entendent en plus de leur interdire le savoir

  2. October 17, 2014, 8:47 pm


    Nobody refers to it as cutting or circumcision unless they are trying to minimise female genital mutilation. Never refer to it as anything other than mutilation. It’s a reasonable ad. And it is irrelevant if people are offended, tone policing is done by those who wish to keep power and keep people silent.

    What will stop the practise is men refusing to rape any female who has had their clitoris gouged out, their labia sliced off or any part of their sexual organs harmed by slicing, gouging or cutting parts off. Until men refuse to stop raping girls who have been attacked in this fashion, these assaults will continue.

  3. October 19, 2014, 8:51 pm

    Evy-Ann Digre

    Save the innocent girls!

  4. November 6, 2014, 3:30 am


    I struggle with how to productively express my outrage, too. I just want to press my understanding into other people, but blunt-force instruments do not work effectively. When I think of the stories that have moved me, they have told me a story, gently opening me. I think this poster has the capacity to touch hearts in a way screaming never will. Make good art.

  5. December 5, 2014, 4:29 pm

    Nuria Benítez


    I am astonished by the graphic coherence of the posters’ design, both powerful and beautiful, so accurately illustrating feminine genital mutilation and yet effectively making us aware and sensitive towards approaching this topic. I hope they can arise conscience and appease violence stich by stich.

  6. January 9, 2015, 7:18 am

    […] Source: Amnesty International and United Nations  […]

  7. January 19, 2015, 7:01 am

    […] other extensively used remedy for feminine genital warts is the roots of crops. Anti-viral very important oils extracted from crops, that incorporate […]

  8. February 25, 2015, 4:08 am


    This poster should be spread over the world to raise social awareness of this issue. I hope this campaign could help all girls and women who are suffering with FGM.

  9. May 18, 2015, 11:52 am

    Mo Mukhtar

    Horrible experience for young girls

    FGM is cruel cultural practice that requires multiple dimensional approach in order to be eradicated. We must understand reasons and traditions that are compelling parents to hurt their permanent.

  10. January 12, 2016, 7:10 am


    Outrage and advocacy

    I had this conversation with a friend in the context of climat change. I don’t think you can make people change by telling them how bad they are because then they become defensive, even the brain system they use change (“amygdala hijack”).
    I was thinking about something. Can we make people “desire” to help, “lust” for positive change like we do in classic advertising? Maybe if we had pleasure helping people like we have pleasure buying a new phone or car, we would be more efficient at helping people, maybe. But that would be really odd to see and rather depressing.

  11. September 26, 2016, 9:58 pm

    Sakshi Shah

    art as an expression

    Very recently, I have come across ways of expressing my thought. Art therapy being one of them. In my opinion there is no correct way to create/comment on something that will not offend people. Because if there exists a need to publish something on such a large scale to create awareness, that means, it will offend people. As its said, you know you have their attention, if they are angry about it.
    Many people are negligent towards whats happening in the society. And there is no other way around to get their attention without being outrageous. I ask, that how many of us would have seen this poster on the wall and walked by it? I certainly do appreciate the graphic, its beautiful and well thought of but is it effective? In my opinion the article is stronger in this case. If it has to be left on just graphics, then for such causes the graphic needs to be outrageous to draw people’s attention.

  12. May 19, 2017, 1:42 am

    […] project evokes and reveals the fear of a distantly-controlled overhead attack; Volontaire’s elegant, strong poster series for Amnesty International raises consciousness of gendered violence and female genital […]