WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) observes the fifth International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Cutting (FGC). Zero Tolerance Day was launched in 2003 by the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, speaking on behalf of all the First Ladies of Africa, to stress that zero tolerance means there is absolutely no justification in today's world for this practice.
Approximately 100 million to 140 million girls and women have been subjected to this practice. It is estimated that up to three million girls, most of them under the age of 15, in sub-Saharan Africa, in Egypt and Yemen undergo this procedure each year. This figure does not take into account those in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the situation has not been well-documented thus far, but where evidence suggests that the practice is also widespread.
The fight against FGC is not only a human rights issue, but also a grave health issue that affects child health and child mortality. The campaign against FGC also involves a cautious process of social and cultural change. We must find the best and most appropriate ways to help people understand that what was formerly an accepted cultural norm is actually a harmful practice. The global community must work together if we are to be successful in helping communities abandon this practice.
Today, many of the successful programs to end FGC are locally-driven and culturally-appropriate programs that rely on input and participation of local leadership and community members. We have seen that success rates increase phenomenally when community leaders are actively involved in these programs. The incorporation of gender and social equity issues, including empowerment of women and male involvement, in the change process is also critical to success. In addition, FGC elimination projects that are integrated with health, economic and social programs have been shown to work far better than stand-alone strategies.
New statistics from USAID Demographic and Health Surveys show FGC prevalence rates are slowly declining and attitudes toward the practice are slowly changing as more women speak up to oppose its continuation. Despite this success, women often do not have much impact in their communities at large, and we must work to involve more men as part of these campaigns as well.
There is simply no excuse for FGC in the modern age, and we must continue our efforts to end this practice, in order to protect the health, well-being, and rights of the world's rising generation of women.
For more information on USAID's Global Health programs, please visit www.usaid.gov.
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SOURCE U.S. Agency for International Development