International day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation: advocacy for change led by survivors

HomeNewsInternational day of zero tolerance for female genital mutilation: advocacy for change...

Kenya Nicol

On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), survivors of this practice take center stage to combat this deeply rooted issue. Representatives from UNICEF and health organizations are actively involved in addressing the challenges posed by FGM.

Excisions as “a violation of human rights”

The Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, High Commissioner for HCDH Volker Türk, Executive Director of UN Women Sima Bahous, and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus jointly gather to tackle the customary practice of female genital excision in certain countries.

UNFPA and UNICEF are at the forefront of the Joint Global Program for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. HCDH, UN Women, WHO, and other UN entities aim to “establish partnerships with survivors as champions and community leaders.” Their voices will inform prevention and intervention programs.

Together, they affirm, “Today, on the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we reaffirm our dedication to girls and women who have fallen victim to this serious human rights violation.” To amplify their cause, they urge “every survivor” to join “a call to action,” encouraging them to “put an end to this harmful practice.”

Survivors’ global impact

“Every choice they make to reclaim their lives contributes to the global movement.” Currently, there are over 200 million living girls and women who have undergone female genital mutilation. This year, nearly 4.4 million girls are at risk, equivalent to almost 12,000 cases per day.

The leaders emphasize that this practice constitutes “a violation of the rights of women and girls, jeopardizing their physical and mental health and limiting their ability to lead a healthy and fulfilling life.” Originating as a custom rooted in Africa, it “increases the risk of pain, bleeding, and severe infections, along with the likelihood of other health complications later in life,” not to mention “risks associated with childbirth, endangering the lives of newborns.”

Empowering survivors as advocates

“That’s why, in our quest for a world free from discrimination and practices harmful to girls and women, it is imperative that we turn to the voices that matter most—those of survivors.” The UNICEF and health representatives aspire to “inspire collective action” and promote survivors’ power and autonomy, ensuring their active role in prevention and response interventions.

According to them, “survivors have firsthand experience of the challenges they face and the tools needed to eliminate this practice.” They emphasize the importance of local-level action and providing “resources that will advance their efforts.”

“We must also ensure that comprehensive and culturally adapted services are available and accessible. This includes strengthening the provision of healthcare and social and legal services to support survivors.”

Progress and the path to 2030

Significant progress has been made, with the prevalence of FGM decreasing over the past three decades. In 31 countries with nationally representative prevalence data, about one in three girls aged 15 to 19 today has undergone this practice, compared to one in two in the 1990s.

“Last year, the joint program supported over 11,000 organizations, with 83% being grassroots organizations working in partnership with coalitions and movements led by survivors, advocating for policy and law changes and championing the evolution of social and gender norms.”

In their current coalition, the goal is to end female genital mutilation by 2030. “Together, driven by survivors, we can relegate this harmful practice to history, once and for all,” conclude the allies.

Also discover