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Mary Oloiparuni was 13 when she was mutilated. Restrained in a doorway early one morning in her home, she was cut, bled profusely and experienced agonizing pain. The scarring she endured then continues to cause her pain today, 19 years later. It has made giving birth to each of her five children an excruciating and harrowing experience.
Mary is not alone. At least 200 million girls and women alive today have had their genitals mutilated – suffering one of the most inhuman acts of gender-based violence in the world.
On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, we reaffirm our commitment to end this violation of human rights, so that the tens of millions of girls who are still at risk of being mutilated by 2030 do not experience the same suffering as Mary.
This effort is especially critical because female genital mutilation leads to long-term physical, psychological and social consequences. It violates women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health, physical integrity, non-discrimination and freedom from cruel or degrading treatment. It is also a violation of medical ethics: Female genital mutilation is never safe, no matter who carries it out or how clean the venue is.
Because female genital mutilation is a form of gender-based violence, we cannot address it in isolation from other forms of violence against women and girls, or other harmful practices such as early and forced marriages. To end female genital mutilation, we have to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and work for women’s social and economic empowerment.
In 2015, world leaders overwhelmingly backed the elimination of female genital mutilation as one of the targets in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is an achievable goal, and we must act now to translate that political commitment into action.
At the national level, we need new policies and legislation protecting the rights of girls and women to live free from violence and discrimination. Governments in countries where female genital mutilation is prevalent should also develop national action plans to end the practice. To be effective, their plans must include budget lines dedicated to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health, education, social welfare and legal services.
At the regional level, we need institutions and economic communities to work together, preventing the movement of girls and women across borders when the purpose is to get them into countries with less restrictive female genital mutilation laws.
Locally, we need religious leaders to strike down myths that female genital mutilation has a basis in religion. Because societal pressures often drive the practice, individuals and families need more information about the benefits of abandoning it.
Public pledges to abandon female genital mutilation – particularly pledges by entire communities – are an effective model of collective commitment. But public pledges must be paired with comprehensive strategies for challenging the social norms, practices and behaviours that condone female genital mutilation. Testimonials by survivors like Mary also help to build understanding of the practice’s grim reality and long-lasting impact on women’s lives. Advocacy campaigns and social media can amplify the message that ending female genital mutilation saves and improves lives.
Thanks to the collective action of governments, civil society, communities and individuals, female genital mutilation is in decline. But we are not aiming for fewer cases of this practice. We are insisting on zero.
Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA
Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women
UN Women National Committee Australia Board Member, Fiona Lang recently had the opportunity to meet Malala Yousafzai during her visit to Australian shores.
“On International Human Rights Day on Monday (10th December), I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting Malala Yousafzai. Malala Yousafzai is the Education Activist and Author and the world’s youngest Nobel Laureate and is an extraordinary young woman.
Malala grew up in the Swat Valley in Pakistan and from the age of 10 campaigned for the rights of girls to receive an education. Due to her championing of this cause, when she was 15 years old she fell victim to an attack by the Taliban when travelling home from school. Having made her recovery, Malala has taken her campaigning worldwide. A passionate, funny and engaging young woman, Malala fights every day for every girl everywhere to have the basic human right to access education.
Meeting Malala was a truly inspiring experience and a moment of realisation – When we meet inspiring people, who against the odds speak out, stand up and risk everything, it is a reminder of how powerful we can be when we use our voices.
Defending human rights is something we can all do in little and big actions, and in the words we use every day.
There is something that you can do now. Join me and support UN Women this holiday season. In lieu of purchasing a gift for loved ones, family, friends and colleagues, buy a UN Women greeting card or make a donation.
Together, we are protecting and empowering women and girls in more than 100 countries worldwide. Be the change maker that people like Malala are fighting for.”
Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director UN Women, on Human Rights Day, 10 December 2018
On 10 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms for all people, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
In the 70 years since, despite differences in culture, language, religion and politics, together we have striven to uphold a global order based on solidarity, respect for our shared humanity and commitment to the public good.
Alarmingly, however, we see around the world the growth and legitimization of a world order that puts these basic human rights in danger; one that silences dissent and stifles debate; that rejects multilateralism and global institutions of cooperation and solidarity; and that puts in jeopardy the international norms and standards of human rights, equality, justice and wellbeing.
This version of world order thrives on patriarchal structures that subordinate women and minorities, that mute voices, trivialize opposing views, and has no place for those that are struggling on the margins of our society. Instead, it views these groups as the “disorderly” and less valuable elements of society – migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, or anyone who defies traditional social norms. It is exclusive instead of inclusive. It focuses on wrongs instead of rights.
On this Human Rights Day and in this 70th anniversary year, let us recall that all UN Member States are obliged to implement and defend fundamental human rights, the dignity and worth of all people, the equal rights of men and women, and to establish conditions that maintain justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law.
All of us in society have a role to play in standing up for universal human rights, calling out abuses and holding our leaders to account to the values that they have pledged to uphold. It is up to us all to defend and sustain the values upon which the United Nations was founded; to support, strengthen and integrate the vital work of solidarity movements; and to amplify the voices of women and girls in the world who are speaking out and speaking up.
Today, let us re-affirm our commitment to a world in which human rights, and women’s rights, underpin justice, solidarity, harmony and prosperity for all.Read more »