On November 28, the United Nations’ (U.N.) human rights committee approved a resolution calling for a ban of female genital mutilation (FGM) throughout the world. The human rights committee condemned the practice as “a harmful and serious threat to the psychological, sexual, and reproductive health of women and girls.” This is the first resolution regarding this topic passed in the U.N., and its Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes it is a major step forward in protecting millions of women and girls (UN News Centre).
FGM is a procedure in which a girl’s clitoris, and sometimes other genital parts, are removed during early childhood or adolescence. In 2010, the U.N. estimated that about 70 million women and girls had received the procedure and the World Health Organization reported that about 6,000 girls undergo FGM every day. Some who practice FGM believe that it is required by their religion, or that by completing the procedure they can control women’s sexuality, and perhaps increase fertility. However, it has been proven that there are no health benefits to FGM, and that it leads to painful sexual intercourse, childbirth complications, and other health issues. Despite the prevalence of FGM, reconstructive procedures are not widely available. A group of French researchers and doctors have studied the effects of a type of surgery to reconstruct the clitorises of a group of women, and found that in the long term, most of the women reported either an improvement, or no change, in the amount of pain and clitoral pleasure experienced. Beatrice Cuzin, a urologist who participated in this study states that most women who undergo FGM do not have access to reconstructive surgery, and even if they do, cost is often prohibitive (Barclay, NPR).
FGM is prevalent in many African countries, but is also common in some Middle Eastern and South American communities. However, FGM education and reform should not just be limited to these regions because it is often practiced in diaspora communities all over the world, including the United States. For more detailed information on its prevalence and on efforts to prevent it, the United Nations Population Fund offers additional resources.
It is likely that the full U.N. General Assembly, which consists of 193 member states, will take up this issue in the second half of December, and it is nearly certain that it will be passed. While an approval wouldn’t result in any legal ramifications, U.N. resolutions carry significant moral and political weight, and it would send a strong message to the international community. The resolution condemns the practice and calls for states to create and promote educational campaigns for both men and women to teach them about the negative effects of the practice in an effort to eliminate it. It also encourages countries to enact legislation that prohibits FGM and ends leniency for those who practice it (Lederer, The Associated Press).