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UN urges States and communities to help eradicate female genital mutilation

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo.
UNICEF/Anne Look
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo.

UN urges States and communities to help eradicate female genital mutilation

A senior United Nations official and the renowned singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo today urged all UN Member States and communities to outlaw female genital mutilation (FGM) and raise awareness about its harmful effects, especially in African countries where the practice is most prevalent.

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), told a news conference at UN Headquarters that many communities are increasingly abandoning FGM thanks to the use of “culturally sensitive, human rights-based approaches that support the positive values within communities that want the best for their girls and women.”

Over the past three years, some 8,000 communities across the world, including in 15 African countries, have abandoned the practice, he said. Last year alone 2,000 communities declared that they will no longer allow the human rights violation to continue.

“It is truly heartening that social norms and cultural practices are changing and communities are uniting to protect the rights of their girls and women,” said Mr. Osotimehin.

Ms. Kidjo, a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and a passionate advocate for girls’ education, challenged African leaders to be on the forefront of efforts to eradicate FGM, which she said “diminished” women and sought to destroy their identity.

“We can have help from around the world, [but] if there is no political will… we won’t move nowhere,” Ms. Kidjo, who will tonight sing at a concert in the UN sponsored by the Italian mission, in partnership with UNFPA and UNICEF.

A Grammy-winning artist, Ms, Kidjo, who was born in Benin, urged all States to sign up to a draft General Assembly resolution that calls for global action against FGM.

“We can’t live in a modern society with FGM still around,” she told UN Radio in an interview earlier.

Ms. Kidjo said that social traditions that condone FGM need to be “tackled at the core” through making entire communities aware of the harmful consequences of the practice.

“There traditions in my country and my continent that I am proud of, that I embody, that I carry, that I sing about, [but] there are some traditions in my continent that we Africans have to have the courage to face and sit together and find a solution [to],” she said.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa, an estimated 92 million girls aged 10 years or older have undergone FGM, which is also practised in some countries in the Middle East and Asia.

FGM or cutting includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM survivor Saran Dioubate from Guinea said the practice serves no purpose, is life-threatening and traumatizing.

“My feeling about being cut is like they stole something from me because nobody asked me if I wanted to be cut,” said Ms. Dioubate, who told the news conference that she was subjected to FGM when she was about six years old.

“Even though I was around six, if somebody had explained to me that it was painful I was going to say no. The practice has to end [and] for that we need collective effort by educating communities. We also have to raise awareness on the continent,” she said.

The practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18 per cent of all acts of FGM are performed by health-care providers, and that trend has been on the rise, according to WHO.