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The general secretary of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, gave a speech for the International day of zero tolerance on female genital mutilations on the last 6th of February. He declared « together, we can eliminate female genital mutilation by 2030 ; doing so will have a positive ripple effect on the health, education and economic advancement of girls and women ».
The 8th of March is the international women’s day, the occasion to remember the fact that today, women still suffer from discriminations in various fields and that the fight for gender equality seems to be far from reached. On the time of an increasing development of Human Rights and of the shining of the international society, indeed, women’s rights are in the reason of many concerns : domestic and sexual violences, feminicides, discrimination for employment, forced marriages… So many problems that seem to be particularly alarming, and unfortunately, completely unsolved.
United Nations, as an International organisation which have as main aims, in one hand the protection and promotion of Human Rights, and in the other hand the peacekeeping, got the opportunity to consider this question for several times. Even if it is a subject that is not sufficiently broached by medias, several situations brought Female Genital Mutilations (FGM) on UN’s attention.
Indeed, the 6th of February was the special day dedicated to the struggle against FGM, that was created from the initiative of the General Assembly of UN in 2012. UN intensified its efforts to eradicate this practice by 2030, as required by the spirit of the Objective of sustainable development 5 : gender equality.
Female Genital Mutilations : an inconceivable threat pour women’s rights
FGM comprises all procedures « that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons » according to the World Health Organisation (WHO, 1997). WHO distingues 3 types of sanitary complications linked to FGM : immediate incurred risks at the moment of the act, long term risks that can occur across life and specific risks arising from narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal called mutilations of type III. In any case, these violences are a danger for mental and physical women’s health.
These violences are considered at international level as a violation of females’ human rights, girls as well as women. These practices particularly violate their rights to health, to security and physical integrity, but also their right to life in the most serious cases. Furthermore, their right to private and family life is also violated once FGM can have grave consequences on the sexual, maternal and reproductive health of women who are victims of those acts. Indeed, in some cases, FGM can lead to medical pregnancy interruption or incidences of miscarriages.
If FGM remain an unknown practice for an important part of the society, they are a terrible reality for the numerous women who are victims of them. In 2016, UNICEF estimated that at least 200 millions women and girls were mutilated in the world (UNICEF, 2016). It is important to give some figures in order to illustrate the extent of this practice : 98% in Somalia, 97% in Guinea and 93% in Djibouti of women aged from 15 to 49 years old suffered of FGM.
Most of the time, FGM are imposed between the age of 4 and 12, but it may concern every ages, this practice differs under ethnicities or particular situations. Sometimes it is done in the name of cultural rituals, as a sanction and in other times for the benefit of the husband’s sexual pleasure. FGM are mainly practiced in Africa, but also in Middle-East and in a smaller measure in Asia as in India or Pakistan for example.
Beyond the eminently serious and damaging consequences for the women’s health, theses discriminatory consequences are a real threat for the future of women. In fact, we observe an interrelationship between the risk to suffer from genital mutilations and the level of instruction of women. Indeed, the least educated women have much more risks to be victims of FGM than women who are more educated. However, on the contrary of some popular biases, some surveys demonstrate that FGM are realized as much on animist women as on muslims, christians and jews women (UNICEF, 2013).
« Together, these are harmful practices that make it almost impossible for the girls affected to have the same life chances as boys. »
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
A necessary reaction of United Nations
In the face of these dangerous and degrading practices for women’s rights, the United Nations has taken up this threatening issue for the respect of fundamental rights. In 1993, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women, with the first explicit reference to the issue of genital mutilation. In this drive to combat FGM, in 1994, the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities adopted a first action plan for the elimination of harmful traditional practices affecting the health of women and children.
At the same time, regional and national legal instruments were adopted to prohibit FGM, thus reflecting a trend towards the repression of such violence against women.
More recently, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on 20 December 2012, which formally prohibits the practice of female genital mutilation. This resolution, which notably set 6 February as the day dedicated to the reminder of the zero tolerance of the United Nations and its 194 member states on FGM, is an important step towards the annihilation of this harmful practice for women throughout the world.
The contribution of peacekeepers to the UN’s fight to end FGM
The United Nations, in an effort to achieve gender parity in the ranks of peacekeepers, has effectively deployed more and more women in its peacekeeping operations (PKOs) in accordance with Resolution 1325 adopted by the United Nations Security Council on Women, Peace and Security.
This increasing involvement of women in peacekeeping missions has had a positive impact in several respects on the issue of discrimination and treatment of women in countries suffering from war. Indeed, FGM is also practiced in some countries in conflict, where peacekeepers are or may have been involved, such as Somalia, for example. In this respect, peacekeepers, and specifically the presence of female soldiers representing the United Nations in conflict territories, have made it possible to highlight FGM and all its consequences for women’s rights.
The United Nations strategy is based on the idea that women victims, because they are more confident and certainly less embarrassed to address such intimate issues, will be more able to talk about them with female soldiers. Therefore, the promotion of women’s rights and peacekeeping are honourably joined in this framework, inseparably linked in the eyes of the United Nations. It is undoubtedly important to underline this concrete effort of the United Nations in the fight against FGM.
Thus, to this extent, through the intervention of various women involved in the UN, but also through the deployment of women peacekeepers in PKOs, the fight against FGM also becomes a fight for women, by women.
However, how can we end this article without addressing the investment of men in this fight, as with the statements of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres or the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Denis Mukwege, nicknamed “the man who fixes women” for his operations on women victims of FGM in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
FGM is therefore everyone’s business, and should be everyone’s fight. The AISP is outraged by these inhuman and degrading practices and supports all women who are victims of FGM, just as it denounces other violence against women and the mutilation imposed on children.
(1) Female Genital Mutilation: State of the art and knowledge, by Armelle Andro and Marie Lesclingand, in Population 2016/2 (Vol. 71).
(2) Female genital mutilation: what protection? Céline VERBROUCK, Lawyer at the Brussels Bar and Patricia JASPIS, Investigating Judge Revue du droit des étrangers – 2009 – n° 153
(3) who.int WHO, Sexual and Reproductive health – Prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation