UN Report on the Impact of Harmful Traditional Practices on the Girl Child
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 9:05 AM

Scientific and social studies show that discrimination against girls is often rooted in social values and traditional practices. This document lists forms of condoned practices that violate the rights of girls and the best ways to stop these abuses.

One form of traditional gender-based discrimination is preference for a son. The birth of a girl is treated with less ceremony and in some cases abortion or infanticide is practiced on baby girls. Another harmful practice is forced early marriage. Young girls often find themselves in subservient positions to their husbands and might fall victim to rape, early pregnancy, prostitution, trafficking or sexual slavery. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a cultural practice detected in at least 28 African countries. It is a harmful procedure, which in many cases permanently disables the woman, yet in some places, FGM serves as a right of passage into womanhood and is seen as a way to protect a girl’s chastity.

There is a network of organizations which try to challenge societal values that are harmful to girls. In 1988, a Special Rapporteur on Harmful Traditional Practices was appointed to work in coalition with the Inter-African Committee (IAC), WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA. During one initiative these groups worked closely with Muslim and Christian leaders to dispel the commonly-held belief that the Koran and the Bible promote FGM.

Youth are being educated about the harmful effects of FGM and training is being provided to empower women. The Inter-African Committee targets governments and lobbies to pass legislation against FGM and other harmful practices. While being sensitive to diverse cultural environments, the goal is to influence social behavior and to overturn deeply-rooted discriminatory practices.

Compiled from: "The Impact of Harmful Traditional Practices on the Girl Child," United Nations: Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), 25-28 September 2006.