In a landmark resolution, the UN general assembly’s human rights committee has officially recognized female genital mutilation as a harmful practice and a serious threat to the psychological, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. The resolution calls on the UN’s 193 member states to enact and enforce legislation prohibiting FGM, protecting at risk women and girls and ending impunity for violators. It also urges countries to launch educational campaigns around the issue.
Although assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they carry considerable moral and political weight and are thought to reflect chief concerns of the international community. With 110 sponsors, the resolution is almost certain to pass when the full general assembly takes it up in December. This marks the first time the general assembly’s human rights committee has addressed FGM.
According to the UN, about 70 million girls and women had undergone FGM in 2010, and the World Health Organization says about 6,000 were circumcised each day. Amnesty International has identified 28 countries in which FGM is commonplace, including countries in Africa as well as in Yemen, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and among certain ethnic groups in South America. FGM is also a worldwide concern, however, because it continues to be practiced in diaspora communities by some immigrant groups.
For activists who have been fighting to end FGM for years, a UN resolution addressing FGM seems long overdue. Not everyone is convinced that it’s the proper course of action, however. As Jezebel‘s Katie J.M. Baker writes:
…there’s also a significant contingent of people who say critics are practicing “cultural imperialism,” misunderstand the repercussions, and are hypocrites who are fine with reality TV-friendly vagina-related surgery (hello, vaginal rejuvenation) and, of course, male circumcision. Others hate the concept but worry that banning FGM isn’t the solution, since girls and women can be shunned from their communities if they’re not cut; it’s complicated, because telling people their culture is barbaric isn’t really a great or productive way to enact change. But what’s the solution?
Tackling a complicated cultural issue like FGM is inevitably going to raise tough questions about imperialism, privilege, and cultural competency. At the same time, we cannot afford inaction when an estimated 3 million women continue to be at risk for FGM every year. This assembly resolution would seem to bring us one step closer to reaching an international consensus that respects the human rights of women and girls.