Today, the eleventh annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), is a day to remember the 100 to 140 million women and girls around the world who have undergone FGM/C and renew the call to eradicate this debilitating and harmful traditional practice. According to UNICEF, an estimated 30 million girls are at risk of being cut within the next decade.
The United States supports community-based programs to address FGM/C in various places around the world. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development has provided start-up funding to assist the Nairobi Center of Excellence, which is working towards the acceleration of the abandonment of FGM/C within Africa and beyond within one generation. Our commitment to ending FGM/C and other forms of gender-based violence is rooted in U.S. policy to protect and advance the rights of women and girls.
A procedure involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, FGM/C is often performed by untrained practitioners, without anesthesia, and often using such instruments as broken glass, tin lids, scissors, or unsterilized razors. In addition to causing intense pain and psychological trauma, the procedure carries both short and long-term health risks, including hemorrhaging, recurrent infections, increased risk of HIV transmission, complications in delivering birth, and even death. Like other forms of gender-based violence, FGM/C not only puts at risk young girls who endure the brutal act, it also poses significant costs to public health, economic and social development, and prevents women and girls from fully contributing to society. The act is often justified as a rite of passage into adulthood, or carried out because of deeply embedded attitudes about women’s health, hygiene, sexuality, and their place in society. Any effort to eradicate FGM/C must include raising awareness of the costs and consequences of the practice on society and overturning the entrenched social norms that enable it to continue.
The encouraging news is that more and more communities are taking collective action against FGM/C. In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly urged countries to condemn harmful practices against women and girls, particularly FGM/C, and to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, raising awareness, and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this human rights abuse. A groundbreaking UNICEF report found that the momentum for the abandonment of FGM/C is heading in the right direction. In the past 15 years, thousands of villages in West and East Africa have publicly abandoned FGM/C and other harmful traditional practices that contribute to the marginalization of women and girls. Communities are finding increasing support for these efforts from religious leaders, international organizations, and governments around the world. The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has urged countries to abolish FGM/C, stating that the practice is not supported by the teachings of Islam and impairs the enjoyment of human rights. The practice has been outlawed in most of the countries where it occurs. Yet more needs to be done to strengthen these gains and protect future generations of girls from having to endure this form of abuse and harm to bodily integrity.
Community-based approaches -- involving village leaders and residents, midwives, educators, religious figures, elders, and government officials -- continue to offer the most effective solutions to ending the practice. Community advocates have found that when men come to understand the physical and psychological trauma of FGM/C, they become activists for its eradication, including fathers who unequivocally refuse to allow their daughters to be subjected to the procedure. When communities work together to abandon FGM/C, they can ensure stronger, healthier futures for girls, young women, their families and their entire society.
It is encouraging to see communities around the world standing up against FGM/C. If we sustain this momentum together, we will be that much closer to a world in which FGM/C and other harmful traditional practices are no longer tolerated and where women and girls everywhere will be able to enjoy all their human rights and fundamental freedoms, realize their full potential, and take their equal place in society.
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