06 February 2006

Statement on the International Day for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Message of Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, UNFPA

Today, during the next 24 hours, an estimated 6,000 girls will undergo the practice of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C). Today, I join many others in calling for an end to this practice, which violates the rights of women and girls and harms their sexual and reproductive health.

As the world observes the International Day for the Eradication of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, I would like to pay tribute to the countless women, men and youth in many countries, who are working to end the practice. Their efforts are leading to change. In Kenya, Agnes Pareyo, a Maasai woman, campaigns relentlessly among her people, encouraging them to abandon the practice and replace it with an alternative ritual. In Uganda, Betty Cheboi, who was cut at the age of 22 and has suffered bouts of pain and numbness in her lower body ever since, speaks out against FGM/C at every opportunity, saying that no woman or girl should have to endure what she calls “this gruesome practice”. In Kenya, Uganda and many other countries, more and more girls and women are deciding not to be cut and their parents and communities are supporting them in this choice.

Perhaps more than any other issue, female genital mutilation or cutting has taught us that change cannot be imposed from outside; it must come from within.

UNFPA supports women’s groups and parliamentarians to promote laws to protect women and girls against female genital mutilation or cutting. But we recognize that traditions are often stronger than law, and legal action by itself is not enough. That is why we take a culturally sensitive approach, working with local power structures to mobilize communities and undertake broad advocacy campaigns to offer alternative rituals. A successful example is the “circumcision by words” initiated in Kenya. It preserves positive aspects of the cultural tradition with a weeklong programme of seclusion, traditional teachings, health education and counselling followed by a community-wide celebration with food, dancing and singing. We also focus on the cutters themselves, assisting them to find alternative sources of income.

Worldwide it is estimated that 130 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital mutilation or cutting and an estimated 2 million women and girls are at risk each year. Today, I pledge continued UNFPA support to end this harmful practice, improve women’s health and promote women’s empowerment and equality.