I wholeheartedly welcome the landmark passing of the UN resolution, which calls for a global ban on female genital mutilation (FGM). This represents the first time that the General Assembly has agreed to include the elimination of FGM on its agenda. Its adoption represents the culmination of years of advocacy work by the Ban FGM Campaign, an international coalition of human rights groups led by No Peace Without Justice, and including the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, Equality Now, Euronet-FGM, La Palabre, and Manifesto 99.
The resolution, which was adopted by a broad consensus of UN member states, calls on them to undertake "all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation to prohibit female genital mutilations and to protect women and girls from this form of violence, and to end impunity". This is a great advocacy tool for the international public to put pressure on governments and UN agencies working on the issue, to ensure that they comprehensively implement the UN recommendations.
With 26 grassroots partners in 19 countries in Africa promoting action to end FGM, Equality Now has been campaigning for 20 years for the enactment and effective implementation of legislation to eliminate the centuries-old harmful practice. FGM involves the partial or complete removal of female external genitalia and, aside from its potential lifelong physical and psychological risks, is a gross violation of the human rights of the girl child. The WHO estimates that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to FGM, which takes place in 28 countries in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, as well as in some communities in the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. It is performed to control female sexuality and is a recognised form of gender based violence against girls and women. Due to the sensitivity of the subject and fear of losing votes and support from religious and social conservatives, many governments have not given the issue the attention it deserves, preferring instead to relegate their responsibility to women's organisations.
In the UK, local authority and national health service professionals have been reluctant to engage with the issue of FGM, partly due to fear of being accused of racism by the affected communities. To date, these communities have used this weak stance on prosecution to their advantage. Perpetrators can also benefit from the fact that cases rely on underage victims to provide evidence, usually against close family members. To address it properly requires a holistic approach which brings together educational and legislative measures including in particular those relating to child protection.
The new UN resolution gives added impetus to recent positive developments in the UK, such as the 'Health Passport', launched in November by the Home Office, which protects girls from their extended families and the DPP Action Plan, which deals head-on with the barriers that currently exist in eliminating FGM. The UK government's 2011 multi-agency practice guidelines, clarify that FGM is a form of both child abuse violence against women and girls and should be dealt with accordingly.
It is estimated that in England and Wales, 66,000 women have undergone FGM, while 24,000 girls are at risk. However, the real numbers are likely to be much higher than these 2001 statistics. Equality Now supports continued efforts to establish an essential support system for both those girls who are at risk of undergoing FGM, as well as for those who seek to end it, by reporting either perpetrators or suspected potential cases of this horrific child abuse. As secretariat for the second year running of the cross party parliamentary body, which focuses exclusively on FGM in the UK, Equality Now is committed to being involved at every step of the journey.