U.S. Champions Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

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“These girls are happy because they are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age.”
“These girls are happy because they are the first generation in Kembata, Durame Woreda, Ethiopia who do not have to undergo FGM/C at their young age.”

U.S. Champions Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

Gender-based violence undermines peace, prosperity, and security for millions of women and girls around the world. Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), in particular, undermines the human rights of women and girls by damaging their health, limiting women’s economic opportunities, and obstructing girls’ access to education. This form of violence also increases the likelihood that girls will be more vulnerable to child, early, and forced marriage. At least 200 million women and girls alive today are survivors of FGM/C, and tens of millions more are still at risk of enduring the abhorrent practice before 2030.

On March 14, the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI) and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (USUN) convened FGM/C survivors, government officials, civil society representatives, and multilateral partners for a discussion on global efforts to end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) during the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). During the Implementing Commitments and Supporting Survivors: Advancing Efforts to End FGM/C program, high-level panelists from UNICEF, the governments of Egypt and The Gambia, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women highlighted the range of stakeholders working to prevent and respond to this practice.

USUN Ambassador for UN Management and Reform Cherith Norman Chalet delivers welcoming remarks at the FGM/C side event at CSW63. Photo courtesy of UNICEF.

The panelists shared examples from their work to end FGM/C and offered recommendations based on lessons learned in efforts to implement legislation, design programs, and engage stakeholders to change norms. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore spoke about FGM/C as a matter of dignity and rights, reinforcing the importance of addressing the practice as part of a broader commitment to ending gender-based violence globally. In discussing the implementation of laws and policies to end FGM/C, Gambian Minister of Women’s Affairs, Fatou Kinteh described ways in which The Gambia has integrated training on FGM/C into health curricula and trained teachers on signs to look for to identify at-risk girls. Egypt’s UN Ambassador and Permanent Representative Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees underscored the value of engaging religious leaders to end FGM/C and highlighted recent changes in Egypt’s FGM/C legislation that made the practice a felony in certain instances in an effort to deter potential perpetrators. Work to combat this violence in the United States was also discussed. DOJ Office on Violence Against Women Acting Director Katie Sullivan shared information about recognizing and supporting survivors of FGM/C in a culturally appropriate way and discussed prevention efforts to raise awareness about this violent crime.

S/GWI Acting Director Rahima Kandahari discussed U.S. efforts to end the practice, including raising awareness about the prevalence of FGM/C, addressing the social norms that drive it, andpromoting legal and policy frameworks to end FGM/C through programs, reporting, and diplomatic engagements. Throughout the session, panelists also heard from FGM/C survivors in the audience, who shared their stories and experiences with this heinous form of violence. The U.S. Department of State utilizes programs such as the Voices Against Violence program, an emergency-response mechanism that can provide rapid assistance to those facing the threat of FGM/C. In 2018, the Department of State contributed more than $5 million to help end this heinous practice.

Panelists hear from audience members during the FGM/C session. Photo courtesy of UNICEF.

“Establishing and enforcing laws to end FGM/C, creating platforms to mobilize regional engagement and action to end the practice. Engaging influential community and religious leaders to speak out against it are some of the key new efforts underway to accelerate progress to end FGM/C. Importantly, the next step in implementing these commitments will require engagement with communities, support for survivors, and leadership from influential religious and political leaders to change social norms,” said Rahima Kandahari.

For more information about the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, visit our website and follow S/GWI on Twitter @GenderAtState and on Facebook.

About the Author: Linsey Armstrong serves in Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State.