Give Up Harmful Practices, not Culture

Box 16

A joint statement of three UN agencies on female genital mutilation acknowledges:

"All societies have norms of care and behaviour based on age, life stage, gender and social class. These 'norms', often referred to as traditional practices, originate either from social or cultural objectives, or from empirical observations related to the well- being of individuals or the society. Traditional practices may be beneficial, harmful or harmless. Traditional practices may have a harmful effect on health, and this is often the case in those relating to female children, relations between men and women, marriage and sexuality."

"In presenting this statement, the purpose is neither to criticize nor to condemn. But it is unacceptable that the international community remain passive in the name of a distorted vision of multiculturalism. Human behaviours and cultural values, however senseless or destructive they may appear from the personal and cultural standpoint of others, have meaning and fulfil a function for those who practise them. However, culture is not static but it is in constant flux, adapting and reforming. People will change their behaviour when they understand the hazards and indignity of harmful practices and when they realize that it is possible to give up harmful practices without giving up meaningful aspects of their culture."

Source: World Health Organization. 1996. Female Genital Mutilation: A Joint WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA Statement. Geneva: World Health Organization.