By Cecilia Ologunagba
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) can be prevented, and it can be stopped, so that millions of women and girls can enjoy their lives to the fullest, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has said.
In a video message during a high-level panel event on FGM at the Human Rights Council, Bachelet said women and girls in more than 90 countries continued to be victims of the harmful practice.
The panel discussion focused on the importance of a multi-sectoral approach on ending FGM and the creation of bolder policies and programmes to address the practice in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200 million girls and women were victims of FGM and four million girls were at risk every year.
“However, the global pandemic (COVID-19) is putting more women and girls at risk. Today, more than 20 million girls may never return to secondary school.
“The loss of jobs, school closures and income as well as the shifting goals of policy makers and donors, are increasing the risks of this oppressive practice,’’ Bachelet said.
According to her, unless the prevention and elimination of this harmful practice is prioritised and integrated in COVID-19 national response plans and humanitarian actions, many girls will be at a higher risk of undergoing FGM by 2030.
In July 2020, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 44/16 on the elimination of FGM to speed up efforts to reach zero tolerance for it by 2030 and to restate the global ban on the harmful practice as it constitutes a serious violation of women’s rights.
The number of women and girls mutilated every year globally could rise to 4.6 million by 2030 if the goal of zero tolerance is not reached, said Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
“While this may seem bleak, coordination among leaders in governments and civil society has improved.
“We see multi-sectoral national plans with dedicated budget lines to address FGM, and legally mandated coordination mechanisms, like Kenya’s anti-FGM board.
“The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme also engages traditional and community leaders, religious authorities, parents, and others in positions of authority,” Kanem said.
Kanem experienced this first-hand during her recent mission to Sudan when she met a leader known in her community as “Mama Iqbal.”
Mama Iqbal told Kanem: “When we hear that a family intends to cut their daughter, we pack up our coffee cups and go talk to them.”
“This is what it will take to end FGM – more Mama Iqbals and other allies, including men and boys – working together in community-after- community,” she said.
Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso, urged all countries to make a universal commitment to prioritise the fight against FGM in their national projects and programmes.
In a video message, Kaboré pushed for allocation of sufficient funds and utilization of global inter-organisational initiatives that promote zero tolerance by 2030. (NAN)