International Day against Female Genital Mutilation

Progress for Women Is Progress for All

International Day against Female Genital Mutilation

6 February 2007

6 February is International Day against Female Genital Mutilation. The day has been designated by the United Nations to raise awareness amongst the general public about this traditional practice which severely violates the human rights of women and girls. In the 28 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East where female genital mutilation/cutting is performed, some 130 million women and girls have been affected. In addition to causing severe pain, FGM can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and death. The practice is still widespread in spite of a global commitment following the 2002 UN Special Session on Children to end FGM by 2010.

FGM refers to several types of deeply rooted traditional cutting operations performed on women and girls. Often part of fertility or coming-of-age rituals, FGM is sometimes justified as a way of ensuring chastity and genital "purity." It is estimated that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, mainly in Africa and some Middle Eastern countries, and 2 million girls a year are at risk of mutilation. Cases of FGM have been reported in Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, and it is suspected that it is performed among some indigenous groups in Central and South America. FGM is also being practised by some immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australia.

Opposition to FGM and efforts to combat it have increased since the late 1980s. The UN Secretary General's in-depth study on violence against women reported that, as of April 2006, fifteen African states where FGM is prevalent have made it an offence under criminal law. Of the nine countries in Asia and the Arabian Peninsula where FGM is prevalent among certain groups, two have enacted legal measures prohibiting it. In addition, ten countries in other parts of the world have laws which criminalise the practice.

The UN agency UNICEF will spearhead efforts to end FGM in sixteen African countries by 2015, the target year for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. UNICEF's partners in this campaign include other UN agencies such as UNIFEM.

Projects which UN Women has supported recently include – In Kenya – a project in which local communities developed alternative coming-of-age rituals, such as "circumcision with words" to celebrate a young girl's entry into womanhood with words instead of genital cutting. The project involved close cooperation with circumcisers, religious leaders, and men and boys in the communities.

In Mali – a project which received support from the UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women is currently working to foster dialogue and to build capacity among government ministries, parliamentarians, civil society and traditional and religious leaders which can lead to changes in harmful practices and attitudes.

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