Tomorrow will mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance against Female Genital Mutilation.
“Violating the rights of women or girls can never be justified on grounds of cultural relativism or in the name of tradition” - said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External relations and Neighbourhood Policy. “The UN Commission on the Status of Women adopted the Resolution Ending Female Genital Mutilation, recognising that female genital mutilation violates, and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment of the human rights of women and girls. The European Union has made quite clear its position on the unacceptability of traditional practices, both within the Union and in third countries. We need to make sure that all countries understand our position, and advocate for these human rights to be respected, including in the context of human rights dialogues and consultations as well as other policy dialogues with third countries”.
Louis Michel, EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, added: “We condemn the practice of Female Genital Mutilation which still occurs in a number of countries. This practice causes a great deal of suffering and is a serious threat to the health of women and girls. We are encouraged that some partner countries have already introduced legislation against this harmful practice but we would stress that the Commission continues to take every opportunity to convince other partners to do the same”.
In its external assistance to third countries, the European Commission supports a two-pronged approach in this domain. On the one hand, it supports advocacy and lobbying initiatives for the improvement of national legislation as well as the development of adequate national policies for the promotion and protection of women’s rights and the prohibition of harmful practices. On the other hand, the Commission supports capacity-building initiatives for government officials and advocacy and awareness-raising for all sectors of society. Furthermore, tackling all forms of violence against women is a special concern of the European Commission's gender equality programmes.
The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children – a non-governmental network that led to legislation in some African countries and to the public abandonment of the practice by communities – initiated the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation in 2003. In its Resolution 2003/28, the UN Sub-Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights called upon the UN General Assembly to “declare 6 February the International Day on the elimination of female genital mutilation and all other harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and girls”.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that 130 million women and girls have been subjected to this practice and that an additional 2 million girls each year are at risk. This corresponds to 5500 mutilations per day. Most procedures are done by non-medical personnel - including traditional birth attendants, midwives, and 'old women'.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) has serious consequences for pregnancies and childbirth and women who have been subject to cutting are more likely to end up with obstetric fistula. FGM is prevalent in 28 African countries, in a few Arab and Asian countries and among some African immigrants in Europe and the US. Fourteen African countries have enacted laws criminalising FGM. Most countries have today legislation in place prohibiting FGM, but the actual enforcement of these laws is difficult, in particular in rural areas.
FGM is one of the inter-related human rights and sexual and reproductive health problems the European Union is committed to address as part of its policy for providing support in developing countries. This is a highly sensitive issue in many countries and as with most deep rooted traditions is extremely difficult to address. There is a specific commitment to eradicate female genital mutilation in the Cotonou Agreement with 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, in the sense that partnership countries should ensure that FGM are eliminated. Under the Cotonou Agreement the political dialogues between the Commission and partner countries foresee the inclusion of human rights issues. The European Commission has approved a €4 million project with UNICEF targeting FGM in a number of African states. Within this three year project UNICEF will work with governments and civil society to change attitudes, policies and legislation regarding FGM, and to support states in the implementation of their commitments made in the African Union Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
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