UN officials urge redoubled efforts to end female genital mutilation

UN officials urge redoubled efforts to end female genital mutilation

While there has been progress in reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation or cutting in several countries, there are still three million girls who continue to be at risk each year, United Nations officials warned today, calling for redoubled efforts to end this harmful practice.

The progress made in recent years in reducing FGM/C is largely because communities and families are taking action and calling for change, Thoraya Obaid and Ann M. Veneman, the Executive Directors of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), said in a joint statement to mark the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.

FGM/C is the partial or total removal of the external genitalia – undertaken for cultural or other non-medical reasons – often causing severe pain and sometimes resulting in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death.

In February 2008, 10 entities within the UN launched the Inter-agency Statement, setting out the elements to support the overall abandonment of this practice in one generation, with demonstrated success in many countries by 2015.

The heads of UNFPA and UNICEF noted that success in reducing the incidence in several countries where it was once highly prevalent has occurred as a result of culturally sensitive engagement with local communities, “encouraging change from within.”

They also pointed out that where communities have chosen to make public declarations against the practice, for example in Senegal, declines of up to 65 per cent have been recorded.

Despite the successes, an estimated 120 to 140 million women have been subject to this harmful and dangerous practice – which poses immediate and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls, and violates their human rights. In addition, 3 million girls continue to be at risk each year.

“The practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting,” the agency heads stated. “These perceptions can, and must, change.”

UNFPA, UNICEF and their partners are supporting communities to end the FGM/C, including by engaging parliamentarians, media, traditional communicators, women lawyers, medical associations, religious leaders and scholars to speak out against the practice.

The agencies pledged to work towards ending FGM/C within a generation and to advance gender equality and improve sexual and reproductive health.