United Nations (UN) health actors have reaffirmed their commitment to ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which they described as violation of human rights, so that the millions of girls who are still at risk of being mutilated by 2030 do not experience it.
Speaking for United Nations were Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women, who said that millions of girls and women are still being subjected to the cruel practice of FGM.
“At least 200 million girls and women alive today have had their genitals mutilated – suffering one of the most inhuman acts of gender-based violence in the world,” they said.
In a joint statement released by Geoffrey Njoku,Communications Specialist and Oluwatosin Akingbulu, Communications Officer, UNICEF, to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the trio said the effort is especially critical because FGM leads to long-term physical, psychological and social consequences.
They said: “It violates women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health, physical integrity, non-discrimination and freedom from cruel or degrading treatment.
“It is also a violation of medical ethics: Female genital mutilation is never safe, no matter who carries it out or how clean the venue is.
“Because female genital mutilation is a form of gender-based violence, we cannot address it in isolation from other forms of violence against women and girls, or other harmful practices such as early and forced marriages.
“To end female genital mutilation, we have to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and work for women’s social and economic empowerment.”
They said that in 2015, world leaders overwhelmingly backed the elimination of female genital mutilation as one of the targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“This is an achievable goal and we must act now to translate that political commitment into action. At the national level, we need new policies and legislation protecting the rights of girls and women to live free from violence and discrimination.
“Governments in countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent should also develop national action plans to end the practice. To be effective, their plans must include budget lines dedicated to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, education, social welfare and legal services.
“At the regional level, we need institutions and economic communities to work together, preventing the movement of girls and women across borders when the purpose is to get them into countries with less restrictive female genital mutilation laws.
“Locally, we need religious leaders to strike down myths that female genital mutilation has a basis in religion. Because societal pressures often drive the practice, individuals and families need more information about the benefits of abandoning it,” they noted.
They observed that the public pledges to abandon female genital mutilation – particularly pledges by entire communities – are an effective model of collective commitment.
They, however, insisted that public pledges must be paired with comprehensive strategies for challenging the social norms, practices and behaviours that condone female genital mutilation.
They said that testimonials by survivors should help to build understanding of the practice’s grim reality and long-lasting impact on women’s lives while advocacy campaigns and social media can amplify the message that ending female genital mutilation saves and improves lives.
They commended the collective action of governments, civil society, communities and individuals, saying that female genital mutilation was in decline.
“But we are not aiming for fewer cases of this practice. We are insisting on zero,” they said.
The recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2016 -2017) shows some decline in the incidence of FGM in Nigeria, 18.4% of women aged 15-49 years now undergo FGM; a decrease from 27% in 2011.
UNICEF and partners’ interventions to ensure the elimination of FGM by 2030 has resulted in a break in the barrier against discussing FGM publicly. Religious leaders, community stakeholders and young people now speak out against this practice. Subsequently, last year, more than 309 communities publicly declared abandonment of the practice.
“Despite this decline, millions of girls and women are still faced with the scourge of genital mutilation every year in Nigeria. There is, therefore, an urgent need for decision-makers and political leaders to take concrete action towards ending the harmful practice of FGM in Nigeria,” said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Country Representative.