By Andrea Vremis, Dechen D. Piya & Lauren Ng
International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation
February 6th marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, which was selected by the UN General Assembly in 2012 in order ‘to amplify and direct the efforts on the elimination of the practice’.
Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/FGC) is a practice through which the female genitalia is altered or injured for non-medical purposes, and is considered a form of gender-based violence as well as ‘internationally recognized as a human-rights violation’ deeply rooted in gender inequality and discrimination. The practice can also result in both short- and long-term health issues, including chronic pain, infections, increased risk of HIV transmission, anxiety and depression, birth complications, infertility, and in the worst cases, death. Thus, FGM has lifelong implications for women and girls subjected to it.
According to UNFPA, globally, it is projected that around 200 million girls and women alive today have endured some form of FGM. Although the practice is decreasing in many of the countries where it is prevalent, a high rate of population growth in these countries will lead to an increase in the number of girls and women who undergo FGM if the practice continues ‘at current levels’. Furthermore, UNFPA with UNICEF leads the Joint Programme on FGM, estimates that approximately 68 million girls are at risk of being mutilated by 2030.
FGM violates various human rights both under international as well as national law, including women’s and girls’ rights to equality, life, security of person, dignity, and freedom from discrimination and torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Furthermore, many treaty monitoring bodies such as CEDAW, CRC, ICCPR, ICESCR and CAT have recognized FGM as a human rights violation ‘in breach of those treaties’ and it is banned by the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. All 193 member states of the UN have committed to eliminating all harmful practices, including female genital mutilation by 2030 within Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030. But, the practice still persists.
FGM is performed for several cultural, religious and social reasons within families and communities, varying from context to context, but generally rooted in a desire to control women’s sexual and bodily autonomy. It is associated with cultural ideas of femininity and modesty and beliefs of what is considered ‘proper sexual behavior’ linked to pre-marital virginity and marital fidelity, as it reduces woman’s sexual pleasure. Thus, it is often seen as a rite of passage into womanhood, and in many cases can be a precursor to child marriage. According to Equality Now, an NGO which advocates for ending FGM worldwide, ‘celebrating cultural values and heritage is important’, however girls should be able to do so and learn about the cultural and community values ‘without the violence and lifelong physical and mental effects of FGM or forced marriage’.
This International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation, as the UN enters its Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN and its agencies, UNFPA, UN Women, UNICEF and WHO called for the end of this harmful practice. ‘Together, we can eliminate female genital mutilation by 2030. Doing so will have a positive ripple effect on the health, education, and economic advancement of girls and women’ said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message to mark the occasion.
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