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Environment

Agencies urge zero tolerance of female genital mutilation

International agencies have renewed their call for a complete end to female genital mutilation, which is now seen as a growing problem in Western countries. The plea coincides with a global day of zero tolerance.

Demonstration against female genital mutilation

Agencies want to strengthen resistance to the practice

International agencies calling for an end to female genital mutilation have warned that the practice is increasingly spreading from Africa and Asia to Western nations.

The trend was highlighted as part of an appeal to coincide with the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation on Sunday.

"There is no excuse for female genital mutilation to be with us," said Berhane-Ras-Work, director of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children. "It is torture. It is inhuman and degrading treatment. It is a real basic human rights abuse and torture. You should see how these girls are excised, mutilated."

A girl who has been through the process receives gifts

Many customs linked with mutilation are rooted in tradition

The term "genital mutilation" describes partial or complete removal of the external sexual organs, without medical reasons, exposing the subject to great suffering and health risks.

Deeply rooted in traditional ways

Most of the victims are in Africa, with Indonesia and Malaysia also identified as problem areas. In some countries, such as Burkina Faso, the practice appears to be on the wane. However, progress in many other places has not been sufficient, according to Ras-Work, who noted the practice persists because it is deeply rooted in tradition.

This patriarchal system, she said, is embraced by the community and even by the women, despite the suffering and pain they experience.

"The patriarchal system has fabricated a lot of control mechanisms in order to keep women subordinate, in order to manipulate women, in order for a woman to be a subordinate wife to her husband," Ras-Work said.

"Women go as far as accepting to be mutilated in order to be eligible, in order to be a virgin, in order to be faithful to her husband, in order to be acceptable by the community," she added.

The plight of women affected by female genital mutilation was documented in the film Desert Flower based on a 1998 book by the former supermodel Waris Dirie, who was herself a victim.

Global migration, growing problem

World Health Organization logo

The WHO warns against the process being sanitized through medical treatment

An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide currently are living with the consequences of such mutilation, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has reported that this harmful practice has spread with global migration.

IOM's Director General William Lacy Swing said it is now a reality in many destination countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

"With the growth in migration in recent years, the phenomenon has unfortunately reached Europe (and) the United States," Swing said.

The European Parliament has estimated that some 500,000 women are living in Europe have suffered genital mutilation. According to the same statistics, every year there are some 180,000 women and girl migrants who undergo or are in danger of the practice.

No tolerance of creeping "medicalization"

The World Health Organization (WHO) is campaigning to stop the so-called "medicalization" of the practice. Elise Johansen of WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research said more and more health providers in some African and Western countries are carrying out this procedure.

Supermodel Waris Dirie

Supermodel Waris Dirie told her story in a book that became a film

"This is a more serious concern almost than we expected because last year there was an American Association for Pediatrics who promoted that health care providers should reach out to the communities and offer a ritual nick.

"WHO and other UN agencies and professional organizations and NGO's struck back very fast and they have withdrawn it," she said.

Johansen added that suggestions are occasionally made to allow some sort of medical intervention in the misguided belief that it could reduce harm while satisfying cultural needs.

If anything, she said, this would only promote and help to continue the practice.

Author: Lisa Schlein / rc

Editor: Sean Sinico

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