International Day of Zero Tolerance Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting

The United Nations observes a number of days celebrating human rights, children, world habitat, and the widely celebrated World Day of Peace. You may view a list of United Nations Observances.

On the 6th of February each year, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations observes International Day of Zero Tolerance Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting.

Zero tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation means the practice should not be tolerated for any reason, no matter the type, who is doing it and on whom.

Female Genital Mutilation which involves the removal of part, or all, of the female genitalia has been recognised as a serious form of violence against women and girls.

The practice should not be allowed to continue under the guise of tradition or religion, leaving many women’s lives miserable. You may read a further description (fact sheet) and international response to female genital mutilation on the World Health Organisation Website.

Reaffirming the Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals, which grew out of the United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by 189 Member States in 2000, provide the current international framework for measuring progress towards sustained development and eliminating poverty. To reach five of the eight goals – improve maternal health; reduce child mortality; combat human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), malaria and other diseases; achieve universal primary education; and promote gender equality and empower women – elimination of Female Genital Mutilation is a necessary contribution, as Female Genital Mutilation affects all these aspects of girls’ and women’s health, in particular their sexual and reproductive health. For example, an estimated extra one to two perinatal deaths per 100 deliveries occurs among children born to women who have undergone Female Genital Mutilation. Another example is that the physical and mental health consequences of Female Genital Mutilation can impede women’s ability to fully take part in public life, thus having a disempowering effect on them.

Female genital mutilation and human rights

Female Genital Mutilation of any type is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, including: the right to non-discrimination on the grounds of sex; the right to life when the procedure results in death; the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the rights of the child. Female Genital Mutilation is also a violation of a person’s right to the highest attainable standard of health, as it damages healthy genital tissue and can lead to severe consequences for girls’ and women’s physical and mental health. It is on the basis of these human rights violations that many countries have now passed legal sanctions against Female Genital Mutilation. Communities practising Female Genital Mutilation generally consider the practice as an important part of their cultural tradition and social requirements, and also part of their religious duty. In migrant populations, these perceptions often remain valid, especially when relocating to a society where women have more freedom of choice, including in their sexuality. While the right to participate in cultural life and to freedom of religion are protected by international law, the law also stipulates that freedom to practise one’s traditions and beliefs may not supersede the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of people. Therefore, the right to practise religious beliefs and social and cultural traditions cannot be evoked to justify Female Genital Mutilation.

Human Values

While there are a number of values which could be extrapolated to denounce female genital mutilation, it is perhaps more useful to examine the domains of the human person and see how they apply to this situation. There are five domains, the physical, the social, the emotional, the intellectual and the spiritual domains. These domains display the integration of human values in our lives, particularly, where integrity (unity of thought, word and deed) is practised.

The physical domain provides the ground for physical health and healthfulness. The social domain is evidenced in gender security, self integrity, self image self representation through clothing, speech, and social interaction. The emotional domain compasses feelings and thoughts about gender and roles, mental health, cellular memory and the body as the vehicle of emotions. It is also the realm of love, comprising intimacy, passion and commitment. The intellectual domain is the magnifying glass of human identity, the human journey with its rights of the child, rights of the woman, and is expressed as integrity of thoughts, words and actions. The spiritual domain is actually a domain of action. In the spiritual domain, the body is gifted in order to do service. This may be service to self, service to others in the form of service in the family, in the home, in the community – to the poor and needy.

We may take all the human values and apply them to show why female genital mutilation and cutting should not take place. It is clearly not mandated by either of religion or culture, and is not a component of true humanness. However, we may look at physical health, a sub-value of Right Conduct or righteousness, what is sometimes called right order, or right action, which all oscillate around the foundation of the Universe, Dharma. Dharma is losely translated as right conduct yet encapsulates all the concepts mentioned earlier.

In examining or delineating human values, we may have regard to:

  • What it is
  • What it does for women
  • What it is not
  • What the limit of the value is
  • What it looks like (doing words)
  • Things women do

So if we examine physical health with regard to women – illuminating what is right conduct for women – we find it is wholeness, healthfulness, appropriate food and fluids, wellness on physical, mental and psychological aspects of woman. Physical health brings about right order in society with regard to health, wealth and education. Physical health comprises bodily integrity, enables beauty, womanhood and femininity. Things women do with respect to physical health are exercise, proper diet and fluid intake, maintenance of healthful appearance, dress, self confidence, self respect, management of mind and feelings and thoughts, which gives a healthy attitude to all aspects of living.

So physical health of women – illuminating what is right conduct for womanhood everywhere – emanates beauty, peacefulness, a glowing complexion which projects femininity and self security. What does it do for others? More than anything else, it enables activity and participation in life, balance in all things, strength in the home and family, social justice and a strong gender identity.

The limits of the value are a proper, appropriate self-image (anorexia is not physical health); the capacity of the physical body with respect to inherent muscular strength, torso shape, and attendant appearance. Its limits are healthfulness and homoeostasis, not endurance and pushing back physical limits of pain in body training.

These are the dimensions of physical health, a sub-value of right-conduct, righteousness, right order in the world. When you change yourself, you change the world. So practice of this human value brings transfer gain to other parts of human life, and to other human lives. Clearly, physical health is not punishment of any kind, cruelty, inhuman treatment, degrading suffering nor torture in the name of culture nor religion. As we take up the practice of human values and physical health, our very being engenders respect for self, respect for others and respect for all women, everywhere. Change yourself, you change the world.

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