International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

The 14th International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation is to be held on the 6th February 2016

FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination.

The practice also violates a person's rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.gainst women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children.

Since 2003 the United Nations and World Health Organization have recognized the 6th February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.

UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives.

' 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, reminds us powerfully that this brutal abuse of human rights, the ultimate in patriarchy incarnate, must end. I hope, along with the work of many others, my book will help to advance that pressing and essential eradication.' - Hilary Burrage, Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation.

There are times when coincidences are fortuitous. One such is the realisation of the true extent and horror of FGM as, over the past decade, global communication advances have facilitated a new determination to eradicate it everywhere.

On 6 February 2003 the then-First Lady of Nigeria, Stella Obasanjo – as spokesperson for the Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation – declared that FGM must stop forthwith. At a conference organised by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (the ‘IAC’ - itself founded in 1984, also on 6 February), Mrs Obasanjo announced that consensus on abolition had been reached. Henceforth, the date of this agreement would be observed annually by the United Nations as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM.

Later events such as the Maputo Protocol (an African Union agreement, later in 2003), the Bamako Declaration (IAC, 2005) and the United Nations Declaration (Commission of the Status of Women, 2012) all reaffirmed this steadfast determination by those whose communities it most affects to have done with FGM.

And so, with the inexorably increasing reach of the internet, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM has become a historic milestone in the calendar of FGM campaigners across the globe. On 6 February 2016 we celebrate the 14th year of this breakthrough achievement.

The message that FGM must cease, coming as one voice from nations where it has for centuries prevailed, has been amplified massively over the years, as the worldwide web has gained momentum.

It was this message, reaching me through the ether, that prompted my own small contribution to campaigns against FGM - a book finally published in late 2015: Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation.

My concerns about FGM first arose when I learnt of it in the 1980s, but back then I was assured that the UK Parliament’s Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 would see the practice banished, at least in Britain. Sadly, the post-millennial global evidence around the Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM has demonstrated how mistaken such optimistic expectations were.

I must admit my initial forays into FGM were tentative, grim and contested in equal measure as it is. In the mid-noughties few had any accurate idea of the extent to which FGM still wrought havoc in the lives of women and girls. Now we know that perhaps upwards if 140 million people currently alive have been subjected to this cruel abuse of human rights.

At that point too the relativist argument – we can’t ‘interfere’ with other nations’ ‘customs’ – was still maintained by many who now regret that stance. During 2010 the then-Labour Government introduced a nascent national FGM Unit to tackle UK problems, but in 2011 the new Coalition Government closed it again, presumably because they saw little need for such a unit (it was reinstated in late 2015). Then we were told that FGM won’t stop in Britain until it stops in ‘Africa’. And so it went on.

Frankly, a lot people back then, hearing that a handful of us - campaigners and academics - were vexed about FGM, opined that we were ill-advised. It is a matter both of valediction and necessarily of tragedy that not many say that now we know the figures: five or six girls around the world are mutilated every minute of every day – that’s three million a year, of whom perhaps 140-170 thousand are British, and half a million plus each are continental Europeans and North Americans.

So what does my book offer? How does it accord with the global momentum towards eradicating FGM?

The book attempts to introduce the many and very disparate perspectives from which FGM is viewed, historically, anthropologically and in everyday reality, by campaigners, clinicians, lawyers, educators, media professionals, politicians, concerned citizens and, critically, by those who lives are directly affected, both in western societies and in traditionally practising communities. It would be impossible to do full justice to all these vantage points, but I have tried to indicate the overall facts and complexities which must be grasped if FGM is ever finally to be made history.

I have sought to establish a basis from which a considered discipline, a paradigm, for global ‘FGM Studies’ might emerge. In doing so I have drawn quite extensively on examples from Britain (where FGM has been in the news for the past few years); but whilst the book cites amongst others contemporary UK contacts and methodologies, it is not only about the UK. It is about FGM and similar harmful traditional practices (there are many), wherever they occur, and also about the ways in which these abuses might be remediated and stopped.

A great deal of work remains to be done, but bringing together in one volume a range of data, understandings, analyses, contacts and reference points is a start.

6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, reminds us powerfully that this brutal abuse of human rights, the ultimate in patriarchy incarnate, must end. I hope, along with the work of many others, my book will help to advance that pressing and essential eradication.

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