Population Matters

Progress in the Fight against FGM/C

February 10th, 2011

It’s not a headline grabber, but progress is being made against an antiquated and harmful practice that still afflicts large numbers of women in developing countries.

February 6th was the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). While it is widely recognized today as a violation of the rights of women and girls, the practice still persists. About 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM/C with 3 million girls in Africa alone at risk of cutting every year.  The severity of the practice ranges from cutting to the total removal of the external female genitalia, but in any form it exacts an unacceptable toll on girls and women.

According to the World Health Organization there is no health benefit to FGM/C and it is harmful to girls and women in ways that are both immediate (severe pain, shock, bleeding, and tetanus) and long-term (cysts, recurring bladder infections, infertility, increased risk of complications in childbirth, and the need for surgery). The WHO defines FGM/C as any procedure that intentionally alters or injures female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM/C is mostly performed on girls between infancy and age 15.

FGM/C is still a rite of passage in 28 countries in Africa and a few countries in Asia and the Middle East. Currently the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are working in 12 priority countries with communities to encourage them to completely abandon the practice of FGM/C.  And progress is being made.  UNFPA and UNICEF report that:

“Three years into the programme, more than 6,000 communities in Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea and Somalia have already abandoned FGM/C. Social norms and cultural practices are changing, and women and men in communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls. UNFPA and UNICEF are working with partners to end this harmful practice in one generation and we believe that reaching this goal is possible.”

It’s increasingly unlikely that the U.N. goal of eliminating FGM/C by 2015 will be reached, but the urgency remains.  Action is still required. For one,  the U.S. needs to show its commitment to eliminating FGM/C by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The United States is one of just seven nations in the U.N. who have refused to ratify CEDAW. The other six countries are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.  If the United States wants to be a leader in human rights, particularly women’s rights, it is imperative that the U.S. ratify CEDAW and show its support for the elimination of FGM/C.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

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