Stressing that all girls deserve to grow up free from harmful practices that endanger their well-being, United Nations officials on Sunday called for abolishing the practice of female genital mutilation to help millions lead healthier lives.
Female genital mutilation or 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.
Genital cutting can produce complications during child birth, increasing the chances of death or disability for both mother and child.
Despite these risks, three million girls face FGM/C every year in Africa, and up to 140 million women and girls worldwide have already undergone the practice, which has serious immediate and long-term health effects and is a clear violation of fundamental human rights, according to the heads of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
In a joint statement to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake renewed their commitment to put an end to the harmful practice.
“We call on the global community to join us in this critical effort. Together, we can abolish FGM/C in one generation and help millions of girls and women to live healthier, fuller lives,” they stated.
Over 6,000 communities in Africa, including in Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal, have chosen to abandon the practice of FGM/C through a joint programme set up by the two agencies three years ago, and the number is growing.
“We are working in 12 out of 17 priority African countries and have seen real results. The years of hard work are paying off with FGM/C prevalence rates decreasing,” said Nafissatou Diop, Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C.
“In Ethiopia, the prevalence rate has fallen from 80 per cent to 74 per cent, in Kenya from 32 per cent to 27 per cent, and in Egypt from 97 per cent to 91 per cent. But there is still a lot of work to do,” added Ms. Diop.
Set up in 2008, the joint initiative encourages communities to collectively abandon FGM/C. It uses a culturally sensitive approach, including dialogue and social networking, leading to abandonment within one generation.
The programme is anchored in human rights and involves all groups within a community, including religious leaders and young girls themselves. Rather than condemn FGM/C, it encourages collective abandonment to avoid alienating those that practice it and instead bring about their voluntary renunciation.
“Social norms and cultural practices are changing, and women and men in communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls. UNFPA and UNICEF are working with partners to end this harmful practice in one generation and we believe that reaching this goal is possible,” said the UN agency chiefs.