Female genital mutilation: a global scourge that the pandemic has exacerbated Opinion

The time of global inactivity is over: unifying, financing and taking measures to end female genital mutilation (FGM) is the motto of the United Nations this year to celebrate International Day of Zero Tolerance against Female Genital Mutilation on February 6th. This vicious traditional practice, affecting more than 200 million women and girls, is highly concentrated in a number of countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, but is also found in communities in Europe, Australia and North America. Every year, at least four million girls are at risk of falling victim to this practice, which affects their physical, sexual and mental health.

Although the likelihood of girls falling victim to this practice is now reduced to a third compared to their mothers, aunts and grandparents, many are left behind and forgotten in many cases in programs and policies promoting human rights, development, education and equality Countries and on several continents. According to the United Nations joint UNFPA / UNICEF program to eradicate FGM, in countries where this harmful practice has slowed, progress would have to be at least 10 times faster to meet the global elimination agenda by 2030.

The latest data shows that the pandemic crisis has led to an increase in the number of girls exposed to FGM, which has resulted in a significant setback in Goal 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today estimates that due to the pandemic, two million cases of female genital mutilation cannot be avoided by 2030.

We must not forget that we are facing one of the most serious human rights violations. It is a vicious traditional practice, based on gender traditions and norms, that creates and maintains power imbalances between men and women. They limit access to opportunities and resources and prevent girls and women in many countries from achieving their rights and developing their full potential. It is a shameful practice by which women, girls and children are mutilated under the guise of sexist culture and religious fanaticism in order to nullify their self-determination, sexuality, identity and citizenship. A practice that affects the physical, sexual and mental health of thousands of women and girls worldwide and for life. We are facing one of the most intolerable and unacceptable mechanisms for the exercise of sexist power, in which women subjugate women.

Portugal has had action plans to combat FGM in health and education since 2007, which I have been able to follow from the very beginning and which have distinguished us as a country of good European practice in prevention and education in combating this shameful practice. Support from non-governmental organizations and international cooperation, in particular UNFPA and the Committee against Practices Harmful to the Health of Women and Children in Guinea-Bissau, have been critical to this fight. In 2007 this harmful practice was made a criminal offense and in 2015 it was classified as an autonomous crime.

Portugal has focused on strengthening intercultural dialogue in projects and campaigns such as “Healthy Practices – Ending Female Genital Mutilation” and “Don’t Cut the Future!” Which are widely available at national airports in multiple languages. Dissemination through digital media in health centers, schools, local associations, etc. with the aim of strengthening the prevention message and warning messages. We invested in building a strategic audience that included thousands of professionals (teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.) to take more informed and effective action.

There are more reported cases today as effective and coordinated mechanisms have been put in place between health, education and local and local governments to combat this scourge. The latest study on female genital mutilation in Portugal, published by the National Observatory on Violence and Gender at Universidade Nova de Lisboa, estimates that over 6,500 women (over 15 years old) live in Portugal who would have been the victims of genital mutilation and around 1,830 girls (under 15) who would have been exposed to or at risk for this practice.

Much has been done, but there is much to be done, especially in times of detention when human rights violations are tacitly exacerbated to avoid setbacks in the goals we have achieved. For the work done and the deep connection with countries with a prevalence of FGM, Portugal plays a role here.

The author writes under the new spelling agreement