International Day of Zero tolerance for FGM: Human rights for all women and girls

Ingy Deif , Sunday 6 Feb 2022

On the 6th of February each year, the world re-sheds light on the quest to put an end to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation around the globe.

FGM awareness cards in Egypt

FGM is an abhorrent human rights violation that causes profound and permanent harm to women and girls around the world.

In his word marking the day, UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres issued a message stating that every year over 4 million girls are at risk of this extreme form of violence.

He highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on health services and put even more girls in jeopardy.

“This flagrant manifestation of gender inequality must be stopped. With urgent investments and timely action, we can meet the Sustainable Development Goals target of eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030 and build a world that respects women’s integrity and autonomy,” he added

Guterres stressed that the United Nations and partners are supporting initiatives to shift the social norms that perpetuate this practice.

“Young people and civil society are making their voices heard. And lawmakers are advancing positive change in many countries.

“On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, join us in calling to accelerate investment to end female genital mutilation and uphold the human rights of all women and girls, he concluded.

Losing grounds

The UNICEF also warned that COVID-19 threatens to reverse decades of progress.

In a press release, UNICEF highlighted that millions of girls are at increased risk of female genital mutilation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as shuttered schools, lockdowns and disruption to services that protect girls from this harmful practice mean a rise in FGM cases over the next decade.

Alarming data

The latest data published by UNICEF globally are a cause for distress as efforts to combat FGM are hindered by the challenging times of COVID-19.

The data states that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.

An additional 2 million girls could be at risk by 2030 due to COVID-19, resulting in a 33 percent reduction in the progress toward ending this harmful practice.

Furthermore an alarming trend is emerging. Around 1 of 4 girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation, or 52 million worldwide, were subjected to the practice at the hands of a health personnel. This proportion is twice as high among adolescents, indicating growth in the medicalization of the practice.

The UNICEF states that of 31 countries with available data on female genital mutilation, 15 countries are already grappling with internal conflict, rising poverty and inequality, creating a crisis within a crisis for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized girls.

In some countries, female genital mutilation is still almost universal with around 90 percent of girls in Djibouti, Guinea, Mali and Somalia affected.

In about half of countries, female genital mutilation is increasingly performed at younger ages, narrowing the window of opportunity to intervene. For example, in Kenya, the average age of undergoing the practice has dropped from age 12 to age 9 in the past three decades.

Nevertheless, the reports also show that progress is possible. Today, girls are a third less likely to be subjected to female genital mutilation compared to three decades ago; however, progress needs to be at least 10 times faster to meet the global target of elimination by 2030.

Multiple overlapping crises, including COVID-19, rising poverty, inequality and conflict, are putting millions of girls at increased risk of female genital mutilation.

In the last two decades, the proportion of girls and women in high-prevalence countries who oppose the practice has doubled.

Endeavors in Egypt

FGM was first criminalized as a misdemeanor in Egypt in 2008, and the punishments under the law were toughened in 2016.

In 2008, the penalty was three months to two years in prison and a fine that ranged from EGP 1,000 to EGP 5,000.

However, the 2016 amendments redefined FGM as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

In 2017, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s promised to end FGM in Egypt during his time as president.

In 2019, the National Council for Women (NCW) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) established a National Committee for Eliminating FGM.

Raising public awareness about FGM goes hand in hand with implementing stricter laws.

All members of society are urged to report any suspected cases to the Women’s Complaints Helpline (15115) and the government’s Child Helpline (16000).

FGM remains a widespread practice in Egypt, even among educated families.

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