Around the world in over 29 countries, it is estimated by the United Nations that 125 million women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies FGM/C as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” WHO indicates there are four major types of FGM/C and they are as follows:
Clitoridectomy: partial or total removal of the clitoris (a small, sensitive and erectile part of the female genitals) and, in very rare cases, only the prepuce (the fold of skin surrounding the clitoris).
Excision: partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora (the labia are "the lips" that surround the vagina).
Infibulation: narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. The seal is formed by cutting and repositioning the inner, or outer, labia, with or without removal of the clitoris.
Other: all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes,e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterizing the genital area.
FGM/C is particularly an ongoing issue in Africa and the Middle East,4 due in part to the presence of patriarchal beliefs about female sexuality based on the idea of maintaining female “purity” before marriage. Moreover, the women and girls who are forced into FGM/C practices, mostly due to socio-economic pressures, are subjected to serious health risks.
This violates Article 25 of the Universal Declaration, which states “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.” As a result, the UN has taken action to combat and prevent FMG/C as well as spread awareness of the issue, so women and girls can live healthy lives and maintain their rights as individuals in every part of the world.
On 20 December 2012, the resolution adopted by the General Assembly declared it was intensifying efforts to eliminate FGM/C. It recognized that FGM/C was “discriminatory” behaviour towards women and girls based on sex, and its elimination was essential for the advancement of women.6 In addition, it reaffirmed the health risks of FGM/C, stating it caused “psychological, sexual and reproductive health, which can increase their vulnerability to HIV and may have adverse obstetric and prenatal outcomes as well as fatal consequences for the mother and the newborn.”
The UN has done much to learn more about the ongoing and changing issues surrounding FGM/C over the years, so successful steps in preventing and aiding victims can be taken, and so accurate information can be shared throughout the globe on the problem.
A recent report by the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) demonstrates the importance of data throughout the years on finding out about the types of FGM/C practices there are and also where the practice is concentrated, which can better help to identify the issue and put a stop to it. The data collected was gathered through speaking with victims first hand in order to compile statistical information to thereby ascertain the frequency of FGM/C in relation to factors such as poverty, family, law, and education.
Eliminating FGM/C is an interagency initiative, with divisions such as UNICEF and the WHO working to raise awareness and share the information discovered on the issue. This is done through the events such as the International Day of Zero Toleration to Female Genital Mutilation, which is held annually on 6 February in an effort to educate people around the globe about the practice and motivate individuals to lend a hand in stopping it. Another significant event that promotes the elimination of FGM/C is UNICEF’s Girl Summit, which seeks to promote empowerment amongst young girls who are disenfranchised around the world. The United Kingdom hosted the first ever Girl Summit just recently, on 22 July 2014.
By educating people about the harm that it can cause, the UN seeks to one day eliminate the FGM/C. It is an unequal practice targeted to individuals because of their sex and gender, which then jeopardizes their health, violating their basic human rights. The UN commitment to the elimination of female genital mutilation and cutting is an effort to ensure women and girls, from all reaches of the globe, will be informed, safe, and have their rights protected.