International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM 6 February 2017

The Inter-African Committee Geneva in Collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and a few other NGOs under the umbrella of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women ( specifically World) organised a round table discussion to mark the International Day of Zero tolerance for FGM 6 February 2017. The meeting was held at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. Representatives from diffferent Permanent Missons represented at the event included from Zambia, France, Ethiopia, Nigeria ; Luxembourg, Germany ; France, the Netherlands and Norway.

Speakers on the Panel included :

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director General, Family Women’s and Children’s Health, WHO

H.E. Mr Negash Kebret Botora, Ambassador Permanent Representattive of Ethiopia

H :E. Mr. Hand Brattskaram, Ambassadorand Permanent Representative of Norway

H :E. Mr. Reinout Vos, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of  The Netherlands

Ms. Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Ms. Petra Ten Hoope-Bender, Technical Adviser ; Sexual and Reproductive Health, UNFPA

Dr. Adebisi Adebayo, Senior Advisor, Inter African Committee on Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children

The discussion centred around the theme ‘Building a solid and interactive bridge between Africa and the world to accelerate ending FGM by 2030’ included presentations from different experts on the various aspects of FGM (health, Human rights and cultural). Presentations from Permanent Representatives of Missions centered on the work of their respective countries in combatting FGM. The discussions at the event was further placed into stronger perspective with the realiy of some of the consequences of the practice through the testimony of a younglady from Mauritania who presened her unfortunate personal experience with FGM at a very early age.

Participants at the meeting were welcome by Dr. Ian Skew,  who also introduced the panelists. A short video prodduced by the Uited Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) entitled ‘The day I became a Woman’ was shown to set the tone for the discussions around the subject..

Dr Flavia Bustreo chaired the discussions which she introduced with by categorically stating that the event signifies the collective voice of all present at the event saying ‘No to FGM’,  loudly and clearly. She went further to explain the relevance of WHO and its leadership in the fight to end FGM is even more important considering the issue of medicalisation of the practice by some helath professionals.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) represented by Ms Kate Gilmore Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights explained some of the facts around the strength of a Human Rights approach in efforts against FGM.  Ms Gilmore explained that with regards to FGM as a violation of the body of the girl. FGM is an unacceptable violation on the right to life, a violation on the convention against torture, and many other UN and International conventions. She further stated that there are no excuses and no justification to permit this practice to go on unpunished. She however noted that criminalising the practice is not saying it is sufficient but helpful. Human rights approach encourages engaging the people in the community so change is both sustainable and inclusive. How to uphold culture, without subjecting the body of the girl to torture is key for the OHCHR. She emphasized the fact that FGM is part of a deeper problem – the problem that someone else controls the body of the girl. She concluded by stating that the human rights approach doesn’t only look at cutting but the entire act of control of the female body in other forms and to single out FGM without noticing the savagering to the body of the girl in other parts is not acceptable.

Ms Petra ten Hoope Bender spoke on the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme on FGM – its  success stories and lessons learnt. The joint programme encompasses the human rights based approach as well as caring for the victims. She further gave some facts and figures on milestones achieved and in some cases surpassed. Seaking on Galvanizing social networks, she explained that several communities have declared abandonment. She however noted that declaration of abandonment can lead to families seeking excision accross the border. She also pointed out that support for former excisions is necessary.

Dr Adebisi Adebayo Senior Programme Advisor described some of the successes and achievements of the Inter African Committee on Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children as well as challenges still been faced.   According to her, in view of how far we have come in the struggle to achieve Zero Tolerance to FGM, it is important to celebrate the landmark and important milestones have been recorded. In the past talking about FGM was a taboo because of it was not only shrouded in secrecy but also becasue of its link to female sexuality.  Also, noteworthy is the having a dedicated International day to mark the fight against FGM.

Dr Adebayo also spoke about the outcome declaration from the recently concluded International stakeholder meeting in Italy on FGM, at very high level with Ministers of States in attendance as well as the IAC Goodwill Ambassador, the First Lady of Burkina Faso. While this meeting attest to level of political support and attention the issue has now attracted there remain some challenges that continue to daunt the efforts of numerous advocates against the practice. Even though the law on FGM has been passed in 20 of the 29 practising Countries, implementation remains a huge challenge. It however provides the legal backing and framework for  our work. Political will has remained a challenge but we know it is surmountable based on the recent experience in Sierra Leone as a result of the outbreak of the ebola epidemics. In Countries like kenya, the cutting seasons are known and easier for the Government to move in and take action against excisers and watch out for cuttings of girls and women. To show the stronghold of culture even in the face of human rights and health arguements against FGM, Dr. Adebayo introduced Ms. Fatimata Ba Sow, a survivor of FGM who has agreed to give an account of her experience and her perspective on the fight to end FGM.

Ms. Fatima, 29 years old originally from Mauritania was born in Vesoul Franche comté, is married with 2 children. She remembers that in 1992 her sister and herself were taken on vacation to their village in Mauritania with our parents, when she was only 4 years old..  While she cannot recollect the exact moment of the excision but she has flashes of an aunt carrying her and running, According to Family sources, they had to be evacuated a few days later because her sister was in a critical situation, worse than hers. She knows that they were able to survive because they were French citizens. Their mother almost went to prison and as a result her younger sister was not cut.  It was shocking to realise that despite everything that happened to us their mother still continued to believe that FGM is a good practice, an obligation. She is determined to fight the practice for the rest of my life towards its eradication.

The Permanent Representatives  on the panel, Ambassadors Negash Kebret Botora (Ethiopia),

Hand Brattskaram (Norway) and Reinout Vos (The Netherlands) in their different presentations not only presented the actions of their individual Countries at achievng Zero Tolerance to FGM but went on to describe the committment of their Government to the global fight against FGM.  Including the different support provided projects within and outside their Countries to address the issue. All in all, the meeting was no doubt a success  partcipation at the event, the coperation among International organisations, Member States and Geneva based Non Governmental Organisations demonstrated effective partnerships.