UN Approves Landmark Measure Calling for Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation

January 2, 2013

In a landmark move welcomed by the Center for Inquiry (CFI), the United Nations General Assembly has adopted for the first time a resolution calling for a global end to female genital mutilation.

The measure, A/67/450, calls female genital mutilation, or FGM, “an irreparable, irreversible abuse that impacts negatively on the human rights of women and girls” and “a harmful practice that constitutes a serious threat to the health of women and girls.”

It reads, in part:

“Urges States to condemn all harmful practices that affect women and girls, in particular female genital mutilation, whether committed within or outside a medical institution, and to take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity;

Also urges States to complement punitive measures with awarenessraising and educational activities designed to promote a process of consensus towards the eradication of female genital mutilation, and further urges States to protect and support women and girls who have been subjected to female genital mutilation and those at risk, including by developing social and psychological support services and care, and to take measures to improve their health, including sexual and reproductive health, in order to assist women and girls who are subjected to the practice;”

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 140 million women and girls worldwide currently live with the consequences of FGM, while an additional three million globally are at risk of being subjected to the practice. 

The resolution, which passed by consensus, was championed by a number of African member states and non-governmental organizations such as the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices.

“This practice, justified on false pretenses by supposed cultural and religious tenets, remains a taboo subject, misunderstood and misinterpreted in several societies,” Burkina Faso representative Der Kogda reportedly said. “It is time to break the silence that has surrounded female genital mutilation … and move towards its elimination.”

The measure’s approval certainly sends a strong political message to governments, as well as one of hope to millions of women and girls. However, as noted by UN Women Assistant-Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director John Hendra, it is now extremely important that the UN and its member states work to implement and support the ideas outlined in the resolution.

“This is a very important step to bringing about cultural and attitudinal change,” said Hendra. “Just as important though, is working on the ground with governments, communities and other partners to end FGM. … while efforts to criminalize FGM are vital, they need to be backed up with services for victims, engaging key influencers and supporting community-based activities to change social norms, as well as practical actions to bring perpetrators to justice.”