Yesterday, February 6, was observed as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), a UN-sponsored awareness day, celebrated on February 6 each year since 2003.
The day is dedicated to the intolerance of FGM/C and fighting the scourge, which has affected at least 200 million women and girls in 30 countries across the world. Africa joins the world in observing such an important day.
The theme for this year’s celebration is: "Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030."
Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. This practice is an abuse of human rights and causes serious health complications, including fatal bleeding.
It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. The practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the procedure results in death.
In February last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) made startling revelations that female genital mutilation was on the rise across the world, with at least 200 million women and girls having undergone the procedure in 30 countries. More than half of those who have undergone the procedure live in just three countries: Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia.
The report revealed that a staggering 44 million of those who have been cut are 14 years old and younger, “with the highest prevalence of FGM among this age in The Gambia at 56 per cent”.
In a statement to mark the day, the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said: “The existence of the practise of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) demonstrates some of the most intractable problems we face in trying to change the future for the world’s girls.
The high rates of obstetric problems and maternal death among the same communities that practice FGM and early marriage are no coincidences. The high rates of gender inequality, low educational attainment for girls, poor health and cyclical grinding poverty in those same communities are no coincidences either. They are all linked, and they practically ensure that those girls have domestic responsibilities and academic deficiencies that condemn them to a future with very short horizons. It is more likely that a girl will be subjected to FGM if her mother has little or no education. With those limitations come multiple and repeated missed opportunities: personal well-being, social growth, economic diversity and community resilience.
To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights and gender equality. These efforts should emphasise societal dialogue and the empowerment of communities to act collectively to end the practice. They must also address the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.
A number of inter-governmental organisations, including the African Union, the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, as well as in three resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, have called for the elimination of FGM.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives.
The programme means “creating greater access to support services for those at risk of undergoing FGM/C and those who have survived it. It also means driving greater demand for those services, providing families and communities with information about the harm FGM/C causes – and the benefits to be gained by ending it”.
Despite calls by rights activists for a systemic cultural shift to end the genital mutilation practise, the practice is prevalent and it is practiced quietly in many parts of Africa. “Countries with the highest prevalence among girls and women aged 15 to 49 are Somalia 98, per cent; Guinea, 97 per cent; and Djibouti 93 per cent,” the report noted.
In Ghana, a report from the Department of Gender and Social Protection has said there has been a major reduction in the incidence of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Upper West Region.
It, however, said despite the reduction, the practice was still ongoing in some communities.