9th Anniversary of the International Day on Zero Tolerance to FGM (Ambassador Kongstad, Geneva 6 February 2012, 14.30-15.30 pm)
Let me start by thanking the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices for inviting us to this event on a most important topic. Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is very present on the political agenda in Norway - as it is internationally. According to WHO an estimated 100 -140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of Female Genital Mutilation, with another 3 million girls at risk of being cut annually, underscoring the need to move forward and intensify our efforts.
What is at stake has already been well illustrated by previous speakers. It demonstrates that FGM is clearly linked to the Millennium Development Goals pertaining to health, in particular as regards maternal and child mortality where the Norwegian Government is actively engaged. Putting an end to FGM goes to the core of protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls.
This brings me to my next point. FGM is not only a health concern. FGM is a social practice that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner and not only as a medical issue. It reflects deep inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. Being performed on young girls, it is also a violation of the rights of children. The UN family has taken a firm stand. In a common statement from 2008 the heads of ten UN agencies describe the practice of FGM as a violation of a person's right to health, security and physical integrity and the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman treatment. At the same time they committed themselves to the elimination of FGM within a generation. This is important and demonstrates bold and clear leadership.
The Government of Norway strongly supports the global movement for the elimination of this harmful practice. We recognise the importance of country leadership and partner support, in particular by UNFPA and UNICEF and civil society organizations. Nonetheless, as it was pointed out in a press release from the International Organization for Migration, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Inter-African Committee and the Geneva Human Rights Office issued on the occasion of this 9th International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, that with migration the practice of FGM is transported to places where it has earlier been non-existent. We assume that some 500,000 cut women currently live in Europe and every year approximately 180,000 women and girls migrants undergo, or are in danger of undergoing, FGM. Countries of destination must therefore proactively address the FGM issue also at home. Legislation as has been introduced in Norway and a good number of European countries, is one important step to protect women and girls from migrant communities that practice FGM.
FGM is, in other words, a shared challenge. All regions are confronted with the practices of FGM and the social norms and values related to it. It is a global imperative to strengthen work for the elimination of this practice. As a result of concerted efforts over several years, we are now at a stage where we have more knowledge about the practice itself and the reasons for its continuation, as well as experiences with what kind of interventions can make a difference. The Joint UNFPA/UNICEF FGM Trust Fund has a particularly important role to play in the promising change process now being observed in several countries. In less than half a decade, The FGM Trust Fund has provided sound evidence on how to effectively combat FGM. Closing the current funding gap will enable the continued success in fighting FGM. Norway would strongly encourage other donors to step up their contributions to effectively combat FGM by supporting the Trust Fund. We now see progress and achievements, which proves transformational change is possible, yet we also see remaining challenges. I wish to highlight four points.
Firstly, we know that legislation is critical, but not sufficient. FGM cannot be abolished only through legislation making the relevant practices illegal. Where real change is seen, this is made possible by active leadership, targeted actions and longer-term engagement at the national and also at the local level.
Secondly, several countries are now demonstrating that transformational change is possible, not only in small-scale but also at larger scale. Such change invariably comes from within and is based at the local community level with support from local agents for change. All reports indicate that unless approaches are culturally sensitive, positive change is not achieved.
Thirdly, while health can be very effective as an entry point for engagement, FGM needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner and not only as a medical issue. In other words, FGM is a social practice that cannot be changed at an individual level. Again, successful community and social change has to build on trust and respect.
And finally, from all over Africa the messages are ticking in about public declarations for the abandonment of FGM, many from countries present here today. Reports confirm that changes on the ground are taking place more rapidly than expected, and that the basic elements of an effective strategy are in place and spreading. This positive message should be voiced loud and clear.
In conclusion, the Government of Norway recognizes that only continued efforts can contribute to the final abolishment of FGM, but success requires know-how and an effective methodology. Today, we know what to do. We know what works. The major challenge is to scale up ongoing efforts and follow through on existing commitments. There is a momentum for change that must be grasped now.