International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

In 2003, the United Nations declared February 6th the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The day is designated to bring awareness to the dangers of FGM and “promote the sanctity of a woman’s autonomy over her body and health.” Also referred to as female genital cutting (FGC), the World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million women and girls alive today were subjected to FGM.

Internationally, FGM is recognized as a violation of human rights and constitutes as an extreme form of discrimination and inequality against women. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution in 2012 to ban the practice, while urging countries to take a firm stance in condemning procedures. The resolution calls on countries to take all necessary measures to raise awareness and allocate sufficient resources to protect women and girls from reproductive violence. Currently, UNFPA, jointly with UNICEF, leads the largest global program to accelerate the abandonment of FGM, focusing on 17 African countries as well as supporting regional and global initiatives under the theme of: “Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030.”

Hilton Prize Laureates Amref Health Africa and Tostan are two best-in-class organizations contributing to the abandonment of FGM and the empowerment of women at the local level. Their holistic partnership approaches have resonated with governments, civil society, community leaders, and the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Below are some outcomes of their approach:

Amref Health Africa

Amref Health Africa (Amref) was awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 1999 for their work on the most critical health issues in Africa. Through advocacy, research, and capacity building, the organization is committed to improving the health of Africans. As the largest health development organization in the continent, Amref constantly advocates for the rights of women, believing that sustainable development is only possible when women have equal opportunities.

Since 2007, Amref has implemented programs to eliminate the practice of FGM. These innovative programs work alongside communities in advancing health systems and education initiatives to accelerate the abandonment of the culturally accepted practice. Understanding that communities value cultural practices that commemorate the transition of girls into adulthood, Amref has worked with groups to create alternatives that prioritize health and well-being. One of their most notable programs, the Alternative Rite of Passage (ARP), is widely accepted by leaders as a substitute for FGM. “The Alternative Rites of Passage program allows girls to stay in school and contribute positively to the socio-economic growth of their communities and country,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa. In Kenya, more than 10,000 girls alone have graduated from the program thus avoiding the possibility of death, infection, and early childhood marriages.

Tostan

Awarded the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2007, Tostan was established in 1991 with a mission to empower rural communities through sustainable development. The organization’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) applies a holistic approach to dialogue and inclusivity that has provided a foundation for conversations in communities previously absent from those discussions.

Tostan’s CEP program encourages its practitioners to understand human rights and develop programs leading groups away from the practice. Through CEP, participants learn about their shared responsibility to protecting a woman’s right to health and freedom from violence. Therefore, when creating programs addressing the health needs of the community, they also examine preventative measures and the long-term consequences of FGC.

Although contributing to the eradication of  FGC was not an immediate goal of Tostan, according to the organization, more than 7,200 communities in Africa have publicly declared to abandon both FGC and the related practice of child/forced marriage, with 91 declarations formalized in ceremonies across eight countries. Public declarations “are critical in the process for total abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGC to becoming a thing of the past,” states the organization. The governments of Senegal and The Gambia have respectively recognized CEP as their preferred method of engaging communities on harmful practices and have commended Tostan for their work in the region.

Both Amref and Tostan continue to enhance partnerships and programming that have had a tremendous impact on the abandonment of FGM. These organizations are prime examples of sustainable development conscious of human rights. We applaud them for their work and look forward to seeing much more from these laureates.

*image from the United Nations; #EndFGM social media campaign

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