“No Time to Waste” in End­ing FGM


More than 200 mil­lion women around the world have ex­pe­ri­enced some kind of fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion (FGM) and more could be at risk, a UN agency said.

Though the prac­tice has de­clined in preva­lence glob­ally, alarm­ing new fig­ures from the United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund (UNFPA) pre­dict that any progress could be off-set as a fur­ther 68 mil­lion girls face the risk of FGM by 2030.

The statis­tics from the UN were un­veiled to­day as the world marks the 15th In­ter­na­tional Day of Zero Tol­er­ance for Fe­male Gen­i­tal Mu­ti­la­tion (FGM).

FGM – some­times called fe­male cir­cum­ci­sion or be­ing ‘cut’ — is of­ten prac­ticed for re­li­gious, per­sonal, cul­tural, and com­ing of age pur­poses. Ac­cord­ing to the UN, most cases are in­flicted upon girls from in­fancy to the age of 15.

The in­crease in ‘at risk of FGM’ cases is partly due to pop­u­la­tion growth in coun­tries where FGM is com­mon – namely in parts of north­ern and west­ern Africa, the Mid­dle East and pock­ets of Asia.

In Egypt alone, more than 90 par­ent of women have un­der­gone the prac­tice.

Both UNICEF and UNFPA de­nounce FGM, calling it a “vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights’ and a “cruel prac­tice” that in­flicts emo­tional harm and preys on the most vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety.

FGM can cause life­long trauma, in­clud­ing uri­nary and vagi­nal prob­lems, in­creased risk of child­birth com­pli­ca­tions, and psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, and low self-es­teem.

Liesl Gern­tholtz, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Women’s Right Di­vi­sion at Hu­man Rights Watch, told I that the pre­dicted 68 mil­lion FGM cases was “un­ac­cept­able”.

“It’s a fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion that can ruin girls’ lives,” she said. “So of­ten these girls don’t have a say – at in­fancy and child­hood, how can you?

“There is no health ben­e­fit to women be­ing cut, so you tend to see it in those so­ci­eties that don’t have high lev­els of gen­der equal­ity…This prac­tice is rooted in gen­der in­equal­ity,” she added.

Gern­tholtz high­lighted that in or­der to tackle the prac­tice, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity needs to look at not just the spe­cific act of FGM, but at the broader is­sue of en­trenched gen­der in­equal­ity.

UNFPA’s Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Natalia Kanem echoed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments, say­ing that the world al­ready knows what it needs to do to over­come FGM.

“We know what works, tar­geted in­vest­ments that chang­ing so­cial norms, prac­tices and lives,” Kanem said

“Where so­cial norms are con­fronted vil­lages by vil­lage…when there is ac­cess to health, ed­u­ca­tion and le­gal ser­vices…where girls and women are pro­tected and em­pow­ered to make their voices heard.”

Change has par­tic­u­larly come from the com­mu­nity level.

Four­teen-year-old Lat­ifa­tou Com­paoré be­came an ad­vo­cate for end­ing the prac­tice af­ter learn­ing of her mother’s ex­pe­ri­ence with FGM.

“She told me that one of the girls who had been cut the same day as her had ex­pe­ri­enced se­ri­ous prob- lems and died fol­low­ing a haem­or­rhage that no one had taken care of,” Com­paoré told UNFPA.

“When she be­came a mom, she made the com­mit­ment that if she had girls, she would never cut them. And she kept her word,” she con­tin- ued.

In coun­tries where UNICEF and UNFPA work, some 18,000 com­mu­ni­ties have pub­licly dis­avowed the prac­tice and many African coun­tries have moved to im­ple­ment leg­is­la­tion out­law­ing it.

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