The UN Children Fund (UNICEF) has said that 30 million girls would still be at the risk of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in the next decade.
This was contained in a report entitled “Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change”, launched on Monday.
The report surveyed 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where FGM/C persists, and found that while support for the practice was on decline, girls remained in considerable danger.
According to the report, the challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce that they want this harmful practice abandoned.
It pointed to a gap between people’s personal views on FGM/C and the entrenched sense of social obligation that fuels
its continuation, exacerbated by a lack of open communication on the sensitive issue.
“There are currently 125 million girls and women alive today who have been subjected to FGM/C, which refers to a number of practices which involve cutting away part or all of a girl’s external genitalia.
“The practice recognised globally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women has no health benefits, causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences,’’ the report said, qouting UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Geeta Rao Gupta.
The report’s found that not only are most girls and women against the practice, but that a significant number of men and boys also oppose FGM/C.
It also said that in three countries such as Chad, Guinea and Sierra Leone, more men than women want the practice to end.
The report added that while FGM/C had been virtually abandoned by certain groups and countries, it remained entrenched in many others, even where there was legislation against it and efforts by governments and non-governmental organisations to convince communities to stop it.
“FGM/C remains almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Egypt, with more than nine out of 10 women and girls aged 15-49 being cut.
“In countries such as Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, or Yemen, there has been no discernible decline.
“By contrast, the practice has declined in Kenya, Tanzania, Benin, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic,’’ the report said.
While noting that legislation against FGM/C is a welcome development, the report called for measures to complement
it, such as positive social dynamics that change the social norms to accelerate the decline of this practice.
It recommended opening up FGM/C to greater public scrutiny, to challenge the misperception that “everyone else” approves of the practice.
It also highlighted the role education could play in bringing further social change, noting that higher levels of education among mothers corresponded to a lower risk that their daughters would be cut and that while in school, girls may develop ties with others who oppose FGM/C.
Some of the key steps outlined in the report include finding ways to make visible the hidden attitudes that favour the abandonment of FGM/C, increasing exposure of groups that still follow the practice to those that do not, and promoting the rejection of FGM/C alongside improved opportunities for girls.
Since 2008, nearly 10,000 communities in 15 countries, representing about eight million people, have renounced the practice.
In December 2012, a UN General Assembly resolution called on Member States to intensify efforts toward the complete elimination of FGM/C.
In addition, some 1,775 communities across Africa publicly declared their commitment to end the practice last year.