More Than 16 Days: Human Rights, Interrupted

Day 4 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article is written by Rebecca Collier, a British-American currently pursing an MSc in Human Rights and International Politics at the University of Glasgow. She received her BA in International Business Management with a minor in International Relations from Webster University in London. Rebecca’s main area of interest is researching Human Trafficking, specifically Sex Trafficking and victims of Sexual Violence particularly in third world countries.

Like many, I am a firm believer that without global discussion and activism in regards to human rights, there will never be answers or results. It is therefore imperative that all human rights issues be discussed at all levels, be they local, national or international, in order to bring the necessary attention for change, regardless of the violation. It is not a stretch to assume that female genital mutilation (FGM) is something some people may choose not to discuss in an open forum due to the emotional and sensitive nature of the procedure.

Female Genital Mutilation, as defined by the World Health Organization,“…often referred to as ‘female circumcision’, comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs where for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons….”. The three most common types of FGM are the following:

“Type I:
Excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part of all of the clitoris.

Type II:
Excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora

Type III:
Excision of part or all of the external genitilia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation)”

It has been estimated that 100–140 million females have undergone this procedure, with an estimated 3 million per year remaining at risk. The procedure is done on young infants, adolescents, and even mature women without any anaesthetic. It is practiced in Africa, Asia and some Arab countries. However, it is also becoming more prevalent in Western counties among immigrant populations. Countries like the UK have begun to implement laws to stop families from taking their children overseas to have the procedure.

There are various reasons for this practice, including (but not limited) to psychosexual, sociological, cultural, and religious reasons. FGM is seen as a way to control a woman’s sexuality, sexual urges, and to ensure her virginity as a prerequisite for marriage. It is also used as an initiation to womanhood, to be accepted as part of a community, and for aesthetic reasons. Many girls who do not conform to these norms and do not undergo the procedure are at risk of being ostracized from their communities.

Aside from the reasons mentioned, the fact remains that this procedure is tantamount to torture, and it is also very damaging to a woman’s health. The instruments that are used are often not sterilised, particularly if done by a female family member in a home. The consequences for the women are a heightened risk of the HIV/AIDS infection, sexual dysfunction, discomfort and can, undoubtedly, lead to psychological stress. It could also result in death from further complications.

While there are many countries, especially in Africa, that have implemented laws into national legislation prohibiting this practice, rarely do any cases end up being brought through the system, and equally, rarely any fines handed out for breaking the law. The exception to this would be Burkina Faso. In 1996, Burkina Faso became the third country in the African continent to legally ban the practice of FGM. Since then it has been successful in reducing the percentage of FGM that is practiced in the country by implementing appropriate fines and penal codes: between 1996 and 2005 there were more than 400 convictions. They have also set up a telephone service and offer free health care to women who have contracted an infection from the procedure, and provide awareness and education of FGM in schools. While many countries in Africa have adopted these laws, other countries (such as Djibouti) have not made any cases against individuals in charge of the procedure regardless of the article in their penal code which prohibits this practice.

FGM is illegal under international law and is a violation of many basic human rights. Just a few of these include: the freedom from violence, the highest attainable standard to health, freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and denies them the right to physical and mental integrity. This is not a question of ‘understanding’ local cultures and traditions. Some traditions are wrong, by any moral compass, and the international community must take a stand and prevent this gross abuse from continuing in the coming years. FGM is one of the greatest crimes committed against women in the twenty-first century, and it is time to stamp it out once and for all.

One of the important figures in the fight against FGM is Waris Dirie, a Somalian author, actress model and activist. For the past twelve years, she has educated people around the world about this issue and demanding the help of international institutions. Her story in itself is inspirational, as she too suffered through this procedure at the age of five. She simply states that, “female Mutilation has no cultural, no traditional and no religious aspect. It is a crime which seeks justice.”

Everyone deserves the right to live a life free from un-necessary violence and cruelty; and FGM is the unnecessary torture of thousands of women around the world. We need to do our best to ensure that the international community stands up and fights for the women whose voices cannot be heard.

Ayanna:“Legs were spread and I thought, this is not right. And then I felt this… pain, I remember just screaming, I think everyone was just shocked because I had 50 pairs of hands cover my mouth and nose… and I was just, I was just fighting, I remember just fighting, fighting, fighting.”

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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