Let’s stop this cruel practice against girls

Personal conviction, not laws can stop Female Genital Mutilation

16 December 2008. Much has been said and continue to be said about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This is a practice which includes the removal or the alteration of the female genitalia. In simple words, it is the removal of a young girl’s clitoris and often all external genitalia. That sounds horrible, but that’s exactly what happens.

The practice is widespread in Africa and the Middle East.
According World Health Organisation, between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM. In Africa alone, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

This practice is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The Protocol on the Rights of Women, adopted in Maputo by Member States of the African Union in 2003 which entered into force on 25th November 2005 condemns FGM. African states have also adopted a binding instrument that explicitly condemns FGM and calls on African governments to approve laws banning the practice.

In June 2003, the "Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation" was adopted at the International Conference on "Legal Tools for the Prevention of FGM" in Cairo. Five years later, another High-Level Meeting "For the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM) – Declaration of the Cairo +5" has just been concluded in Cairo with the adoption by consensus of a Final Declaration stressing the need to foster a transnational political mobilisation for the elimination of FGM.

All these International Conferences against FGM are welcome but not enough. FGM is injustice against girls and women which must not be allowed to continue. It is a practice that must be drastically reduced soon if not completely eliminated. There are so many complications resulting from FGM including urine tube infections, HIV/AIDS, and many others. It also denies women the right to enjoy sex.

We need a serious commitment from all to fight FGM. And this campaign must have as key protagonists women, mothers. This is because they are our first educators, those who teach us our cultural values, including those harmful ones.

Our women must first convince themselves of the danger of this practice. Without this conviction, they’ll continue promoting it. Of course men must also be made aware of the dangers of FGM. This calls for massive investment on community educational programmes and research on causes and consequences of FGM.

International Conferences are a top-down approach to the problem. One thing “I like” about International Conferences is that they are usually attended by those who are not directly affected by real problems being tackled. At times they are attended by people who only want to show the world that they share in certain ideals, but deep within them they know they are totally against them. This is why many times conferences conclude with resolutions which are not binding, or those that lack legal mechanisms for implementation.

Conferences can come up with resolutions and tough laws against FGM which will never be effectively implemented. You can outlaw a practice, but if people are still convinced of its relevance, they’ll always find a way of practicing it.

Communities practising FGM need to give a critical look to the practice, discover the cultural values behind it, and see if those values are still relevant today, and above all, if they justify causing such harm to girls and women.

By Stephen Ogongo

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