Today, we mark the ninth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). It is estimated that 100 to 140 million women around the world have undergone this brutal procedure and three million girls are at risk every year. We must continue to act to end this affront to women’s equality and the rights and dignity of women and girls.
No religion mandates this procedure, though it occurs across cultures, religions and continents. It is performed on girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Even in the United States we are fighting this practice. FGM/C became a federal crime in the United States in 1997, but the procedure persists in some communities. The U.S. government is working with practitioners in the health and legal community to educate groups about the negative consequences of FGM/C.
Over the years, community advocates have found that when men come to understand the physical and psychological trauma FGM/C causes, they often become effective activists for eradication, including fathers who refuse to allow their daughters to be subject to the procedure. Communities must act collectively to abandon the practice, so that girls and their families who opt out do not become social outcasts. This approach has led around 6,000 communities across Africa to abandon the practice, usually through a public declaration. Communities working together can ensure stronger, healthier futures for girls and young women.
Every government has an obligation to protect its citizens from such abuse. As we commemorate International Day of Zero Tolerance and remember those who have been harmed, we reaffirm our commitment to overturning deeply entrenched social norms and abolishing this practice. All women and girls, no matter where they are born or what culture they are raised in, deserve the opportunity to realize their potential.