Female genital mutilation (FGM) is mostly carried out on young girls when they have no option to make their wishes heard—sometime between infancy and age 15. It is a human rights violation affecting at least 200 million girls and women alive today in the world.
It’s a decision with immediate danger to their health, and life-long consequences for their bodies and relationships. It also carries risks for women’s ability to have children successfully and safely, as FGM brings significantly increased risk both of complications for the mother, and neonatal death for their babies.
Together with child marriage, which similarly affects hundreds of millions of girls worldwide, FGM is a practice that must end. It has no health benefits; only health damage, both physical and mental. It is an act that cuts away equality. Together, these are harmful practices that make it almost impossible for the girls affected to have the same life chances as boys. These handicaps inflicted on young girls are also handicaps for society, as communities globally lose out on the potential gains that come from thriving, inventive, resourceful women leaders.
FGM is a practice passed on from generation to generation, in some countries so commonplace that to be uncut is abnormal: For example in Somalia 98 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM, in Guinea 97 per cent and in Djibouti 93 per cent. It can also be stopped in one generation, with the decision as a parent, as a community, as a country, to leave a girl as whole and perfect as she was born.
Today on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, UN Women is announcing a new regional goodwill ambassador to end FGM and child marriage, with a focus on mobilizing youth. Jaha Dukureh will work in Africa with partners and allies from grassroots activists, women’s organizations, media and UN agencies to governments and international organizations like the African Union and the European Union, in order to build on current work, and mobilize the support needed to stop the cycle. Her own story of survival illustrates how girls and young women are capable and ready to change the world and that where they start from does not define where they will end up. For the world’s 1.8 billion girls, ending FGM and child marriage is a vision of changed futures.
Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, for International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, 6 February 2018