February 6th marks the tenth observance of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), an internationally recognized day to foster awareness of the devastating effects of FGM/C and renew the call for the abandonment of this harmful traditional practice. FGM/C is a practice that ranges from nicking to total removal of the external female genitalia. Some 140 million women around the world have undergone this brutal procedure and three million girls are at risk every year.
This 10thanniversary, I’d like to take a look back over progress achieved in the past decade. Significant efforts have been made at the community, national, and international levels to address the issue of FGM/C. Studies have looked at the physical, emotional and mental impacts of FGM/C. Research has deepened our understanding of the diverse reasons for the continuation of the practice, providing a frame for theories about the origins and social dynamics that lead to its continuation. Reflecting the work of dedicated advocates, today most practicing countries have passed laws banning the practice, and prevalence is beginning to decline in some countries.
In September 2000, USAID officially incorporated elimination of FGM/C into its development agenda and created the official U.S. Government policy toward FGM/C. In 2002, the Donors Working Group on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting was formed to bring together key international actors, including representatives from USAID, U.N. agencies, European donors and private funders.
In February 2003, the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children held its landmark conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Many first ladies of Africa, led by the first lady of Nigeria, officially declared “Zero Tolerance to FGM” to be commemorated every year on February 6th. Drawing from this energy, UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center organized a consultation in 2004, resulting in a seminal publication, “Changing A Harmful Social Convention: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.”
In 2008, the Donors Working Group ultimately produced A Platform for Action Toward the Abandonment of FGM/C (PDF). That same year, UNFPA and UNICEF formed a strategic partnership known as the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C’s “Accelerating Change“. They have been working together, in headquarters and field offices, to develop, fund, and implement policies and programs to accelerate abandonment of FGM/C. The result of this program should inform the work of programs and governments for years to come.
In December 2012, the 67th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly passed a wide-reaching resolution urging States to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.
While we have made tremendous progress over the past decade, work still lies ahead. We must all work together – men, women, grandfathers, grandmothers, community and religious leaders, government, civil society, and multilateral organizations – to overturn deeply entrenched social norms that are not only harmful to women and girls, but to our communities and societies.
Join us on February 6th at 9:30am EST for a live webchat discussion at the State Department. The event will include a panel of experts and practitioners, as well as a discussion on programs and solutions to address this issue. Follow @USAIDGH on Twitter and join the conversation using the hashtag #EndFGM/C.