Zero Tolerance Day originated on Feb. 6, 2003, when the first lady of Nigeria, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, officially declared “Zero Tolerance to FGM” in Africa during a conference organized by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, a nongovernmental network headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since then, this day has been observed around the world. As we commemorate Feb. 6, we should acknowledge the bravery of those who first spoke out against it and the recent hard-won successes. We must also recognize the still-overwhelming challenges, and those leaders who are continuing to work on the front lines to make change.
Progress has been made in recent years in reducing the incidence of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), largely because communities and families are taking action and calling for change. However an estimated 120 to 140 million women have been subject to this harmful and dangerous practice and 3 million girls continue to be at risk each year. The practice persists because it is sustained by social perceptions, including that girls and their families will face shame, social exclusion and diminished marriage prospects if they forego cutting. These perceptions can, and must, change.
FGM/C poses immediate and long-term consequences for the health of women and girls, and violates their human rights.
Success in reducing the incidence in several countries where it was once highly prevalent has occurred as a result of culturally sensitive engagement with local communities, encouraging change from within. Where communities have chosen to make public declarations against the practice, for example in Senegal, declines of up to 65 per cent have been recorded.
Support is being provided by UNFPA, UNICEF and other partners for community-led abandonment programmes. The programmes engage parliamentarians, media, traditional communicators, women lawyers, medical associations, religious leaders and scholars to speak out against the practice.
The International Day against Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, provides an opportunity for people everywhere to redouble their efforts and end this harmful practice within a generation.
UNFPA, UNICEF and its partners will continue to work for the achievement of this important goal, and to advance gender equality and improve sexual and reproductive health.