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Ambassador Pasi Op-Ed on Female Genital Mutilation

"Intensifying Global Efforts: Working Together Toward Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting”

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This week, as we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the U.S. government stands in solidarity with the four African first ladies who first declared this Day on February 6, 2003, and with the people around the world and here in Djibouti who are working together to help end female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

FGM/C is a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia and in many cases, the stitching up of the vulva opening.  The practice is often performed by untrained practitioners, without anesthesia, and uses instruments such as broken glass, tin lids, scissors, or unsterilized razors.  In addition to causing intense pain and psychological trauma, the procedure poses severe short- and long-term health risks, including hemorrhage, infection, increased risk of HIV transmission, birth complications, and even death.  In the places where FGM/C is most prevalent, it is accepted as a rite of passage rather than as the harmful traditional practice and human rights abuse that it is.

As Secretary Clinton has noted, “we cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition… We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications…  And as we think about the rights of young girls to be free from both physical and mental violence, we can understand why this is such an important issue that deserves attention from the United States Congress and from leaders across the globe.”

It is estimated that 100 to 140 million women around the world have undergone FGM/C.  Here in Djibouti estimates of FGM/C range as high as 93%, according to a report published in 2009 by the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning.  Ending this practice requires high-level political commitment as well as community-based approaches and solutions.  In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly for the first time adopted a resolution calling on nations to intensify efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation/cutting in their countries.  This resolution was sponsored by two-thirds of all the UN member states, including the United States, and was supported by the Group of African States, a sign of the willingness to address this issue in the region. 

Countries that have made tremendous strides to abolish the practice are models, largely due to the leadership of local communities to accept abandonment of the deeply held attitudes, norms and practices that underpin FGM/C.  Often, this success is accomplished in partnership with community-based NGOs who help develop effective local solutions.  But this is not just a local issue, we must all remain vigilant to the possibility that women and girls who are vulnerable to FGM/C live in countries around the world.  In recent years there have been an alarming number of cases among diaspora communities in Europe, Australia, and even the United States of families sending children back to their countries of origin to be cut.

Here in Djibouti, FGM/C continues, although the government made the practice illegal.  We commend the ministries for the Promotion of Women and Family Planning and Islamic Affairs, and civil society organizations that have taken strong stands condemning the practice.  We look forward to working with the Djiboutian government and local NGOs to end FGM/C in Djibouti.
The U.S. Government supports the women and men around the world who denounce this egregious practice and act to abolish it.  We have made tremendous progress over the past decade, but much remains to be done.  We must all work together – men, women, grandfathers, grandmothers, community and religious leaders, governments, civil society, and multilateral organizations – to overturn deeply entrenched social norms that are harmful not only to women and girls, but to families, communities and nations.

Geeta Pasi
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti