About the Author: Melanne Verveer serves as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues.
February 6 marks the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. We join with activists and survivors around the world to call for an end to this horrific practice. Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is sometimes called female genital cutting, is one extreme form of violence carried out against women and girls. It is not limited to ethnicity, race, class, religion, or education level. 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation, and more than 3 million girls are at risk each year on the African continent alone, according to U.N. estimates.
As Secretary Clinton has noted time and time again, human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights. FGM, an act rooted in the unequal status of women and girls and one which endangers their health and dignity, is a fundamental violation of human rights. The procedure is usually carried out on adolescent girls before they reach puberty and can affect a woman throughout her life span. It poses severe physical and psychological health risks for women and young girls -- including maternal mortality infection, infertility, incontinence, further complicated childbirths, and maternal mortality.
In too many cultures FGM is an deeply entrenched practice. Therefore efforts to end it must include educating and enlightening all members of society to understand FGM for the harmful and destructive practice it is. We commend the work of advocates and organizations who have made progress to eliminate FGM. Senegal, for example, adopted a law that was influenced by the grassroots efforts of villagers. Whole village communities went through a process of debate and discussion led by the village leaders, including religious leaders. As a result of their work, this harmful tradition has been abandoned in many villages across West Africa. A similar community awareness and discussion process has been effectively adopted by communities in Egypt. For example, one large community in the north recently held a community “declaration” ceremony after months of education and discussion on the harmful practice. The ceremony included: statements by community members on why they will not force this practice on their daughters; personal stories about the harmful impacts; and the signing of a declaration against FGM. In 2008, the Egyptian Parliament passed a law banning female circumcision. According to a news report, most Islamic scholars welcomed the decision, saying it was long overdue to outlaw a practice that needed to be ended.
While recognizing this progress, much work remains. The Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues and the U.S. Department of State are committed to continuing efforts to respond to and prevent gender-based violence worldwide, including the elimination of female genital mutilation. We encourage communities and nations to do their utmost to end this destructive practice.