Why in this present day does female genital mutilation or cutting (FGC) continue? For far too long it has been an issue that people have tended to shy away from, and in my view, neglected.
But we can no longer shy away. What FGC actually entails is difficult for most of us in the UK to imagine. But to dispel the taboo, we need to talk about the details.
FGC is a cultural practice involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. In its most extreme form the external genitalia are cut out and the girl's vagina sewn up, to be cut open on her wedding night and for each birth. It's commonly done by a village elder or family member - often without anaesthetic or surgical equipment.
The effect can be devastating, causing severe, life-long physical problems and sometimes even death. Yet, according to the World Health Organisation, more than 100 million women - including in the UK - have undergone the practice and an estimated three million girls are at risk each year in Africa alone.
So there's no question that it's a sensitive matter but that's no reason to ignore it, especially when we know what a devastating impact cutting has on women's and girls' physical and mental health, wellbeing and future opportunities.
Today is International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Cutting and it is an opportunity to highlight what is still a relatively little-known practice.
I believe that with the right support it will be possible to see the elimination of FGC within a generation. Across Africa there is increasing momentum to end FGC. In December, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution banning the practice. This resolution was led by the Africa Group and should encourage us all to support efforts to end FGC. The time is right to act and Senegal is leading the way. In January, 427 Senegalese communities came together for the first ever regional declaration of abandonment not just of FGC but also forced marriage.
The UK is committed to playing its part in supporting these African efforts to end FGC. We are developing a major new regional programme to support efforts to end the practice in many countries across West and East Africa and beyond. In addition in Sudan, which has one of the highest rates of FGC in the world, we are working on a long term programme to support national efforts to end the practice.
But the scale and the nature of FGC is such that UK government action alone will not be enough. As the Government's International Champion on Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas I want to see FGC recognised internationally as part of the mainstream development agenda and for other countries and donors to be supporting the elimination of this practice.
This is something I will be pushing for in March when I attend the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York. This year's meeting is specifically tackling the issues of violence against women and girls and will be vital in raising the profile of one of the world's most pervasive yet hidden forms of gender-based violence.
Join an online discussion with me today at 12.45pm (UK time) on ending FGC in a generation. The live Google+ Hangout event is taking place with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNICEF, as well as representatives from Senegal, Egypt and Kenya. Send us your questions by leaving comments below, tweeting @DFID_UK using #endFGM or posting questions to the Google+ page.
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