Ten UN agencies join to end female genital mutilation

The United Nations released a story yesterday:

Ten United Nations agencies have banded together to help eliminate the harmful practice of female genital mutilation within a generation, stressing the need for strong leadership and greater resources to protect the health and lives of millions of women and girls. An estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the procedure – which involves the partial or total removal of external female genital organs – that some 140 million women, mostly in Asia, the Middle East and in Africa, have already endured.


In a statement issued today, the agencies pledged to support governments and communities to abandon female genital mutilation, which remains widespread in many parts of the world, highlighting the damaging effects of the practice on the health of women, girls and newborn babies.


The agencies expressed their concern about the “medicalization” of the practice, whereby it is performed by health professionals in health facilities, and the belief that it enhances a girl’s chastity and chances of marriage by controlling her sexuality.


“We recognize that traditions are often stronger than law, and legal action by itself is not enough,” they said. “Change must also come from within. This is why it is critical for us to join hands and work closely with communities and their leaders so that they can bring about sustainable social change.”

As anyone who has read this blog for a week knows, female genital mutilation is a hot issue here. We applaud all efforts to do away with it. So why does this UN article give me the creeps?

Maybe it’s the wording of that last paragraph I cited. “Change must come from within.” True, you must convince women to stop this horrible custom and men to stop demanding it. But the phrase has the ring of the totalitarian impulse to create the new man. What happens when people refuse to become the new man, or people refuse to give up their tradition? Why then we’ll “join hands and work closely with communities and their leaders so that they can bring about sustainable social change.”  What on earth does that mean? Probably tell them they won’t get any UN aid unless they stop cutting up their little girls. I’d feel better about it if they were honest about their plans.

Actually, there are a lot of efforts by women in countries where FGM is practiced to teach other women that this is not a good idea. I hope what the UN article means is that they’re going to do more of that. So why didn’t they say so? Instead, here’s what they say.

“If we can come together for a sustained push, female genital mutilation can vanish within a generation,” said Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro, adding her voice to the pledge made today. “But this goal demands both increased resources and strengthened coordination and cooperation among all of us.”