UN rights experts called Monday for all global communities to participate in the effort to end [press release] female genital mutilation (FGM) [WHO backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The statement, marking the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Genital Mutilation and Cutting, encourages abandonment of the practice that has long-term health effects and is, according to the UN officials, a clear violation of girls' and women's fundamental human rights. The officials, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Anthony Lake, head a program formed by the two organizations that is designed to eliminate this practice. The goal of the program, started in 2008, is to encourage voluntary abandonment of practicing FGM and avoid condemnation of nations involved in that participate in this cultural practice. The officials said the joint program was making significant progress in many nations around the world:
All girls deserve to grow up free from harmful practices that endanger their health and well-being. ... Governments, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders and community groups are making real progress. 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 the practice. Social norms and cultural practices are changing, and communities are uniting to protect the rights of girls.To further promote the effort to preserve women's and girls' human rights, the program will be represented in an event, organized by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) [official website], called "Building Bridges between Europe and Africa." The event will include representatives of governments in Africa, Europe and Latin America, several UN agencies, other international groups and women who have undergone FGM.
As many as 140 million women and girls worldwide have undergone some form of FGM, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) [official website] as "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for nonmedical reasons." Efforts in several countries, however, have sought to eliminate or reduce the practice. In 2009, Uganda unanimously outlawed FGM [JURIST report] and imposed harsh penalties anyone who conducts the procedure to face imprisonment. Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] called on the government of Iraqi Kurdistan [JURIST report] to outlaw female genital mutilation and to develop a comprehensive legislative plan to reduce FGM in the region.