UN leaders renew call to end female genital mutilation by 2030

More than 4 million girls are at risk each year

Women from the village of Gomasheen, in Iraqi Kurdistan, listen to a talk about the dangers of female genital mutilation, a practice still common in the region. Florian Neuhof for The National
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On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, senior UN leaders called for governments to transform commitments into “concrete action”, to end the practice by 2030.

More than 4 million girls are at risk of FGM each year, and the Mena region accounts for a quarter of all instances of it globally.

Almost 50 million girls and women have undergone FGM in five practising countries in Mena.

It can lead to short-term health problems including acute pain and haemorrhages, as well as long-term health complications, such as chronic infection or severe complications with child birth.

A report by Unicef released on Thursday said the region had made good progress at ending FGM but it needed to make progress 15 times faster to reach the target of eliminating it by 2030.

Less than half of women support FGM continuing in most countries in the region, the report said.

FGM is often medicalised in countries in the region, which is one of the main obstacles to eliminating it.

In Egypt and Sudan, almost eight in 10 girls are cut by medical personnel, whereas traditional practitioners are responsible for most of it in Djibouti, Iraq and Yemen, the Unicef report said.

FGM is found more often among those living in rural areas, in the poorest households and populations with less education.

But in Iraq, cutting is most common among the wealthiest people, and in Sudan it is more common in higher-educated communities.

A joint statement by UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem, Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore, UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday referred to a 16-year-old girl from Kenya called Tabitha.

Most of Tabitha's peers were subjected to genital mutilation but she remains unharmed, thanks to the support of her parents.

“On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we join with Tabitha and young people around the world who are standing up for their rights with urgency and energy,” the statement read.

“They are engaging their peers, families, communities and governments with a call to end this harmful act of gender-based violence once and for all, as promised by the international community in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“While significant progress in eliminating the practice has been made in the last 30 years, approximately 200 million girls and women alive today have had their genitals mutilated.

"This can lead to long-term physical, psychological and social consequences.”

The officials said that although support for FGM globally was dwindling, more work was needed to end the practice.

They noted that adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent are less supportive of continuing the practice than are women aged 45 to 49.

“And in many countries, young girls are at much lower risk of being subjected to female genital mutilation than their mothers and grandmothers were," the statement said.

"However, rapid youth population growth in countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent could lead to a significant rise in the number of girls at risk by 2030."

The officials said young people could play a critical role in ending FGM, whether through youth-based movements that champion gender equality or through youth organisations helping to inspire national action plans to end it.

But they said it was not something that young people could do alone and it was crucial that there was “strong political leadership and commitment” from governments.

They stressed that it was key to recognise FGM as a form of violence against women and to engage men as allies to help eliminate it.

Last year, at the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, governments, society, faith-based organisations and private companies recommitted to ending gender-based violence and harmful practices in 10 years, the same timeframe for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

This year, the UN will announce the creation of a new Generation Equality campaign to drive further investment and results for gender equality.

“Now is the time to invest, translating the political commitments already made into concrete action," the statement said.

"Now is the time to do more and do it better and faster to end the practice once and for all.

"Now is the time to keep our promise to Tabitha and all girls of reaching zero female genital mutilation by 2030."