UNICEF Report on FGM: a change of strategy needed?

13 Aug, 2013 | Press Releases

Interview with Alvilda Jablonko, FGM Program Coordinator of No Peace Without Justice, Brussels, 13 August 2013

Last month, UNICEF released a major report on female genital mutilation (FGM), which represents the most comprehensive study of the practice to date, with research data from 29 African countries where the practice is most prevalent. According to the data provided in the report, FGM is still one of the most widespread and systematic violations of the human right to personal integrity. Of 125 million women and girls alive today who have been subjected to the procedure, many will never fully recover from the physical and psychological scars that it inflicted, and there are 30 million children who are at risk of being subjected to it in the next decade. Alvilda Jablonko, FGM Program Coordinator of No Peace Without Justice, comments on the report.

Why the findings of this report are so relevant?
Alvilda Jablonko: “This report provides a comprehensive statistical overview of FGM, examining the largest ever number of nationally representative surveys from 29 countries where the practice is most prevalent, including 17 new surveys undertaken in the last three years. The collection and analysis of data on FGM is of vital importance in order to assess and increase awareness of its extent and prevalence as well as to discern where and how the practice is changing and to measure if progress is being made. Critically, this knowledge can also inform the design and implementation of effective policies and programmes aimed at its elimination.
The report explores the data through the lens of social norms, analysing levels of support for the practice nationally and among selected population groups. This also allows for an evaluation of the impact of actions taken to foster the elimination of the practice, and specifically of community-based sensitization strategies, which have been supported since 2008 by the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change. The picture that unfortunately emerges is that change has been minimal despite these efforts and programs”.

Does it mean that a change of strategy is needed?
Alvilda Jablonko: “In fact, the report shows a lack of a marked change of attitudes and prevalence of FGM in a number of countries, including Senegal, despite the longstanding work there supported by UNICEF. Despite this finding, the report does not suggest a shift in strategy, but argues that further programmatic investments in the social change model that has been the backbone of their program until now.
Awareness and education campaigns and community sensitization efforts, which have been on-going for decades, are of course important. However, in order to successfully challenge the practice and promote its elimination, it is essential that explicit legislation banning the practice be adopted, and that it be effectively promulgated, with sufficient resources dedicated to its promulgation and compliance efforts. Clear and unambiguous national legislation is essential to consolidate a formal and explicit commitment of the State against FGM, by recognizing the practice as a massive and systemic violation of the human rights of women and girls. Legislation establishes the legal environment that legitimizes and facilitates the work of anti-FGM activists and women’s rights groups. It also can protect and provide the legal tools for women and girls willing to challenge the social convention by refusing to undergo FGM, which contributes to turning the tide of social conventions and to fighting the cultural norms that reinforce the practice”.

The report recognises that the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the resolution “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations”, on 20 December 2012, marked a milestone in global efforts to end the practice? Why this resolution is so important?
Alvilda Jablonko: “Undoubtedly, the adoption of UN General Assembly Resolution 67/146, which calls for a worldwide ban on FGM, constitutes a paradigm shift in the fight against this violation of human rights, which all countries of the world should address and prevent through “all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit FGM and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity”.
The formal adoption of this breakthrough document is the also the culmination of years of advocacy efforts to bring high-level worldwide attention to the issue of FGM, spearheaded by an ever-expanding coalition of NGOs and human rights activists including No Peace Without Justice.
From the grass-roots to the policy level, those involved with the Ban FGM Campaign consistently advocate for clear and effective national legislation to unequivocally ban FGM in their respective countries, in order to legitimize their local advocacy and educational efforts, to strengthen those who seek to defy the social pressures of tradition and reject FGM, and to protect its victims. The worldwide ban adopted by the United Nations empowers those campaigning around the world to enact and enforce national legislation against FGM, and to end impunity for this human rights violation.
The adoption of Resolution 67/146 is, however, not an end in itself: it is an important breakthrough, which marks the beginning of a new chapter in the fight against FGM: it is now up to all States and all of us to take the fight forward and work together, so that the women and girls of tomorrow will be free from the threat of FGM.”

What next after this landmark step? What will be the focus of NPWJ future activities?
Alvilda Jablonko: “We need to build on the momentum already garnered with the adoption of Resolution 67/146 and work towards its full and concrete implementation In other words, the challenge is now to foster the political engagement of governments and civil society around the world to ensure that this breakthrough document realises its full potential as a concrete tool in the fight against FGM and that it truly strengthens efforts aimed at the elimination of FGM once and for all.
The community sensitization efforts have been on-going for decades need to be bolstered by effective legislation to protect women and girls from FGM. Where laws have been enacted, political will to implement them effectively must be encouraged. NPWJ will therefore continue to involve national governments, parliaments and activists to promote the adoption and application of effective laws against FGM at the national level, including work to prevent and condemn the rise of the medicalisation of FGM. Additionally, NPWJ’s activities will aim to foster the harmonisation of political and legislative measures and reinforce cooperation at the regional and international levels”.

For more information, contact Alvilda Jablonko, Coordinator of the FGM Program, on ajablonko@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini, email: ngiovannini@npwj.org, phone: +32 2 548 39 15.