Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Zero Tolerance

I had a shocking experience several years ago noticing a neighbor’s young daughter would constantly cry in the morning while her mother was bathing her.  Upon inquiry, the young girl’s senior sister casually told me in Hausa that “An yi mata kachiya ne” (she had a circumcision).  To say I was shocked by what I heard is an understatement.  I could not believe my ears.  I had heard about such practices but thought they had long been stopped.  When I asked my mother about it, she told me it is alive and still practiced in certain communities.  Further inquiries showed the principal reason given in most cultures for this practice is “to prevent the girl from becoming promiscuous” while others regard it as an important rite of passage.

Thankfully the international community has risen up against this harmful practice.  Thus, the designation of February 6 each year as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. It is quite interesting that the observance of the day was initiated by then Nigeria’s first lady on behalf of the first ladies group consisting of Burkina Faso, Guinea Conakry and Mali in 2003.  They made an official declaration on “Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)" during a conference organized by the NGO, Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children.  It is, however, not surprising African women spearheaded this fight considering the fact it is most commonly practiced in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is FGM?  It’s a procedure that involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia.  This is usually done by untrained trado-medical personnel without the use of any kind of anesthesia.  Apart from the pain and trauma, it could result in bleeding, infection, birth complications and even death.  Sadly it is estimated over 100 million women around the world have undergone this procedure and millions more are at risk.

In December 2012, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, titled "Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation," calling for international efforts to eliminate the harmful traditional practice. Last year, then U.S. Secretary of State Clinton hosted the first-ever event at the Department of State to commemorate International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.  She noted “we cannot excuse this as a cultural tradition… We cannot excuse it as a private matter because it has very broad public implications…  And as we think about the rights of young girls to be free from both physical and mental violence, we can understand why this is such an important issue that deserves attention from the United States Congress and from leaders across the globe.”

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