Doctors must immediately stop mutilating girls

by Natalia Kanem | @atayeshe | United Nations Population Fund
Tuesday, 6 February 2018 08:00 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO. A young girl walks with two bags of cold drinking water in Monrovia, Liberia, October 9, 2005. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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Would torture be accepted if medicalized “safely” in a doctor’s office? Clearly not

Just before leaving office, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf signed an executive order to stop domestic violence. The order included a one-year ban on female genital mutilation, an unnecessary practice mistakenly seen by some as part of rites of passage for girls.

This practice not only poses tremendous health risks for those subjected to it, it also violates their human rights.

An estimated 4 million girls - and women - are at risk of being mutilated in 2018. While the practice is most common in Africa, it exists virtually everywhere, including in Western Europe and the Americas.

Liberia’s executive order is an important step towards protecting the health and rights of the country’s girls. Yet, such actions alone are insufficient to end female genital mutilation. This harmful practice will only disappear when communities themselves see the value in abandoning it. Fortunately, more and more communities are doing so.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), supports grass-roots efforts in many countries to reject the practice.

Communities that have decided to protect their girls from female genital mutilation have done so after they gained a greater understanding of the health risks, the many ways in which it violates girls’ fundamental rights, and the fact that it stems from and perpetuates entrenched gender inequality.

As a result of such grass-roots efforts in 2017 alone, 2,959 communities in Africa with about 6 million residents declared an end to the practice.

While thousands of communities are saying no, some, including in the medical services, are saying yes and taking us backwards.

When doctors say that the practice should be allowed to continue, only done “safely” and “minimally” by a skilled health professional, they miss the point: this is a practice that harms girls and abuses their rights. There is no such thing as a “less harmful” or “safe” human rights violation.

Would the same logic ever be considered to address the impact of other human rights violations? Would torture, for example, be accepted if medicalized “safely” in a doctor’s office? Clearly not.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that as many as 200 million girls alive today have suffered the physical and psychological trauma of female genital mutilation. Without our active intervention, millions more are at risk in the years ahead.

On this International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, I call on governments, the medical community, educational and religious institutions as well as aid agencies to backstop the thousands of communities uniting to change social norms and end this practice. I also call on men and boys to be a bigger part of the solution. Each of us has an urgent role to play in the march forward. Together, we can realize a world where no girl is subjected to female genital mutilation and where every girl is valued and enjoys her right to a safe and healthy transition through adolescence into adulthood.