Let's End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in Our Generation

22 October 2013

Millions of girls around the world are still threatened by genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), despite a century of efforts to put an end to it. More than 125 million girls and women have been cut in almost 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East. An estimated 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030, if current trends continue.

The good news is that these trends can be reversed, and we see encouraging signs of that. Estimates released earlier this year show that, since 2008, when the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C was established, more and more communities have abandoned the practice. In 2012 alone, a total of 1,775 communities across Africa publicly declared their commitment to end FGM/C.

Even in high-prevalence countries, we are encouraged by changing attitudes towards the practice. In Egypt, for example, where around 90 per cent of girls and women have been cut, the percentage of married people between the ages of 15-49 who think that FGM/C should stop more than doubled, from 13 per cent in 1995 to 28 per cent in 2008.

The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme’s human rights-based, culturally sensitive approach has been supporting national and community efforts to end the practice in 15 priority countries where FGM/C is most prevalent. We have been introducing positive social change by connecting directly to the community and religious leaders and with women, especially the elderly, to educate them about the harmful effects of FGM/C. We have also been actively engaging the practitioners themselves, who have been doing this for generations, to shift them away from the harmful tradition.

By working with governments and communities, the Joint Programme has made significant strides towards ending FGM/C. In addition to strengthening the legal and policy frameworks necessary to eliminate practice, it has sped-up changes in social and cultural norms towards its abandonment. It has also strengthened the momentum for change at the global level.

This robust global momentum was most evident late last year when the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations.” The unanimous adoption of this resolution speaks volumes to the world’s commitment to ending this harmful practice. The resolution, co-sponsored by about 150 countries, including Italy, underscores the fact that the practice of FGM/C is a violation of the human rights of women and girls, and recognizes that harmful practices meant to control women's sexuality have led to great suffering.

There have also been other concerted efforts to end FGM/C. Some 60 countries around the world have adopted laws penalizing the practice; 24 African countries, and 12 of the 15 countries in the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C are in this group. Italy has been a staunch advocate for ending the practice and, along with other European countries, has strongly contributed to the success of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme. In addition to generating the much-needed resources essential to strengthen, develop and scale up existing programmes to accelerate FGM/C abandonment, they have played a vital role in strengthening legislation against FGM/C by supporting African parliamentarians in their efforts to end the practice.

The global community’s commitment to ending this practice will be demonstrated, once again, during this week’s International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, organized by UNFPA, UNICEF and Italy. The aim of the conference, to be attended by ministers and other high officials and representatives of civil society from Africa, Europe and other regions, is to consolidate global political commitment, galvanize further national action, and plan specific strategies to build a broad-based movement to end FGM/C in the next generation.

While welcoming the successes so far, participants at the conference will no doubt discuss the obstacles that still must be overcome to reach their goals. Among these are the need for more resources and the continuous resistance by some small, but vocal, forces to any changes in the FGM/C practice.

We call on the global community to join us in the critical effort to overcome these obstacles and put an end to FGM/C. Let us do that, not only because of the harmful impact of the practice on the reproductive and sexual health of women, but also because it is a violation of women's fundamental human rights. Together, we can eliminate FGM/C in one generation and help millions of girls and women live healthier, fuller lives.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Corriere Della Sera

Follow Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin on Twitter: @babatundeunfpa

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