UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the panel (Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)
At a high-level panel discussion held in Geneva yesterday, the UN human rights chief made a forceful statement about the need to eradicate the widespread practice of female genital mutilation.
"This harmful and degrading practice is not based on any valid premise," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in her opening remakes. "When FGM is eradicated, communities are healthier," she added. "Freed of the terrible pain and trauma that FGM creates, girls and women are more able to develop their talents and use their skills. Economic, social and political development can surge forward."
UNICEF figures suggest well over 125 million women and girls around the world are currently affected by the practice — and according to Pillay, it will be a full 60 years before that number is reduced by half, if the global campaign against it continues at its current rate of one per cent per year.
"FGM is a form of gender-based discrimination and violence. It is a violation of the right to physical and mental integrity," she said. "As many as 30 million girls are at risk of undergoing it over the next decade, if current trends persist."
The panel discussion included representatives from around the world, including Chantal Compaoré, the First Lady of Burkina Faso, who's been fighting to eradicate FGM. Although she said the practice was common across the continent, she pointed to progress in her country, where awareness raising campaigns have led to a drop in prevalence.
Pillay's comments supported the idea that leaders like Compaoré could make real contributions in the fight to end the practice. “Importantly, where political and religious leaders have championed the fight against FGM, mind-sets have rapidly changed, and support for the practice has declined,” she said.
For more on the efforts of end FGM, see the website of the Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting and the World Health Organization's FGM Fact Sheet, and check out this video interviewing Kenyan women who have experienced and FGM and even practiced it on others, from the Rural Women Peace Link.
The Beninois musician Angélique Kidjo has been an outspoken activist against FGM (and she's on the show tomorrow). When she was in the red chair, she talked to George about the efforts to eliminate the practice in the Republic of Benin, where between 30 and 50 per cent of women are believed to be affected:
Tune in Wednesday June 18 on CBC TV to catch Kidjo's interview.