International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

Statement by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

Date: Friday, February 5, 2016

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development brings renewed urgency to the call for “Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation”, explicitly naming this as an instance of a “harmful practice” that is targeted for elimination as part of our collective efforts to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Today, we assert again every girl’s right to live as a full human being with control over her own body and informed choice in what happens to it. Some 200 million women and girls in 30 countries have already undergone female genital mutilation (FGM). In most countries, the majority were cut before the age of five. 

It is not a simple matter to challenge and change customary behaviours. Yet where those practices enforce gender inequality, this is what we must do, supported by collective international agreements that bring universal condemnation to this most private of violations.

One aspect of achieving change is legislation that bans FGM, with policies that securely implement the laws. While 41 Member States have already criminalized FGM, legislation is not yet having its desired impact in every country. 

Next month, in a series of meetings and events that draw thousands of representatives from government and civil society, the Commission on the Status of Women will review global progress in ending violence against women and girls, including the practice of FGM, as a matter of urgency, within the context of the overall priority theme of women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. The scope of this review underlines our understanding that a comprehensive approach is necessary to address the root causes of gender inequality, violence against women and girls, and harmful practices such as FGM.

The prevalence of FGM is decreasing in most countries – but it is far from zero. Eliminating FGM is also an essential step to realizing other Sustainable Development Goals, including targets on health and well-being, quality education, decent work and economic growth, all of which are underpinned by work that empowers women and girls and achieves gender equality.

There are success stories: national action plans are in place in a growing number of countries, through which governments are supporting community engagement in prevention activities, with hotlines to receive reports of FGM and provide information on support services, and specialized clinics to treat survivors.

Working with governments, the UN system, civil society, and the media, we must continue to change how girls are valued in their community, reduce the pressure they experience from their families, communities and peers, and help in the search for alternative rites of passage, and means of income for those who perform the ritual, finding creative solutions, for example, that engage men in culture change. Let this International Day of Zero Tolerance galvanize us in all our collective efforts to achieve our goals and eliminate FGM for good.