Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) and related harmful traditional practices.
The aim of this Statement, now also published in in the book Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation, is to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
1. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in all its forms is cruelty and abuse. The United Nations has decreed it a fundamental violation of human rights [a].
2. FGM is practised in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that some 140 million girls and women now alive have undergone this mutilation, with around 3 million more experiencing it every year [b].
140 million is however a very conservative figure and the total including e.g. Indonesia [c], the Middle East and diaspora destinations is likely to be much higher.
3. FGM, like other traditional practices which harm women and girls [d], is done from fear in many guises, at the instigation behind the scenes of powerful people who stand to benefit from it, for themselves [e].
4. The proper, and necessary, response to FGM is to treat it, wherever it occurs, as a very serious, sometimes deadly, crime. There is substantive evidence to suggest this approach, allied with appropriate education and support, is the most effective way of stopping FGM [f].
5. It is essential to acknowledge that African women leaders themselves, in joint statements [g], have decreed that FGM should in all formal discussion be called ‘mutilation’, and not by any other euphemistic term. It is deeply disrespectful of those brave women – and also extremely unhelpful – to ignore their judgement and advice.
6. We are concerned simply and solely with the essential protection from FGM, everywhere, of defenceless children, irrespective of whether the intended FGM operators are traditional practitioners or, in the modern contemporary sense, medically trained [h] .
(NB Necessarily, our concern further extends, in some communities, to the protection of women subject to involuntary FGM, e.g. when their marriages are arranged, after childbirth or after criminal abduction.)
7. We believe that all women and girls who have experienced FGM are entitled, as and if or when they wish, to skilled reconstructive or other surgery and /or additional medical and personal support, free of charge, as part of reparation for this crime.
8. There are many people with different skills and insights who can and should contribute to the work of abolishing / eliminating / eradicating FGM; each of us has a part to play.
It is however fundamentally important to recognise unreservedly, and to hear, the centrally critical contribution of women with direct experience of this harmful traditional practice who are seeking to eliminate FGM.
28 August 2013
[a] United Nations (2012): Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations (24 September), United Nations bans female genital mutilation (20 December) & Sources of international human rights law on Female Genital Mutilation
[b] World Health Organisation (2013): Factsheet 241: Female Genital Mutilation and UNICEF (23 July, 2013) Despite overwhelming opposition, millions of girls at risk of genital mutilation
[c] See for example this Research Report: Female Circumcision in Indonesia – Extent, Implications and Possible Interventions to Uphold Women’s Health Rights (Jakarta, 2003)
[d] Which must also be abolished, see e.g. World Health Organisation website page:Female genital mutilation (FGM) and harmful practices
[e] Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Vol. 9, No 1, 2009 / Vol. 10, No 1, 2010 (Tobe Levin, p.69) and To Stop Female Genital Mutilation In The UK, Follow (And Invest) The Money (Hilary Burrage, 28 Feb., 2013)
[f] Thomson Reuters Foundation (22 July 2013), Thirty million girls at risk of FGM despite decline in support – UN
[g] Regional Conference on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Africa organised by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, 19-24 November 1990, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and later reaffirmed in Mali in 2005 .
[h] World Health Organisation (2010): Global strategy to stop health-care providers from performing female genital mutilation
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The instigators and authors of this Statement are listed here.