U.N. Committee Votes for Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

The United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously called for a global ban on female genital mutilation (FGM). Describing the practice as harmful and “a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls,” the committee is now asking the U.N.’s 193 member states to denounce the practice, enforce legislation to prevent it and launch educational programs for men and women informing them of the need to eliminate it.

FGM is a centuries-old practice in some parts of the world, based on beliefs that it can control women’s sexuality, enhance fertility or has some religious significance. According to Amnesty International, FGM is common in “28 countries in Africa as well as in Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and among some ethnic groups in South America.” The U.N. estimated in 2010 that about 70 million women and girls had undergone FGM. The World Health Organization estimates that about 6,000 girls received the procedure each day.

This dangerous, unnecessary and extremely painful process entails removing a girl’s clitoris (and sometimes other genital parts). It can lead to infection, problems with childbirth and death, not to mention the fact that it eliminates any pleasure during sex for women who have undergone the procedure.

The internationally backed decision to put a stop to FGM worldwide is a significant step toward ending the ongoing cycle of discrimination and barbaric violence against women. Says Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s U.N. representative: “FGM is an indictment of us all–that a girl or young woman can be held down and mutilated is a violation of her human rights and, shockingly, an estimated three million girls are at risk each year.” This resolution has 110 sponsors (including U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton) and many other supporters, and should be approved by the entire U.N. by the end of the year.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.


Rachel Kassenbrock is a writer who works at the Feminist Majority Foundation and blogs for Ms. Follow her on Twitter at @rkassenbrock.