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47th session of the Human Rights Council: High-level Panel on the Multi-Sectoral Prevention of and Response to Female Genital Mutilation - Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

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23 June 2021

Excellencies,
Friends,

Female genital mutilation is a serious human rights violation that affects women and girls everywhere in the world. A recent report suggests that it may be present in more than 90 countries.

I thank the Human Rights Council for convening this panel aimed at increasing mobilization and cooperation to prevent and eliminate this global problem, huge both in scale and harm.

Prior to COVID-19, more than 200 million girls and women alive today had undergone female genital mutilation and at least four million girls were at risk every year. It is now estimated that 20 million girls more may never return to secondary school – and we all know that secondary education reduces FGM.

Unless the prevention and elimination of this harmful practice is prioritized and integrated in COVID-19 national response plans and humanitarian actions, many girls will be at a higher risk of undergoing FGM by 2030. Intersecting forms of discrimination, such as by gender and disability, may put some women and girls at additional risk.

The economic cost to countries is also very high. According to the World Health Organization, treating the health impacts of female genital mutilation would amount to USD 1.4 billion globally every year. Without strong action, these costs could soar by 2050, as populations grow and as more girls undergo the procedure.

Efforts have been made to prevent and eliminate female genital mutilation in many countries, as committed through the Sustainable Development Goal 5, target 3. However, even before COVID-19, the progress to eliminate the practice by 2030 was already too slow.

The pandemic has further hampered the efforts. The loss of jobs and income, school closures, and changing priorities of frontline professionals, policy makers and donors, are leading to heightened risks of female genital mutilation.

We need innovative and more effective strategies against the practice. We need to strengthen partnerships, prioritizing a multi-stakeholder and a multidisciplinary rights-based and gender responsive approach involving, first and foremost, girls and women themselves.

We must mainstream the prevention of female genital mutilation, by engaging traditional and religious leaders, as well as relevant professional groups, such as health, education and social workers, and authorities in various sectors, including political, judicial, law enforcement and immigration. And we must engage with communities to collectively explore and find ways to fulfil their values, without causing harm and violating the human rights of women and girls.

A comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach means that we must take into consideration how the practice is linked to discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes, as well as intersecting forms of discrimination and other root causes of gender inequality. As I mentioned earlier, responses have to be coordinated across sectors and involve public and private spheres. And such responses must be properly funded, with public and private investments.

Comprehensive approach also means that girls and women must have access to information, education, healthcare and social services, as well as justice. Finally, we also need laws and programmes that include strong accountability mechanisms, with the contribution of national human rights institutions, as well as national, regional and global accountability bodies.

Good practices are seen in many countries. The action plan of Burkina Faso, for instance, convenes 13 Ministries, women’s groups, religious and community leaders, as well as law enforcement officials and the judiciary, to oversee the implementation of the law to eradicate female genital mutilation. In Tanzania, at least six ministerial departments take actions to address the practice, under the coordination of the Prime Minister’s Office and the President’s Office.

International cooperation is another essential element to respond to female genital mutilation. In that regard, I welcome the 2019 Regional Inter-Ministerial Declaration and Action Plan between Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda to tackle transnational and cross border FGM in East Africa. I also commend the African Union’s continental efforts to end the practice. These are encouraging measures that should be replicated.

Excellencies, Friends,

Female genital mutilation can be prevented and it can be stopped, so that millions of women and girls can enjoy a life to their fullest potential.

The silence must be broken -- all voices must be heard, all realities known.

This high-level panel provides a critical forum to highlight best practices, to amplify them, and to encourage new commitments.

We must act united against this dreadful practice.

Thank you.