The World Health Organization (WHO) describes Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as “which involves the removal (partial or total) or injury to the external female genital organs or any damage inflicted on the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” and the consequences of physical cutting leave in their wake a long list of violations of women’s rights: their health, their safety and physical integrity, their right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, their right to life who puts herself at risk at the time of mutilation, at the time of delivery or postpartum and the violation of her right to live with autonomy and body and social freedom.
Today, February 6th, this will be the reality of thousands of girls who will suffer from that violent and inhumane act that is female genital mutilation.
It is estimated that there are more than 200 million girls and women, still alive, who have been subjected to this practice, which is mainly concentrated in countries in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, but which also happens in communities in Europe. , in Australia or North America.
If nothing is done by 2030, we add another 15 million girls to be victims of FGM, an ostensible violation of human rights. This year alone, more than 4.3 million girls are at risk of suffering this form of violence.
This violence was recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, which made February 6 the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.
Since then, the fight against this practice has intensified and the contributions of UNICEF, WHO, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have been essential to understand the attitudes and beliefs associated with the phenomenon, to find strategies for change, to present proposals for public health policies and pragmatic responses at a global level.
But the practice has not been eliminated and the pandemic has brought significant setbacks in the fight, with the suspension of funding for direct work in the affected countries. We need to make up for lost time in an effort that needs to be 10 times faster in order to meet the goal of eliminating FGM in the 2030 Global Development Agenda.
Portugal has contributed with a sustained path of public policies to combat all forms of FGM, with an impact in the areas of equality, health, justice (we remember that the practice was criminalized in 2007 and the crime became autonomous in 2015) and cooperation and also in primary prevention in the context of education and social protection of children and young people. Reinforcing the training of health professionals and support for non-governmental organizations made it possible to map and understand the phenomenon in Portugal and design information and awareness campaigns for different audiences. Cooperation with countries that have a high prevalence of FGM such as Guinea-Bissau, with the project “Girls and Women: Education, Health, Equality, Rights”, in addition to the presence at the United Nations with UNFPA, are steps that need to be continued be reinforced without stigmatizing communities. Therefore, Portugal continues to place the fight against Harmful Traditional Practices at the center of national policies to combat violence against women, a commitment enshrined in the National Strategy for Equality and Non-Discrimination 2018-2030- Portugal + Igual and in the Strategy for Portuguese Cooperation 2030.
But it never hurts to remember that this is a collective responsibility. In a world where gender inequality is deeply rooted, FGM is one more of the multiple and violent mechanisms of power exercised over women’s rights and their autonomy. That’s why this year, the UNFPA/UNICEF joint program recalls that men and boys are necessary allies in this transformative effort to challenge “the dynamics of families and communities and support women, girls and girls as agents of change”.
Therefore, on this 6th of February, International FGM Zero Tolerance Day, with the United Nations, under the leadership of UNFPA and UNICEF, we call for an end to this practice that violates human rights and we celebrate the more than 45 million people who made public declarations of abandoning this harmful traditional practice, celebrating communities and families that support changing social norms that violate, limit and kill girls and women, and we join UN Secretary-General António Guterres in calling for men and young men around the world, speak out and advance initiatives to end female genital mutilation for the benefit of all. So that no one is left behind.
*Members of the Assembly of the Republic elected by the Socialist Party and Members of the Portuguese Parliamentary Group on Population and Development