The Hague. Hundreds of millions of young girls worldwide suffer from the brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a tradition which goes against the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Africa only, it is estimated that more than 90 million girls from 10 years of age and above have undergone FGM. Recent studies show that it is also practiced in the majority of Middle Eastern countries, but sufficient data for this region is lacking. Proper data collection is vital in order to address the problem in the future.
Members of the Dutch Parliament, led by Hon Kathleen Ferrier, came together with Dutch-based organisations, the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA) and the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (Hivos), to revive the political debate among policy makers and parliamentarians about the abandonment of FGM and to unmask its inaccuracies.
During her closing remarks Ms. Ferrier stressed the fruitful cooperation she had with her colleagues during her years as Member of Parliament in putting FGM and broader gender issues on the political agenda. As this was one of her last public meetings in parliament, she used this moment to call on her current colleagues and future MPs to continue the hard work, and formalise the cooperation on gender issues. The MPs present responded positively to this call and agreed to keep gender issues on the political agenda.
Long-time activist for gender rights in Africa, Magda de Meyer, former Belgian MP and Deputy Head of AWEPA Belgium, claimed that 3 million girls are at risk each year in Africa, and in some countries such as Burkina Faso, 75% of women between the ages of 15-49 have been mutilated. After attending AWEPA organised sensitisation workshops in the country, she expressed the political will of MPs in Burkina Faso to stop this practice, stating “many men and women MPs are speaking out against the practice, and therefore, as European MPs, we have an obligation to support them in this.”
Although FGM is high in mainly Sahel countries in Africa, many Western countries are directly affected by the practice within their diaspora communities. The European Parliament has estimated that today 500,000 girls and women living in Europe are suffering from the consequences of FGM.
Hon. Ferrier urged MPs in Europe to scale-up their efforts, stating legislation was not enough and that laws needed to be backed up with prevention mechanisms and national action plans. “The abandonment of this practice” she stated, “is a process of transformation and cannot be imposed.”
Mr. Thomas von der Osten-Sacken, Director of WADI, a German/Iraqi partner of Hivos, recently published findings of the prevalence of FGM in the Middle-East, specifically in Iraq. He underlined that FGM is not only an African problem, but also widely practiced in Middle-Eastern countries. In these societies FGM is still very much a taboo “Males didn’t know that their daughters were mutilated”. This taboo needs to be broken, and therefore public discussion about the topic is necessary. “The fight against FGM is not solely about this piece of flesh, but it is a fight about how we define female sexuality in a society”. He furthermore stated to the parliamentarians, “FGM is not only about Islam, rather it is a mechanism of control to protect authoritarian patriarchal societies.”
Thomas O’Keeffe, First-Secretary at the US Embassy in The Hague, commented on US efforts on the issue. He stressed that the abandonment of this practice is a process of social change, and therefore will take time. He further stated that social change requires going village to village and therefore we need to know more. “We need a database to locate where it happens, a census, a tailored methodology for each context we are working in. We need to identify alternative income generation for excises. We need resources, both diplomatic and financial. Above all, we need brave people to go door to door to have these conversations in communities where it occurs”.
The expert meeting titled, The Abandonment of FGM: What is the Role of Parliamentarians?, was held in the House of Representatives in the Dutch Parliament. The event was made possible by the National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO).