Female Genital MutilationA long overdue global advocacy campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has been launched (December 12) in Geneva by the newly-created Global Alliance against Female Genital Mutilation.

With an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide currently living with the consequences of this harmful traditional practice, female cutting constitutes a massive violation of human rights that has yet to be addressed as such by the international community.

Long considered a specific problem for Africa, where the great majority of victims reside, FGM is emerging as a global challenge that requires global action. FGM in various forms has been a traditional practice among ethnic groups in Asia (India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka) and the Middle East (Iraq, Israel, Oman and the United Arab Emirates), as well as in some Latin American countries (Peru and Colombia) for centuries.

In some societies, the ritual is a recent adoption linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups or to a wider religious or traditional revival movement. More recently, with migration flows, FGM has become a North American and European problem which Western governments are slow and ill-prepared to confront.

Rituals serve as a social and cultural bonding exercise assimilated to a religious, traditional or moral duty and are extremely difficult to uproot. After the international recognition of FGM as a violation of human rights in the 2000s, an increasing number of countries have outlawed the practice. However, in several instances, governments have instead introduced legislation for medically-trained personnel to perform FGM.

International pressure and grassroots work with women's organisations will not be sufficient to ease the social pressure to conform that perpetuates FGM in society. Men, in all layers of society, have a critical role to play as fathers, brothers, future husbands, clergymen, community leaders or health workers. They need to be involved in developing and mainstreaming creative approaches to eradicating excision, such as the development of alternative age ceremonies for young women.

The Global Alliance, an international civil society initiative, is taking the lead in advocating the critical role of men in the eradication of FGM and in bringing together local and international actors working against this practice.  This is a laudable initiative that will need genuine resources and political support to make the optimistic UN goal - “eradication in one generation” - a tangible reality.

(Photo © Amnon Shavit)