Zero Tolerance Day 2016 - international and local efforts coincide to end FGM

6 February 2016

Today, 6 February, is the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice that affects more than 200 million women and girls worldwide, according to new UNICEF statistics.

FGM is internationally recognised as a human rights violation and a form of violence against women and girls.

What is FGM?

FGM is defined by the World Health Organisation as the partial or total removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. It is most often carried out on very young girls between infancy and the age of 15. The health effects, both physical and psychological, are severe and can impact a woman throughout her life. FGM is practiced in over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and due to migration it is also happening in Europe, North America, and Australia.

Clearly, FGM is a global human rights issue that affects all of us, but what can we do?

Sustainable Development Goals

This is where the UN Global Goals, a group of 17 goals to change the world by 2030, come in. This year, the theme of Zero Tolerance Day centres on celebrating the role the Global Goals can play in ending FGM in a generation.

Also known as the Sustainable Development Goals, they work towards ending poverty, improving access to education, taking action on climate change, and achieving gender equality. The international community prioritised ending FGM and child marriage under Goal 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

If this sounds ambitious, it is. But change is possible, and change is happening.

All around the world, ordinary people are making a difference – one conversation at a time. Human rights activists are pushing for change and holding their governments to account. S

ise Sawaneh in The Gambia, West Africa, is one of these amazing young activists raising her voice for the women and girls in her country.

A native of Basse, which is in eastern Gambia, 22-year-old Sise grew up in a community with an FGM prevalence rate of over 90 percent, according to recent government statistics.

Sise Sawaneh engaging communities in a dialogue about FGM

Appalled by the wrong and harmful practice of FGM, she decided to run a radio programme on a Gambian station called Star FM. Dubbed “The Women and Children’s Hour," the radio programme informs, educates, and dissuades Gambian families from cutting their girls which, as Sise says, holds women back. In tandem with the radio campaign, she also leads discussions on Facebook and Twitter to amplify her message. 

Sise, who works with women’s rights organisations in The Gambia such as Think Young Women and Gamcotrap, is ecstatic that in November 2015, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh announced a ban on FGM.

Since the announcement, The Gambian government made good on its promise by bringing forward legislation to enforce the ban. Sise was among a group of tireless activists who flooded the National Assembly chamber of The Gambia to witness the historic passage of the FGM bill.

She describes the ban as “the proudest moment” in her life, but she recognises that the fight isn’t over yet. FGM will end with “facts, dedication, and commitment,” she says. “I want everyone to join this great campaign by speaking out, exposing, and using facts to tell people closer to them who are practising FGM that it is bad.

If we want to move on the path to progress as human beings, we should, and must, respect the contribution that women can make unencumbered by FGM, and its negative impacts on women and girls.”

Sise speaking at a youth conference in The Gambia

“I was proud that, after a long campaign, we were able to win over the government to ban FGM. It is a wrong practice. While it is good that legislation is in place – which is a big momentum for us – now we should move on to make sure it is enforced.

That means we should take the debate to the doorsteps, community gatherings and ceremonies of people who are holding on to the belief that it is the right thing to do. I believe that with the great approach with which we handle our campaign, we will be convincing more sceptics.”

The inspiring momentum in The Gambia is part of a wider global shift towards the abandonment of FGM. Since the Millennium Development Goals (the old set of goals that the Global Goals replace in 2016) came into effect in 2000, great strides have been made towards ending FGM once and for all. In 2012, the United Nations issued a global ban on FGM.

In Kenya, FGM prevalence rates dropped from 27% to 21% between 2010-2015. Last year alone, both Nigeria and The Gambia made FGM illegal. Also in 2015, important world figures like President Barack Obama and Pope Francis delivered an important message by condemning FGM as a violation against women and girls.

It seems the world is finally paying attention and the campaign to end FGM in a generation has more momentum and visibility than ever before.

Imagine the change that can happen by 2030 if we redouble our efforts, and stand in solidarity with the Africa-led movement.

There is no time to lose - Each year, an estimated three million girls in Africa alone are at risk of undergoing FGM. That’s 42 million girls we can protect from FGM by 2030. 42 million girls free from this form of violence and oppression. 42 million girls able to realise their potential and enjoy their full human rights.

Together, we can all play a role in creating a world that is safe for girls. 

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