International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February 2024

Her Voice. Her Future.

 

By Julia Rowland / GICJ

 

Introduction

 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) refers to a procedure performed on women and girls in which part or all of the external genitalia is removed. FGM is primarily a cultural practice and serves no medical function. More than 200 million girls alive today are survivors of FGM and in 2024, 4.4 million more girls - around 12,000 per day - are at risk of this harmful practice. The International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, commemorated on February 6 each year since 2012, is an opportunity to hone efforts to end this practice and build upon successful interventions. FGM is a reflection of deeply rooted discriminatory values against women and girls and while the reasons for the practice varies from region to region, ending it requires for the transformation of social and cultural norms that justify FGM's existence.

 

While progress has been made, and girls are one third less likely to be subjected to the practice compared to 30 years ago, progress must be accelerated 10 fold in order to achieve the global target set by the Sustainable Development Agenda of elimination by 2030. Presently, rates of FGM are increasing, and girls who have undergone the procedure live mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Arab States. However, FGM is also present in select countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. The ages of girls when FGM is performed is also decreasing, with studies showing that it is being carried out in infancy. This shortens the window of time for meaningful intervention.

 

What is female genital mutilation?

 

FGM has serious, life-long impact on the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women, and is globally recognised as a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence. FGM is the umbrella term for 4 types of cutting that can range from the removal of the clitoris and/or the labia to the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. FGM has no health benefits and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. FGM can lead to severe bleeding, infections, urinary problems, and long-term health conditions as well. FGM can impact menstruation, sexual relations, and increases the risk of childbirth complications and increase newborn deaths. Around one in four girls and women, 52 million, have been cut by health personnel. FGM is never ‘safe,’ and there is no medical justification for it. Even when it is performed in a sterile environment by a healthcare professional, serious health consequences can still occur. Medical FGM is also a violation of girls’ and women’s right to life, and to the highest attainable standard of health.

 

FGM is often performed as a rite of passage or as a social convention, both with the function of ensuring integration and acceptance into the community. The former can be considered a necessary step for girls to become women, and a way to prepare them for adulthood and marriage. It is therefore significant that steps are taken to transform these social conventions in a way in which communities remain intact, but harm is avoided.

 

Current approach

 

While Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 specifically sets the target of eliminating harmful practices including FGM by 2030, the largest initiative working to end FGM is the UNFPA and the UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, started in 2008. It focuses on 17 countries in Africa and the Middle East and supports regional and global initiatives. The Joint Partnership works with more than 11,000 organisations, 83 percent of which are grassroots organisations that partner with survivor-led movements that champion changing gender and social norms. It focuses on the countries that are impacted the most, working towards shifting social norms in conjunction with governments to implement effective national response systems. The current phase of the partnership (Phase IV) promotes transformative changes to eliminate FGM and centres on girls’ agency. By advancing their rights, enhancing knowledge, skills and leadership opportunities through education, they can assert their right to bodily autonomy and make informed decisions. Statistics show that this creates generational change: Daughters of FGM survivors are at significant higher risk to undergo FGM compared to daughters of women who have not undergone FGM.

 

Her Voice. Her Future.

 

On this international day, it is important not just to focus on FGM as a harmful practice, but to expand our view beyond it and promote wider initiatives that advance equality and foster transformative change to phase out all discriminatory practices. It is also an opportunity to recognise the role and work of women’s rights activists who protect and support girls and women all over the world. This year’s theme, Her Voice. Her Future., focuses on amplifying and including the voices of girls and women survivors, and implementing survivor-led initiatives to challenge the social and cultural norms that motivate this practice and bring it to an end.

 

Taking a collective approach has shown to be an effective way to end the practice. By including the entire community, it is not only individuals whose behaviour changes, but a collective shift in societal norms occurs. For collective abandonment to take place, communities need to be educated on FGM, be able to discuss, reflect and reach a consensus on the issue. These dialogues should feature health and human rights considerations, with local organisations taking part. These types of culturally sensitive interventions strengthen human rights but also give communities the ability to explore alternative ways to fulfil their values, honour and celebrate their traditions without causing harm. It is crucial to include the girls and women who are primarily impacted by the practice in fostering change. Emphasising girls’ and women’s agency, voice and leadership are incredibly important steps in changing norms. Meaningful participation and leadership skills can help girls develop the life skills and opportunities they need to realise their aspirations and define a future without FGM. However, it is important that their empowerment is not simply used as an instrument for the elimination of the practice, but situated in wider initiatives to realise a more equal society.

 

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) advocates for, and promotes the rights of women and gender equality and condemns all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls. GICJ condemns FGM and calls in the international community to ban harmful practices and to support initiatives that encourage transformative cultural change.

  

#Geneva #geneva4justice #Justice #GICJ #GenevaInternationalCentreForJustice #EndFGM #HerVoiceHerFuture #HerVoiceMatters #GICJ_Training

 

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