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Support for Female Genital Mutilation dwindling worldwide, young people critical to ending practice: UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, WHO

Rae Munavvar
06 February 2020, MVT 18:16
The joint statement made by UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO on the occasion of International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) highlights the importance of unleashing the power of youth, emphasizing on a decade of accelerating actions towards achieving a zero rate of FGM worldwide. PHOTO: UNICEF MALDIVES (SARIM/2018)
Rae Munavvar
06 February 2020, MVT 18:16

UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO released a joint statement on Thursday, marking the occasion of International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The press statement, titled 'Unleashing Youth Power: A Decade of Accelerating Actions Towards Zero Female Genital Mutilation' emphasizes the importance of harnessing the abilities of young people to combat the issue.

According to the United Nation bodies, in 2020 alone more than 4 million girls worldwide are at risk of FGM, and while the last 30 years saw significant progress, approximately 200 million girls and women alive today have had their genitals mutilated. The process is known to cause highly negative long-term physical, psychological and social effects.

Nevertheless, the statement higlights, “Support for the practice is dwindling."

It then goes on to state, "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."

"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 statement begins with the story of Tabitha, a 16-year old girl growing up in Kenya whose peers were subjected to (FGM), but was herself saved from a similar fate thanks to diligent parents that did not cave-in to cultural and societal pressures.

“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," reads the statement. "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".

Referring to the current situation the press statement further elaborates, “Today’s young people can play a critical role in ending the practice. Unleashing the power of youth means investing in youth-led movements to champion gender equality, an end to violence against women and girls and the elimination of harmful practices".

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises 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. IMAGE: WHO

"But this is not a goal young people can achieve alone, nor can it be addressed in isolation from other forms of violence against women and girls or from gender inequality. It also requires strong political leadership and commitment."

Late January, amid a rise in reports about radicalised Muslims across the country, a letter was submitted by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs seeking a ruling in Islamic law regarding 'female circumcision', which was then sent to the President of the Fatwa Council Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed. However, Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen intervened and nullified the query, writing to HPA's Director-General Maimoona Aboobakr that the State does not support female genital mutilation (FGM) and declaring that the practice is against government policy.

Current Speaker of Parliament and former President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed was quick to condemn FGM as well, calling the practice "sexual abuse" and stating "a fatwa is not needed for the practice since the Child Rights Protection Act has already been passed".

He was joined by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who in a tweet declared that "there can be no basis for female genital mutilation in Islamic law". Gayoom is well-known for possessing a background in Islamic Studies, having both studied and taught the subject.

The topic of FGM previously found its way into the Maldivian political conversation since 2014, when then-Vice President of the Fiqh Academy Dr Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef publicised a fatwā (non-binding legal opinion on a point of Shariah Law), claiming FGM as one of the five things that are part of fitrah (nature).

Local media outlets have reported female circumcision to be commonplace in Maldives before its eradication in the 1970s. The cultural practice of female genital mutilation is found most commonly in the region of Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia, all of which consist of countries to which most Maldivians trace their ancestral origins, being that Maldives is located in the middle of the travel routes between the aforementioned areas.

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