The United Nations banned the age-old practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) late last year, heralding a wider understanding of cultural traditions carrying forward into 2013.
“In 2012 alone, we were able to stop it [FGM] in around 1,800 communities in the world,” reported Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), in a Feb. 19 interview published on the U.N. website.
Some 8,000 communities across the globe, including communities in 15 African countries, have outlawed the practice in the past three years, according to another U.N. report.
Feb. 6 was the first International Day of Zero Tolerance against FGM. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 140 million girls and women have had FGM procedures performed on them, with about 101 million girls aged 10 and older having undergone FGM in Africa. It also takes place in parts of Asia and the Middle East.
The practice involves the mutilation of the genitals to make sexual intercourse painful for women. It has no health benefits and only risks, according to the WHO, including recurring bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, and an increased risk of complications in childbirth.
Osotimehin called the practice “totally unnecessary.”
“The major obstacles still relate to culture, to the fact that this is something that has been there for a long time which hinders our ability to reach the last mile, to be able to talk to those who are the perpetrators of this,” Osotimehin said.
“Why must you violate a women?” he asked.
Another significant problem facing women in Africa is the common occurrence of death in childbirth.
While 15 percent of the world’s population is in Africa, 50 percent of the world’s deaths by childbirth happen in Africa.
“Family planning, let me state, is the most important life-saving intervention you can provide a girl or a woman. For too long, we have not been able to provide universal access to it,” Osotimehin said.
UNFPA plans to reach remote places in Africa by tying health-related programs and data-sharing to the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG), a set of global anti-poverty targets. UNFPA has also been working with women’s groups and community leaders in Africa to discourage genital mutilation.
Starting in Jan. 2011, UNFPA began its Seven Billion Campaign, [http://www.unfpa.org/public/home/news/pid/7999], to highlight issues the world would increasingly face as the global population propelled to 7 billion and beyond. A major focus was maternal health and youth issues—both inevitably linked to economics and a variety of other issues.
“Our Seven Billion campaign was a very effective campaign,” Osotimehin said. “We brought the world to think about how each one of us in the seven billion would have quality of life. I think that’s very good.”
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