Repositioning FGM as a Gender and Development Issue,60thCSW

Voila! There we go again! A significant step towards eliminating FGM in the entire world! For the first time, in 2016 FGM has been included in the global goals under Sustainable Development goal 5. Target 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. More than 200 million girls and women throughout the world have undergone FGM in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, (UNICEF 2013)

Eliminating FGM is a crucial step in achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals including targets on health and well-being, education, gender equality, decent work and economic growth. As the practice of FGM continues, the health/well-being of girls and women is threatened and they are denied opportunities for decent work and quality education. For the millions of girls currently at risk of FGM this new global goal brings the promise of a better future.

The just concluded 60th (Commission on the Status of Women) CSW60/NY conference held in New York with the theme: “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development” served as a great opportunity for galvanizing political will and engaging a discussion on successful strategies in eliminating the harmful practice of FGM. The event provided a great platform to expand awareness of the key linkages between eliminating FGM, women’s empowerment and the entire SDG agenda. It also increased visibility of member states committed to ending FGM.

The current dominant discourse on ending FGM focusing on the social norm approach does not fully recognize the gender dimension and the development context of this human rights violation. CSW60 sought to shift the dynamic to a developmental approach.
According to social norm perspective, for FGM to be abandoned in a community as whole, social expectations have to change within families, but also across families. This can only happen if a significant number of families within a community make a collective and coordinated choice to abandon the practice, so that no single girl or family is disadvantaged by the decision. For this to succeed, it is essential that members of the community are aware of and trust the intentions of their peers. The importance of peer groups should not be underestimated, as evidence shows that only when information comes from someone similar to oneself is one willing to accept it

While social norm approach provides a better understanding of the social mechanisms that lead to FGM, there is also a need to better understand the economic aspect of FGM.
Women and families in affected communities have higher priorities than the abandonment of FGM such as access to health, education, sanitation, agricultural improvement and food processing, among others. It is crucial to incorporate the abandonment of FGM as a key element in achieving development objectives in these areas. Evidence suggests that when addressed within broader development programmes, FGM prevention interventions are more effective and well received by affected communities, because such programmes assist in overcoming other pressing issues and challenges that affect the daily lives and access to basic needs.

Rather than developing programs focusing exclusively on the prevention of FGM, the most effective interventions both financially and in terms of decreasing prevalence rates seem to be those that address the abandonment of the practice within broader development policies, programmes and projects. Such programmes and projects may focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights (including HIV/AIDS prevention and provision of SRHR services) as well as safe motherhood, child mortality and health and women’s empowerment including access to education and economic opportunities. Others may integrate FGM into more comprehensive programmes on rural and industrial development and poverty reduction.

FGM is a global human rights violation that cuts across Africa, The Middle East, Asia, North America and Europe. The global dimension of FGM requires the development of transnational and transcontinental interventions, focused on building bridges between communities living both in Europe and in affected continents, particularly Africa. Programmes should favor a bottom up approach promoting direct involvement of the whole community and involving all relevant stakeholders, including men young people community leaders, policy makers and the media.

The Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is a global yearly Forum where women activists gather to speak and learn from each other to advocate. The agreed conclusions from the session will contribute to the UNs 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that were adopted by the General Assembly in 2015.

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