Guterres: End ‘abhorrent practice’ of female genital mutilation
Some 4.4 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) this year, the UN Secretary-General warned on Tuesday, appealing for action to stamp out this “egregious violation of fundamental human rights” and give greater voice to survivors.
“Even one mutilation is one too many,” António Guterres said in his message to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), observed annually on 6 February.
The UN estimates that globally, 200 million women and girls have been subjected to some form of FGM, which involves the removal of or injury to female genitalia for non-medical reasons.
Challenge patriarchal norms
The Secretary-General stressed the need for urgent investments to achieve elimination by 2030, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He called for decisive action to tackle the social, economic and political norms that perpetuate discrimination against women and girls, limit their participation and leadership and restrict their access to education and employment.
“That starts with challenging the patriarchal power structures and attitudes at the root of this abhorrent practice,” he said.
Support for survivors
The UN chief urged countries to redouble efforts and investments to uphold the rights of women and girls and put a decisive end to FGM once and for all.
“And we need to amplify the voices of survivors and support their efforts to reclaim their lives based on their bodily autonomy,” he added.
Breaking the cycle in Yemen
The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, is helping communities to break the cycle surrounding FGM. A young woman from a remote village in Hadramout, Yemen, called Safia (not her real name) is among those fighting back.
Safia got married at 21 and fell pregnant a year later. Like mothers-to-be the world over, she received a lot of advice – whether solicited or not. Mere months before she gave birth, her mother-in-law began talking about FGM.
“My mother-in-law insisted it would allow my child to lead a moral life,” Safia told UNFPA.
A mother’s monumental loss
Safia gave birth and three days later, her mother-in-law visited with tools to perform FGM on the baby. Unfortunately, her daughter did not survive.
“Her death not only killed my joy of being a mother, but killed me a thousand times over,” Safia said.
In Yemen, nearly 20 per cent of women and girls aged 15 to 49 were FGM survivors in 2013, UNFPA said. Most were cut within their first week of life. Hadramout governorate alone had a prevalence rate of 80 per cent that year.
Pressure to conform
Many factors continue to drive the practice, the UN agency said, including the pressure to conform to deeply embedded cultural norms, a fear of ostracism for not doing so and limited awareness of its harms.
In Hadramout, many people believe the procedure is required by religion, despite profuse evidence to the contrary. Often women who have been subjected to FGM support continuing the tradition.
Safia is also an FGM survivor herself, but she has had enough. When she again fell pregnant with a girl, she decided to act.
“I blamed myself for not doing anything to save my daughter and began to question why she was killed in this brutal way for being a girl,” she said.
Awareness that saves lives
This time, Safia turned to her neighbours as they had avoided having their baby daughter subjected to FGM.
She learned from the woman that both her husband and in-laws had been convinced to abandon the practice after visiting a UNFPA-supported youth-friendly service centre. Safia’s husband urged his mother to accompany them there.
“The three of us listened for over three hours about the physical, mental and social consequences of female genital mutilation,” she said. “We became aware of how harmful it is and were fully convinced that it should not be practiced.”
Since 2008, UNFPA together with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have led the largest global programme to accelerate FGM elimination, and a recent campaign in Hadramout reached more than 400 people over eight days.
“I saved the life of my second daughter,” Safia said. “With this awareness, I believe I can help spare the lives of many innocent girls.”