UNITED NATIONS, New York, 05 February 2007 – UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, today warned against the “medicalization” of female genital mutilation/cutting. This tendency, according to UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, arises from increased awareness of the health risks associated with the practice. Ms. Obaid also warned of a trend of subjecting younger and younger girls to the practice in order to avoid their complaints or refusal to participate.
Ms. Obaid combined her warning with a renewed call for intensified global efforts to save the 3 million girls who still face the risk of female genital mutilation/ cutting every year. In her appeal for the International Day Against Female Genital Mutilation, to be observed on February 6, Ms. Obaid pledged “to increase support for efforts to prevent female genital mutilation or cutting, and advance gender equality and human rights, including the right to sexual and reproductive health”.
An estimated 120-140 million women have been subjected to the practice, which violates the basic rights of women and girls and seriously compromises their health. The practice leaves lasting physical and psychological scars, in addition to the risks it generates during childbirth.
In many countries where the practice is widespread, laws have been passed to make female genital mutilation/ cutting illegal. In addition, an increasing number of people now disapprove of the practice – reflecting a rising awareness of its risks.
With this increased awareness, however, and with greater access to health-care services, more and more parents try to minimize the health hazards of the practice by turning to health-care professionals to perform the cutting in clinical settings – in the belief that it is safer. Health-care workers, on the other hand, may find themselves under pressure from individuals and families to carry out the practice.
“Contrary to popular belief,” said Ms. Obaid, “female genital mutilation or cutting is not required by any religion. In fact, many religious leaders and scholars and faith-based organizations from around the world have called for the practice to be banned.”
At UNFPA, she added, “we have learned that to make greater progress, laws need to be enforced, people need to be educated, and communities must be engaged.” She also noted that through interventions that foster dialogue, “an increasing number of communities have fully or partially abandoned the practice in favour of alternative initiation ceremonies, which is a positive trend”.
UNFPA supports a number of initiatives to abolish female genital mutilation/ cutting around the world. The most successful – like those in Uganda and Kenya – provide alternative rites of passage that usher girls to adulthood without genital mutilation. The Fund also works with local and religious leaders who serve as agents of change within their communities. This approach has been effective in countries such as Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia and Senegal. UNFPA also works with human rights
activists to enforce existing laws that ban the practice.
(Published by the Human Rights Education Associates HREA, which is an international non-governmental organisation that supports human rights learning; the training of activists and professionals; the development of educational materials and programming; and community-building through on-line technologies.)