International: Draft Resolution on Female Genital Cutting Sent to United Nations


LONDON (TrustLaw) – African member states of the United Nations have submitted a draft resolution on ending female genital mutilation (FGM) to the U.N. General Assembly, in what campaigners have hailed as a landmark step to end a practice that has been inflicted on up to 140 million women and girls.

FGM, which is widespread in parts of Africa and pockets of the Middle East and Asia, involves the partial or total removal of the external genitals, and in many cases the closing of the vaginal opening.

It is usually arranged by the women of the family and performed by traditional cutters who use anything from scissors to razor blades, broken glass and tin can lids.

The procedure, generally carried out without any kind of anaesthetic or pain relief, can cause lasting physical and emotional damage. In some cases it is fatal.

Although 19 of the 28 African countries where FGM is found have laws against it, these are poorly enforced. Somalia, where FGM is near universal, banned the practice under its new provisional constitution in August.

The draft resolution, which was submitted on Wednesday, urges states to “condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilations … and to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity”.

Alvilda Jablonko, coordinator of the FGM programme of rights group No Peace Without Justice, said the text was a very significant step in the battle to end “a wide-scale and blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of women and girls”.

“We look forward to the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly … of a holistic and comprehensive resolution that explicitly bans FGM worldwide, which would demonstrate the strong commitment of the international community to human rights and particularly the rights of women and girls, and be a real tool for change,” Jablonko said in a statement.

FGM is practised by both Muslim and Christian communities. Many believe it preserves a girl’s virginity and see it is an important rite of passage and prerequisite for marriage. Parents say it purifies the girl and brings her status. Many also believe it is a religious requirement, although it is not mentioned in any religious text.

But FGM can cause haemorrhaging, shock, chronic pain, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts, menstrual problems and infertility. It also increases the risk of labour complications and newborn deaths.

The draft resolution calls on states to implement laws against FGM and support these with education campaigns. It also urges states to train medical personnel, social workers and religious and community leaders to help prevent FGM and report cases to the authorities where they believe girls are at risk.

Campaigners hope the draft resolution will be adopted in December. Although it will not be enforceable, they say the fact it has been initiated by African countries will add a lot of weight.