Message from the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova on the occasion of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
Female genital mutilation/cutting is one of the most damaging and persistent forms of violence against women. It is a threat to women’s health and an obstacle to their full development. An estimated 100-140 million girls and women across the world have suffered from this practice, with three million girls at risk each year in Africa alone. The situation is urgent.
On 20 December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly passed unanimously the first resolution banning the practice of female genital mutilation. This is a historic step forward for women’s rights. This milestone sends a strong signal that female genital mutilation/cutting does not concern a particular region or category of persons but is an unacceptable violation of universal human rights that concerns us all. The consequences of female genital mutilation/cutting are devastating, physically and psychologically -- including pain, disability, complications during childbirth and even loss of life. These practices affect girls and women for life, holding them back, undermining their confidence and self-esteem, with repercussions across societies.
We know that female genital mutilation/cutting is deeply rooted in some ancestral customs. UNESCO’s position is clear – traditions and cultural practices cannot serve as a pretext for infringing on fundamental human rights. This principle stands at the heart of UNESCO’s 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, and it guides all our action.
We know also that progress takes time and raising awareness throughout societies. Legal decisions are not enough to stop this scourge as long as communities remain convinced of the need to continue such practices under social pressure. A significant number of families must decide together to abandon these practices, so that no girl or family is marginalised in the process. To be sustainable, progress must be collective and it must provide communities with opportunities to debate, to understand the causes of such practices and weigh their consequences.
This is why we must redouble efforts to educate women and men, girls and boys, through workshops and debates, as well as appropriate educational materials, photographs and films, and in the media, to sensitize communities and religious leaders. This is UNESCO’s commitment within the United Nations Joint Platform on the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and through our work to support research and outreach.
On this day, I wish to commend all those who have worked for years to end this harmful practice. The 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution offers new inspiration to our work. Where ten years ago very few dared even to talk about female genital mutilation/cutting, the UN General Assembly now has it on its agenda. At the national level, many countries are acting and have passed legislation to abolish female genital mutilation/cutting. The practice is retreating in regions where it was once prevalent. We will accelerate change through further education, deeper sharing of knowledge and a better understanding of cultures.