Millions of girls around the world are still threatened by Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), despite a century of efforts to put an end to it. In the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the practice is concentrated, more than 125 million girls and women have been cut. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projects that a further 86 million young girls worldwide are likely to experience some form of the practice by 2030, if current trends continue.
It is unacceptable that these human rights violations continue to threaten the lives and futures of so many women and girls. It is an affront to their human dignity, an assault on their health and an impediment to the well-being of their families, communities and countries. Human development cannot be fully achieved as long as women and girls continue to suffer from this human rights violation or live in fear of it.
There have been successes in accelerating the abandonment of FGM in some communities and countries: Uganda, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau have recently adopted laws criminalising the practice. In Ethiopia, a traditional cutter and the parents of six girls were penalised in a highly-publicised case that helped raise awareness about the issue.
A number of other countries have adopted culturally-sensitive programmes aimed at changing social norms, often by engaging community elders, men and boys.
But the challenge of eliminating female genital mutilation/cutting everywhere remains enormous and we must step up our efforts. FGM poses devastating short and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls. It is imperative that we protect them, provide support to those who have been subjected to this brutal practice and address the adverse sexual and reproductive health consequences they suffer.
UNFPA is unequivocally committed to promoting and protecting human rights, including the rights of young people, especially adolescent girls. We believe that when they can claim their right to health, including access to sexual and reproductive health, to education and to decent work, they become powerful agents for social and economic development.
The importance of promoting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of girls and women was underscored in the groundbreaking 2012 United Nations General Assembly resolution on Intensifying Global Efforts for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilations.
The call for accelerated action was reiterated at the recent international conference on FGM held in Rome in October 2013, organised by UNFPA and UNICEF, and hosted by the Italian government.
Ending the practice depends on how the global community responds to this urgent call. UNFPA and UNICEF are jointly implementing the largest United Nations programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The challenges we face are not insurmountable. If we work together, we can further accelerate its abandonment and strengthen the momentum for change through our concerted and collective efforts.
In the 21st century, no woman or girl should suffer or die due to FGM. Addressing the persistent inequalities that negatively affect women’s and girl’s health and wellbeing, is our unfinished business.
Every young girl, regardless of where she lives, or her economic circumstances, has the right to fulfill her human potential, free from coercion, harm or violence. We can ensure that she does, and we must. The sustainable, equitable, inclusive future we all want depends on the actions we take today to ensure the dignity, health and well-being of every girl.
Dr Osotimehin is the Executive Director, UNFPA