Sub-Regional Conference on Female Genital Mutilation, "Towards a political and religious consensus against FGM" - Media Coverage

Jordan Dev Net - Djibouti, 2-3 February 2005

06 February 2005

    Today, as the world marks the day of Zero International Tolerance of FGM/C, countries in the Arab world are still faced with the need to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM/C). So far, prevalence rates of over 90% of women and girls have remained virtually unchanged for the past decade.
    Despite Governments’ commitment to abolish the practice, today one or more forms of female genital mutilation are still practiced in several Arab countries. Almost all women in Somalia, Egypt, Sudan and Djibouti undergo FGM/C as well as many in Yemen. The custom also extends to some groups in the Arabian Peninsula (in Oman, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates). Globally, more than 100 million women en and girls have endured genital cutting - and it is still performed on some 2 million girls every year.
    A framework for action
    Not only a human rights violation, FGM also represents one of the most harmful practices against girls’ and women’s health and dignity and inflicts a lifetime of irreparable harm on women. At least two of the Millennium Development Goals are seriously hampered by the persistence of FGM/C: the achievement of gender equality and the improvement of maternal health. The UN Special Session on Children of 2002 set a goal to end female genital mutilation by the year 2010. Political will to eradicate FGM/C in the Arab-African context is reflected on the Action Plan of the Afro-Arab Expert Consultation on “Legal Tools for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation” Cairo, 2003 and the more recent Maputo Protocol adopted by the 53 Heads of States of the African Union on 11 July 2003. The members of the League of Arab States have expressed a unanimous will to end the practice.
    The continuation of this practice violates several international agreements: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action agreed to at the Fourth World Conference on Women; the Cairo Programme of Action agreed to at the International Conference on Population and Development; and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
    Action and commitment at country level
    FGM is very widespread in SUDAN. Although previously concentrated in the North, it is gradually spreading throughout the whole country. Due to the war and the high numbers of internally displaced people, certain communities are adopting the practise of FGM.In 1944 the Sudan Ministry of Health launched an intensive campaign to put an end to the practice and this law was ratified again in 1957, when Sudan became independent. In 1991 the Sudanese government affirmed its
    commitment to the eradication of the traditional form of FGM, however, the 1991 Penal Code, does not mention FGM, leaving its status unclear. The UN system in Sudan supports efforts by the Government, NGOs and civic society to abolish all forms of FGM/C with special assistance from UNICEF and UNFPA.
    In EGYPT, the practice of FGM/C is widespread among women of reproductive age. It is prevalent among most social, ethnic and religious groups. FGM prevalence in Egypt is over 95%.
    The Egyptian penal code considers FGM/C a form of deliberate injury penalised by criminal law (articles 241 and 242). Although parents and those that carry the operation are criminally liable, the law is rarely enforced. In July 1996 the Minister of Health and Population issued a decree banning the operation at any public hospital and forbidding anyone, including physicians, from performing the operation. However, the ministerial decree allows circumcision in cases where it is “medically indicated”.
    UNICEF supports the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in media mobilisation for behavioural change and the initiation of a national dialogue to raise public concern. In terms of capacity building at the community level, UNICEF is supporting governmental and nongovernmental agencies in the monitoring of girls at risk. An estimated 95% of women from all ethnic groups in DJIBOUTI undergo FGM/C. A Penal Code provision outlawing FGM has been in force since 1994. Among the several organizations working on the issue are UNICEF, UNFPA, the Association for the Equilibrium and Promotion of the Family (ADEPF) and the Union Nationale des Femmes de Djibouti (UNFD) and the National Union of Women of Djibouti. Clinics and health training centers distribute information about FGM and other harmful traditional practices.
    Last week, the Government of Djbouti, in association with UNICEF and an NGO (No Peace Without Justice) organised the Conference entitled “Towards a political and religious consensus against FGM”, from February 2-3, 2005. FGM/C continues to be practised in YEMEN where the prevalence rate in some provinces is up to 50%. With focus on the coastal areas of the Red Sea, the Yemeni Government has publicly discouraged FGM and sponsors various initiatives through its National Women’s Committee to combat the practice.
    UNICEF is committed to eliminating all forms of FGM. The organization’s work focuses on building a protective environment for children that safeguards them from abuse and exploitation.
    Monitoring the prevalence and nature of FGM/C is an essential first step to addressing it. While political leadership is critical towards ending the practice, the work of civil societies is equally significant. The ratification of relevant international instruments together with laws reliably forced can serve the purpose of ending FGM/C in the establishment of social networks properly enabled to generate increased community awareness of the dangers of FGM/C.
    Governments, religious leaders, health and social services, national media, civil society, young people and children themselves have a crucial role to play in ending discrimination and empowering women and girls with tools and quality information to counter all forms of FGM/C.