World Health Organization: Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation
Sunday, January 17, 2010
11:03 AM
The World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children’s Fund issued a Joint Statement on Female Genital Mutilation in the late 90’s which described the implications of the practice for human rights and public health and declared that the practice should be terminated. Yet stopping the practice of female genital mutilation means the UN must delve deep into the social, economic and political structures of most African countries. Female genital mutilation represents the society’s control over women. It is therefore difficult for both men and women that feel it is wrong in those countries to abandon it, because there has to be great support from the extended community. In an interagency statement of the World Health Organization: “[such mutilation] is often practiced even when it is known to inflict harm upon girls because the perceived social benefits of the practice are deemed higher than its disadvantages.”

Female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting includes all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia that include the clitoris and the labia for cultural, religious, traditional purposes. The WHO/UNICEF/UNFPA classified FGM into four types:

Type I: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or the prepuce.

Type II: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora with or without the excision of the labia majora.

Type III: Narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting the labia minora and/or the labia majora with or without the excision of the clitoris.

Type IV: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medial purposes: ie. piercing, incising, scraping, pricking and cauterization.

It is estimated the between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM. It was estimated by Yoder and Khan, spokesmen for the WHO, that a total of 91.5 million girls and women above 9 years old in Africa alone are currently living with the consequences of FGM. The practice of FGM has been documented in 28 countries in Africa and in some countries in Asia, Central and South America, and in the Middle East. Shockingly, in seven countries, the national prevalence of FGM is more than 85%.

Ironically, women are usually responsible with the decision-making and practical arrangements about FGM. Ahmadu, a spokesman for WHO, stated: “in some societies, the practice is embedded in coming-of-age rituals, sometimes for entry into women’s secret societies, which are considered necessary for girls to become adult and responsible members of the society.” Girls may desire to undergo the procedure as a result of social pressure from peers and fear of rejection by their communities. Sometimes, the girls are rewarded with a celebration and gifts if they undergo FGM in some cultures. There is often the expectation that men will not marry a woman unless she has undergone FGM. “The desire for a proper marriage, which is often essential for economic and social security as well as for fulfilling local ideals of womanhood and femininity, may account for the persistence of the practice.”

FGM can cause many serious health consequences. The process is traumatic and most girls experience pain and bleeding after the procedure. Infections can occur, as well as various psychological and physical health problems may arise. Long-term consequences include: infections, decreased sexual enjoyment, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic pain. There is also an increase for adverse events during childbirth. FGM of mothers has negative effects on their newborn babies; death rates among babies during and immediately after birth were higher for those born to mothers who had undergone genital mutilation compared to those who had not.

Most importantly, FGM is a violation of human rights. It violates the principles of equality and non-discrimination. FGM also violates the rights of the child. Human rights granted children special protection because of their need for care and support. It also violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which refers to the capacity of children to make decisions regarding matters that may affect them.

Action has taken affect and in recent years there has been an increased number of men and women from FGM practicing groups that have declared support for discontinuing the practice. It is important to empower education in order to help individuals examine their own beliefs and values related to FGM and other threatening practices. Schools should offer class discussions about FGM while creating a comfortable environment for women to be in. The media can play a crucial role in informing people about the harmful effects of FGM and therefore encourage positive social change inside communities. Governments should also fulfill their duties to protect and promote the international human rights laws. Bringing an end to FGM requires a long-term commitment. This issue should never be ignored, for it is a dangerous procedure, and a serious issue of human rights.

Location: United Nations Headquarters
Author: Vanessa Pinto
NGO: Manhattanville College

I'm a senior majoring in English. I attend and report on UN Briefings and other meetings from October through May. I published a novel at the age of seventeen and have three years of writing experience for my college newspaper, literary and travel magazine. My focus is magazine & editorial writing and travel documentary. I am also active in global volunteer efforts for peace and interfaith alliance, as well as the promotion of animal rights, women's rights and education, and disaster relief.

UNA-USA: YPIC, World Youth Alliance, GPC, Seeds of Peace, WHO, UNICEF, UN University

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