UN chief seeks help against female genital mutilation

IANS    31-Oct-2014

Nairobi, October 31: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called on the media Thursday to speak out and help put an end "within this generation" to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice suffered by 130 million girls and women around the world.

In an event in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Ban expressed his support for an international media campaign to raise awareness of FGM.

"The mutilation of girls and women must stop in this generation - our generation," the UN's highest-ranking official declared.

He added that the campaign, led by British newspaper The Guardian, acknowledges the role of media all over the world when they speak out against FGM.

He also noted that change can happen through the media, emphasizing the need to raise the level of awareness concerning the violations that hundreds of thousands of women are subjected to.

The campaign started this month in Africa, a continent on which there are at least 29 countries where FGM is still widely practiced.

FGM is still a tradition in a number of countries despite the dangers it poses to the health of girls, and despite laws forbidding the practice.

According to Unicef, FGM is still commonplace in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti and Egypt, where nine out of every 10 women between the ages of 15 and 49 were subjected to FGM.

"It is not culture, it is a violation of human rights," said activist Kakenya Ntaiya, one of the first Kenyans to oppose the practice.

Ntaiya, who opened a school in her southern hometown of Enoosaen to teach girls and make them aware of their rights, asked, "Why we are letting this happen?"

The executive director of the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, Babatunde Osotimehin, also underscored the importance of a campaign that seeks to change the mindset of societies that are still practicing FGM.

He indicated that the law which criminalizes FGM in countries like Kenya is good, but still not enough, adding that only groundswell social movements will convince people to voluntarily give up this practice.

He used the example of news stories and TV features that may reach traditional societies and change long-held customs and views.

Osotimehin also proposed imagining a world where all women can make their own life choices concerning issues such as education and marriage, while living on an equal footing with men and making their own choices without male interference.

The initiative aims at persuading African and other countries to give up FGM, which is considered by the U.N. a violation of women's human rights.

The campaign is to start in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Nigeria a few months before the "FGM season", where mutilation incidents spike after girls return to their traditional communities when their schools go on Christmas breaks.