By Becky John
The United Nations (UN) on Friday declared that female genital mutilation (FGM) or circumcision was a violation of human rights and undermines the health of girls. A joint statement issued by the UNFPA, UNICEF, International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics said this in Abuja.
UN had reserved Feb. 6 of each as a day to raise public awareness against the culture of circumcising girls. This campaign is tagged “Zero tolerance to female genital mutilation’’.
This year’s theme: “A call to action for health workers around the world to mobilise against FGM”, urged health workers to stand against this deep harmful practice. The Executive Director of UNICEF, Mr Anthony Lake, said the support of health workers in all areas who understand the effects of this practice would help trickle down the practice. Lake noted that the shock of FGM was quite enormous, adding that more than 130 million girls and women in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have been affected.
“Health workers have a deep understanding of the harmful consequences of this practice.
“They see the urinary, menstrual and obstetric complications, including haemorrhage, infection and death caused by it.
“And, they also witness the emotional wounds FGM inflicts, trauma which often lasts a lifetime.
“Health workers are also uniquely well-positioned to lead the effort to resist a disturbing trend that has emerged in many countries,” Lake said.
He identified that around one in five girls have been cut by a trained health-care provider and in some countries; this can reach as high as three in four girls.
Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director, UNFPA, said although FGM was a normal practice in some countries but it infringes on the human rights of girls and women. Osotimehin noted that some situations arise where the health worker was pressurised to engage in FGM but with the joint support of stakeholders it could be eliminated.
Ms Frances Ganges, ICM President, called on health workers to abandon the practice of FGM.
Ganges said that with their influence in the communities where they work and the support of colleagues, FGM could be abandoned everywhere.
She also stressed that the health status of the women who underwent FGM should be given paramount concern and attention.
“First and foremost, we call on all health workers to abandon the practice of FGM.
“And to use their influence, not only in the communities where they work, but also with their colleagues to accelerate the abandonment of FGM everywhere.
“We also call on all health workers to protect the sexual and reproductive health of those who have already undergone FGM,” said the chief executive.
Mr Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, Chief Executive, International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, noted that health workers cannot achieve the total elimination of FGM alone. The official assured that with the joint programme of the UN, they were committed to supporting efforts to provide health workers with the skills and information needed to accelerate the abandonment of FGM. He also stated that they were ready to support the treatment of the complications that arise from the practice. According to the statement, the UN also urged communities and stakeholders to stand together against FGM, adding that the health, rights and well-being of millions of girls depend on it.