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Female Genital Mutilation: over 3 million women and girls are at risk

Some three million women and girls worldwide face Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) each year, that is about 8000 girls a day. An estimated 140 million have already been subjected to this practice.

FGM/C has been termed as one of the most widespread and systematic violations of the universal human right to personal integrity, committed against millions of women and girls worldwide, abusing their physical and psychological integrity and damaging their lives irreversibly.

During a panel discussion which was held on the periphery of the latest session of the Human Rights Council titled “Harmful Traditional practices, rhetoric or reality” and  organized by the NGO/Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and WURN with UN Human Rights Office as a participant, the speakers stated that FGM/C is a harmful traditional practice not based on any religious, medical, or social premise. The practice is a reproductive health concern and a human rights violation. It is an affront to human dignity, gross violation of fundamental human rights, the geographic reach of which extends well beyond those countries that have been historically considered to be its bastions.

The panel included Isha Dyfan, Chief of the Women Rights and Gender Section in the UN Human Rights Office; the other speakers were Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, President of CSW and General Secretary of World Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), Manon Boisclair from Canada Mission, SR VAW, SR Health, SR Cultural Rights, Lois Herman from WURN and a representative from CRC-CEDAW.

Dyfan emphasized that harmful traditional practice persists in environments where there are unequal gender structures and where women and girls have unequal access to education, wealth, health and employment. In this regard, harmful traditional practices are both as an act of violence and a form of discrimination.

The UN Human Rights Office guided by information gathered by field presences in 60 countries, has not shied away from speaking out on harmful traditional practices. The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung wha-Kang, during her mission to Chad and Niger in April 2012 brought the issues of harmful traditional practices and discrimination against women and girls to the forefront. She noted that legal provisions and regulations that discriminate against women persisted in the Nigér law. She urged the Government to review its customary and modern legislation in order to repeal these provisions.

UN Human Rights Office is a member of the UN Population Fund-UNICEF Joint Programme entitled “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: 

Accelerating Change.” The Programme brings together UN agencies and countries where it is still being practised and to support the operationalization of a common coordinated approach to address this human rights violation.  The Programme objective is to contribute to a 40 per cent reduction of the practice among girls aged 0-15 years, with at least one country declared free of FGM/C by the end of 2012.

During the 54th meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, a resolution urged member States to end FGM/C, to among other things, enact and enforce legislation to prohibit the practice, develop social and psychological support services and care, and take measures to improve health in order to assist women and girls subjected to this type of violence.

The Human Rights Council also adopted a resolution on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and FGM/C as one of the issue. The resolution calls for the provision of visible and sustained leadership at the highest level to prevent all forms of violence against women. It also calls for mobilisation of support from various sectors to enhance the campaign. Most of the member States are party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

According to Article 24 of the CRC, “States parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.” Similarly, Article 5 of CEDAW requests governments to abolish traditions and practices that are discriminatory to women and girls and to modify social and cultural practices based on the notion of female inferiority. In addition, the United Nations CEDAW Committee issued a general recommendation No 14 “Female Circumcision-FGM-Female Genital Mutilation” during the ninth session in 1990, and called on States parties to “take appropriate and effective measures with a view to eradicating the practice of female circumcision.”     

“Ending harmful traditional practices against women and girls requires a comprehensive approach which includes action both in the public and private sphere”, Isha Dyfan underscored. It is the primary duty of families to protect children from violence and to refrain from engaging in violent acts. States have primary legal obligation to create the framework and conditions in society which protects women and girls from violence and for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls. The State is accountable for passing legislation and adopting policies (including plans of action) to end harmful traditional policies, and for enforcing such legislation and implementing policies, she further added. 

There is an urgent need to raise awareness, support victims and to protect women and girls who are at risk, by involving all sectors and levels of society, she said.

 2 September 2012

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