(February 2009) An estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and more than 3 million girls are at risk for cutting each year on the African continent alone. FGM/C is generally performed on girls between ages 4 and 12, although it is practiced in some cultures as early as a few days after birth or as late as just prior to marriage. FGM/C poses serious physical and mental health risks for women and young girls. According to a 2006 WHO study, FGM/C can be linked to increased complications in childbirth and even maternal deaths. Other side effects include severe pain, hemorrhage, tetanus, infection, infertility, cysts and abscesses, urinary incontinence, and psychological and sexual problems. Since the early 1990s, FGM/C has gained recognition as a health and human rights issue.
On Feb. 6, 2003, the First Lady of Nigeria, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, made the official declaration on "Zero Tolerance to FGM" in Africa during a conference organized by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC), a nongovernmental network headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In her statement, Mrs. Obasanjo praised the work that had been done since the early 1930s at the local, regional, and international levels.
"However," she said, "IAC has come to a stage where a paradigm shift would move the gains we have made so far by having a common agenda which will provide a common framework to intensify and collaborate our activities at the different levels while respecting our diversities. In light of this, IAC has decided to declare 6 February of every year The Day of 'Zero Tolerance to FGM.' The zero tolerance forum will be an initiative which will bring all our efforts to celebrate, reflect and deliberate on FGM, and to renew our commitment to liberate African Women from cultural and traditional belief systems that are inimical to the sexual and reproductive rights of women in the continent. We are together in this with our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora whose efforts we wish to recognize."
After outlining ways in which "wives of Heads of State on the African Continent" and all of the members of the IAC and various donors can move this common agenda forward, she ended by saying, "I, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo, First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on behalf of all the First Ladies of Africa, hereby append my signature on this day, 6th of February 2003, as The Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM."
Subsequently, the 6th of February was adopted by the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM, and ceremonies marking this day have taken place around the world.
PRB marks Zero Tolerance to FGM Day by highlighting our work to bring attention to and present accurate data on this practice that affects millions of women and young girls worldwide.
Prevalence of FGM/C Among Younger and Older Women
Source: Population Reference Bureau, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Data and Trends (2008).
To read the full text of the declaration, see www.iac-ciaf.com/zerotolerancetofgm.htm.
Charlotte Feldman-Jacobs is program director, Gender, at the Population Reference Bureau.