Eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030

by Nafissatou J. Diop, June 01, 2016.

The UN’s proposed new development
goals include a target to end harmful traditional practices like FGM
by 2030. We now know the key steps needed to get there.

A poem by the Somali writer Dahabo Ali
Muse expresses the pain caused by female genital mutilation (FGM), a
practice endured by more than 140 million girls and women in the

It is what my
grandmother called the three feminine sorrows. She said the day of
circumcision; the wedding night and the birth of a baby are the
triple feminine sorrows.

FGM, the first of the three feminine
sorrows, refers to all procedures involving the partial or total
removal of the external female genitalia or other injuries to the
female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is
life-threatening both during the procedure and throughout the course
of a girl’s life. It is also a reproductive rights violation, as it
violates the right to health and bodily integrity and is a form of
violence against women and girls.

Most countries have committed
themselves to protecting the rights of women and girls by ratifying a
number of international and regional treaties. In December 2014, the
United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on ‘Intensifying
global efforts to eliminate female genital mutilations’,
reiterating the international community’s commitment to eliminate

In the coming months, world leaders
will agree on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to replace
the Millennium Development Goals. One of the proposals is to include
a target on eliminating all harmful practices, such as FGM, by 2030.
Can this be done? 
The task seems

Despite global and national actions to eliminate the
practice, FGM remains widespread. It is most common in 29 countries
in Africa; in some countries in Asia, the Middle East and Latin
America; and among migrants from these areas settling in Western

Prevalence of FGM varies across countries, from 96.7 per
cent among girls aged 15 to 19 in Somalia to 0.4 per cent in

Although FGM prevalence has dropped in many countries, the
rate of decline is far below what is needed. 

If the current trend
continues, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that
86 million girls born from 2010-2015 will be at risk of being cut by

But this trend can be
reversed. We need to learn from our experiences and design and scale
up programmes that have a real impact in the lives of women and

That is why UNFPA and
UNICEF are leading the largest global
to accelerate the abandonment of FGM, which is
currently active in 17 countries. 

So, what have we learnt so far?
What works?

Creating a
movement to eliminate FGM

There is a need to reach out to the
girls and women whose rights are violated by FGM, while engaging
governments and other parties that have the responsibility to
eliminate it.  

It is important, in particular, to sensitize
political leaders on FGM, to cultivate networks of supporters and
activists and to disseminate information about local, regional and
global developments.

Legislation into Action

States must ensure adequate national
provisions to stop FGM, including through criminalization,
appropriate enforcement and prosecution. Countries are reporting
varying degrees of law enforcement, and many stakeholders say the
existence of anti-FGM laws provides them with leverage and
legitimization for their advocacy work. Similarly, the process of
informing the population about a new law offers opportunities to
publicly discuss FGM, thereby raising awareness. Media coverage of
prosecutions and court public hearings can also further inform people
about legislation.

Engaging health
workers in the elimination of FGM

Health workers, fully aware of the
considerable consequences of FGM on sexual and reproductive health,
are increasingly standing up against the practice. 

Their advanced
skills in the prevention and provision of care to girls and women who
have been subjected to FGM are also complementing community behaviour
change processes.

concepts and traditions and empowering Girls

FGM is deeply rooted in tradition and
persists as a social norm upheld by underlying gender structures and
power relations. Reframing concepts and traditions related to FGM,
rather than seeking to discredit long-held traditions, is essential
to accelerate abandonment. 

The creation of new social norms has had
encouraging results in countries like Sudan, where a positive term
for uncut women and girls was created, Saleema, to replace negative
concepts used for such girls. Similarly, in Kenya, Uganda and
Tanzania, an alternative rite of passage has been introduced,
accompanied by community education sessions. 

Girls are educated on a
wide range of topics, including positive traditional values and life
skills, as well as human rights. This prepares them to become mentors
and role models. Educational activities and community dialogue create
a non-threatening space where community members can re-evaluate their
own beliefs and values regarding FGM.

The value of
public declarations

Facilitating public
declarations of FGM abandonment makes the change in a community’s
attitudes more visible and encourages others to embrace the new
social norm. 

A public commitment, especially if made by traditional
or religious leaders, produces a social pressure that makes it
difficult for community members to return to prior practices and
contradict a pledge.

Amplifying change
through the media

Given the complicated nature of FGM
and frequent misinformation about it, building the capacity of media
professionals remains a priority. Involving national and local media,
including at the community level, is instrumental to spreading
information, raising the visibility of communities that have
abandoned FGM and promoting positive behavior change.

coordination and strengthening capacities

committees chaired by the government and composed of key stakeholders
are being set up in several countries to address FGM. Improved
collaboration among stakeholders has proven to strengthen the
individual and collective capacities to eliminate the practice.

The linkages between legislation,
human rights and positive social change resulting in the abandonment
of FGM are complex. 

Much progress has been made, but the prevalence
of FGM remains at an unacceptably high level. Human rights can help
to accelerate abandonment and to achieve gender equality, but they
must not only exist on paper. Human rights must become a reality in
the lives of women and girls.

Let us pay heed to what
the Somali poem quoted above says on how we should treat girls:
them to the world of love, not to the world of feminine sorrow!!

SOURCE: Open democracy