NEW YORK (TrustLaw)— A United Nations committee voted to ban female genital mutilation on Monday, a landmark move led by African countries that almost guarantees adoption of the resolution by the full global body in December.
An estimated 140 million girls and women around the world have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), a harmful traditional practice under which all or parts of the external genitalia are removed, often by other female members of the family. The procedure, often done with crude implements under unsanitary conditions, can result in serious physical and emotional damage and in some instances can prove fatal.
Not rooted in any religion, the procedure is typically done to girls between infancy and the age of 15 and is often considered a rite of passage preparing the girl for marriage. Traditionally, families do it for a number of reasons including the belief that it preserves a girl’s virginity, prevents promiscuity after marriage and enhances male sexual pleasure.
"Notably, the draft resolution urges States to 'condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations, and to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence and to end impunity’,” said Alvilda Jablonko, coordinator of the FGM program of No Peace Without Justice, in a statement.
The Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, commonly called the Third Committee, adopted the six-page draft resolution, “Intensifying Global Efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations,” after it was submitted by a group of African nations, led by Burkina Faso, in October.
The adoption of the draft resolution represents the culmination of years of advocacy work by No Peace Without Justice and its partners in the International NGO Coalition to Ban FGM Worldwide, which include the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC), Euronet-FGM, La Palabre, Manifesto 99 and Equality Now.
It is believed that 3 million girls are subjected to the procedure every year in Africa alone, where FGM is prevalent in 28 countries and near universal in nations including Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinea.
FGM is also practiced in parts of the Middle East and Asia, including Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan and Indonesia, as well as among industrialised countries with immigrant populations.
While the resolution will not be enforceable by the UN, the fact that it was introduced by African countries is thought to give it added weight in the region.
Twenty of the 28 African countries where FGM is widely practiced have banned the procedure but enforcement is generally weak and prosecutions rare. An exception is Burkina Faso, which has strong laws against FGM, the support of traditional chiefs and a record of hundreds of prosecutions against those who inflict it on girls.
Although typically performed by women using crude implements, such as razor blades or broken glass, a new and growing trend, acknowledged in the draft resolution, is the authorization for hospitals to perform FGM in nations like Indonesia.
The draft resolution also urges the UN Secretary-General to ensure that all UN agencies dealing with women and girls “take into account the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls against female genital mutilations in their country programmes” and to commission an in-depth study and report on the practice of FGM globally.
(Additional reporting by Emma Batha)
(Editing by Stella Dawson)
See TrustLaw’s Special Coverage: FGM: “It’s not culture, it’s child abuse” - a package of stories and videos on FGM