Reflecting deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constituting an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is internationally recognised as a violation of human rights of girls and women. This archaic practice also violates their rights to health, security and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and their right to life when the self-same procedure results in death. Globally, it is estimated that at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.
The causes of female genital mutilation include a mix of cultural, religious and social factors within families and communities. Where FGM is a social convention, the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing is a strong motivation to perpetuate the practice. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered proper sexual behaviour, linking procedures to premarital virginity and marital fidelity. Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
Although the practice is largely known to be concentrated in countries in Africa and the Middle East, FGM is a universal problem and is also practiced in some countries in Asia and Latin America. FGM continues to persist amongst immigrant populations living in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
On 20 December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in which it called upon States, the United Nations system, civil society and all stakeholders to continue to observe 6 February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation and to use the day to enhance awareness raising campaigns and to take concrete actions against female genital mutilations.
In December 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted another resolution callling upon member States to develop, support and implement comprehensive and integrated strategies for the prevention of FGM including training of medical personnel, social workers and community and religious leaders to ensure they provide competent, supportive services and care to women and girls who are at risk of or who have undergone FGM.
Though the practice has persisted for over a thousand years, programmatic evidence suggests that FGM can end in one generation. The UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. The programme currently focuses on 17 African countries and also supports regional and global initiatives to raise awareness of the harms caused by FGM and to empower communities, women and girls to make the decision to abandon it.
To promote the abandonment of FGM, coordinated and systematic efforts are needed, and they must engage whole communities and focus on human rights and gender equality. These efforts should emphasise societal dialogue and the empowerment of communities to act collectively to end the practice. They must also address the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls who suffer from its consequences.