In Women's Commission, Deputy Secretary-General Launches Pledge to End Female Genital Mutilation
Wednesday, March 5, 2008 3:02 PM

Commission Also Hears from Nearly 50 Speakers in Continued Debate, With Focus on National Programmes, Budgets Aimed at Empowering Women

Launching an appeal by 10 United Nations agencies to eliminate female genital mutilation, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro called on Member States to join the Organization as full partners in the fight to end the practice, respond to its consequences and hold those who perpetrated it criminally responsible for inflicting harm on girls and women.

Speaking during the third day of the Commission on the Status of Women’s fifty-second session, she said:  “The consequences of genital mutilation are unacceptable anywhere, anytime and by any moral and ethical standard.”  An estimated 3 million girls were at risk of being forced to undergo the procedure this year, and some 140 million women, mostly in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, have already endured it.

“If we can come together for a sustained push, female genital mutilation can vanish within a generation.  This goal demands both increased resources and strengthened coordination and cooperation among all of us,” she said.

Female genital mutilation was deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions and was difficult for families to abandon without support from the wider community, she said.  But the values that underpinned those social mores had outlived their purpose.  On the contrary, they clashed with core universal values and were obstacles to human dignity and health.  What’s more, women who had undergone mutilation were, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), at significantly higher risk for complications and danger during childbirth.

The United Nations had made many efforts to end female genital mutilation since three of its agencies first issued a joint statement on the subject in 1997 to draw attention to its grave human rights and public health implications, she said.  Human rights treaty monitoring bodies and international resolutions had since condemned the practice, several Governments had passed laws against it and the Commission agreed for the first time to a resolution to end the practice.  While its prevalence in some countries had declined thanks to international public pressure, female genital mutilation remained high in far too many countries.  Efforts must indeed be stepped up to eliminate it.

Turning to the issue of funding for gender equality and women’s empowerment, Joanne Sandler, Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), pointed to the vast gap between funding for United Nations activities to end violence against women and other areas.  Since its inception in 1997, the United Nations Trust to End Violence against Women had received just over $33 million, nearly half of that in 2007.  And while it awarded grants based on an open, competitive process totalling $5 million in 2007, they represented just 5 per cent of its total funding requests.  By contrast, other sectoral or special purpose funds in the United Nations -- such as the Peacebuilding Fund and the United Nations Democracy Fund -- had had far more generous beginnings.  Since its creation in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria raised $10 billion for grants in 136 countries.

A 2006 analysis of the United Nations Consolidated Appeals demonstrated that it was also difficult to secure funding to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence in fragile States, she said.  For example, zero per cent of the 2006 appeal of $1.7 million for Burundi to help survivors of sexual and gender-based violence was met.  Requests for Nepal to support gender-based violence projects received only half of the funding requested.  By contrast, all other projects on average received 90 per cent of the funding requested.  Still, positive change was evident.  Last year, Brazil and Ecuador announced budget allocations for their national laws or plans to end violence against women, while others had integrated national plans into poverty reduction strategies with budget allocations.

Introducing the reports before the Commission and detailing its work for the session, Carolyn Hannan, Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women, said the Commission had convened an expert meeting group in Norway in September and a four-week online discussion in June and July on financing for gender equality and women’s empowerment, in which some 1,300 registrants participated from 145 countries.  The Commission, she said, would develop recommendations to expedite national, regional and international action in that regard.  It had also just published the agreed conclusions from its fifty-first session on “elimination of all forms of violence against the girl child”.  And together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and the United Nations Statistical Division, and in collaboration with the four other regional commissions, Ms. Hannan’s Division had organized an expert group meeting in October on violence against women, which proposed a set of international indicators on the prevalence of violence against women.

Dubravka Simonovic, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, said that, in frank and constructive dialogues during its past three sessions, several delegations of States parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women discussed their steps to redress violence against women, including domestic violence, and to strengthen support services for female violence victims.  They also highlighted efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention, including through revisions of marriage and family laws, measures to protect women’s rights in employment, and new initiatives to enhance women’s and girls’ educational opportunities, eliminate discrimination and stereotypes, and enhance the participation of women in public life.

Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and Carmen Moreno, Director, International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW) also made introductory statements.

Also participating in the general discussion were the ministers for gender and women’s affairs of Zambia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Finland, Botswana, Ghana, Brazil, Tuvalu, Bahamas, Czech Republic, Liberia, Suriname, United Republic of Tanzania, Indonesia, Mauritius, Russian Federation, Iceland, Paraguay, Niger, Mali, Honduras, Senegal, Chile, Yemen, Argentina and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The vice-ministers of Poland and Ecuador also spoke, as did the deputy ministers of Hungary, Angola and Ukraine.

The discussion also included interventions from senior Government officials of Egypt, United States, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Costa Rica and Australia, as well as statements by the representatives Norway and Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum).

The Commission on the Status of Women will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 28 February, to continue its general discussion.

Published in: "In Women's Commission, Deputy Secretary-General Launches Pledge to End Female Genital Mutilation, Says Practice Unacceptable by any Moral, Ethical Standards," Economic and Social Council, 27 February 2008.