- This event was a call to action, recognizing the urgency of discussing and dismantling the harmful practices that jeopardize the lives and well-being of countless individuals.
- Prof. Herrera emphasized that in 18 African countries, the legislation prohibits this practice, marking a huge step toward eradicating it.
- To combat FGM, the insights shared by the panelists shed light on the complexities surrounding international efforts.
In a mission to fight for human rights and dignity, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation serves as a key moment to address a deeply rooted issue that continues to affect millions of girls and women worldwide.
On February 2, 2024, Faith Kaitesi, Founder of Faith Foundation and Uganda Country Chair Human Rights and Dignity G100, in collaboration with the Faith Foundation and G100 Uganda Chapter on Human Rights and Dignity, hosted a powerful panel discussion highlighting the pervasive impact of Female Genital Mutilation in Africa.
This event was a call to action, recognizing the urgency of discussing and dismantling the harmful practices that jeopardize the lives and well-being of countless individuals.
FGM is a practice that goes beyond geographical boundaries, affecting more than 200 million girls and women in 30 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where the ritual is still prevalent.
According to WHO, FGM is predominantly performed on young girls, often between infancy and the age of 15. The statistics paint a stark reality, highlighting the magnitude of this violation of human rights.
It is important to understand that FGM is beyond a cultural and traditional practice but a direct infringement upon the fundamental rights of girls and women, robbing them of their bodily autonomy and subjecting them to severe health complications.
Beyond the immediate physical and emotional consequences, FGM poses a significant economic burden on health systems. The estimated cost of treating health complications arising from FGM amounts to 1.4 billion US dollars per year.
This financial strain is projected to escalate unless decisive measures are taken to eradicate the practice and address its repercussions.
Legal battlegrounds, universal rights
Monica Rocha Herrera, a professor and human rights advocate brought unique perspective to the panel. In the discussion, she shed light on the alarming projection by the UN population statistics.
“According to the UN population, 60 million girls and women will be cut between 2015 and 2030 in 35 countries, where this practice is done,” Prof. Herrera shares.
The rarity of this phenomenon persists, documented in 33 countries in Africa, making it a key issue that demands global attention. What sets FGM apart is its prevalence and the legal landscape surrounding it.
Prof. Herrera emphasized that in 18 African countries, the legislation prohibits this practice, marking a huge step toward eradicating it.
However, the complexity of FGM is in the clash between cultural reasons, universal human rights, and the unsanitary conditions in which the procedure is often carried out.
The professor argues that FGM is undeniably a human rights violation, a standpoint reinforced by international mechanisms such as the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
As she gets into the legal aspects, she draws attention to the rich landscape of case law and authority that supports the unequivocal condemnation of FGM.
On one side of this issue, there exists legislation that seeks to curb this harmful practice while on the other side, cultural beliefs continue to perpetuate it.
Prof. Herrera’s insights illuminate the delicate landscape of international law, urging us to reevaluate the cultural veil that shrouds FGM and consider the broader implications for human rights and dignity.
Approaching FGM diplomatically
Amb. Namboka Omositson, a diplomat, brought forth a diplomatic perspective that transcends the conventional narratives.
His reflections during the panel discussion highlighted the importance of delving deeply into anthropology when addressing FGM, urging a clear understanding that goes beyond mere condemnation.
Amb. Omositson acknowledged the recommendations of the UN human rights system, emphasizing that blindly dismissing practices of African origin without comprehensive analysis may overlook critical aspects.
He asserted, “We cannot simply blanket throw-away practices of African origin without going into detailed analysis of what, why these practices started and why they have endured until today.”
Drawing from personal experiences and extensive research, the ambassador highlighted a crucial aspect often overlooked – the complex intertwining of FGM with cultural and religious traditions.
He shared insights from a paper by Reverend Stephen Moi Joshua, revealing the historical conflict between the church, missionaries, and the Kikuyu people in Kenya over the FGM question.
Amb. Omositson presented a perspective that urged a diplomatic, educational approach rather than an outright legal measure.
Reflecting on the words of Dr. Patricia Coro, Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Gender and Women’s Rights in Liberia, he emphasized that a solution lies in education rather than the multifaceted nature of FGM as an integral part of certain societies’ rites of passage.
He cautioned against a simplistic view that solely focuses on the physical harm inflicted by FGM, stating, “If you strictly look at this problem as a physical impairment on the women, on the child, the consequences of this interference and I think its agonizing pain, excruciating.”
He challenges the notion that outright abolition and criminalization might overlook the deeper cultural dimensions and the positive aspects that some societies associate with the practice.
To combat FGM, the insights shared by the panelists shed light on the complexities surrounding international efforts. Their perspectives show a crucial dimension – the necessity for a harmonized approach rooted in respect and understanding across cultures.
Amb. Omositson emphasized that the challenge does not lie in the lack of awareness or scientific facts to combat the practice but rather in attitudes and perceived double standards within international law.
He stated, “the whole issue we’re discussing is not so much that Africans do not understand or appreciate the knowledge or scientific facts brought up to combat the practice but the attitude and the other double standards that have been observed.”
He drew parallels between the arbitrary nature of baptism and the mental biases that shape cultural practices, highlighting the dire consequences of cutting in terms of physical and psychological harm to girls and future mothers, underscoring the need for collective action.
However, he insisted that true collaboration can only happen when the accepted standards of international law align with the diverse mindsets of those implementing them.
“Humanity today is on the brink of a third world war because we are not prepared to humble ourselves even on little questions like FGM, “he cautioned.
By fostering a sense of unity and mutual respect, discussions on issues like FGM could evolve from divisive language to collaborative problem-solving.
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A united and respectful global community underscores the significance of building bridges between cultures and reframing the discourse around FGM, having constructive dialogue to drive actionable plans.