27 February 2008
Deputy Secretary-General

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s remarks to the fifty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women launching an inter-agency joint statement on eliminating female genital mutilation, in New York, 27 February:

I am proud to stand here on behalf of 10 United Nations agencies to reaffirm our collective commitment to stop the archaic practice of female genital mutilation, or cutting, as it’s known elsewhere.

An estimated 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing this procedure this year.  Some 140 million women, mostly in Asia, the Middle East and in Africa, have already endured it.

Genital mutilation is a practice deeply rooted in social and cultural traditions.  For its proponents it is an integral part of their identity which continues to structure and influence intergenerational relationships.

Female genital mutilation remains a powerful social convention that is difficult for families to abandon without support from the wider community.

I wish to unequivocally underscore that values that underpin female genital mutilation have outlived their purposes. 

Today, we must stand and firmly oppose this practice because, among others, it clashes with our core universal values and constitutes a challenge to human dignity and health.

We know of no health benefits that come of female genital mutilation.  But, we do know that it causes much harm.

The World Health Organization concluded recently that women who have undergone genital mutilation have significantly increased risks for adverse events during childbirth.

The consequences of genital mutilation are unacceptable anywhere, anytime and by any moral and ethical standard.  Often, female genital mutilation is carried out on minors, violating the rights of a child to free and full consent on matters concerning her body and body functions.

Yet, there are no quick or easy solutions to bringing an end to female genital mutilation.  To address it, we must change collective behaviour, and target the core values and mechanisms that have supported its existence for generations. 

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.  That is the purpose of today’s landmark statement issued by 10 United Nations agencies.

This is not the first time the United Nations system comes together to address this issue.  In 1997, three United Nations agencies first issued a joint statement on female genital mutilation, or cutting.  The statement drew attention to the grave human rights and public health implications of this practice, and publicly called for its abandonment.

In the decade since, many efforts have been made to counteract the practice.

More and more United Nations agencies have become involved; human rights treaty monitoring bodies and international resolutions have condemned the practice; several Governments have passed laws against it; and political support for ending female genital mutilation is growing.

Last year, for instance, at the Commission on the Status of Women, United Nations Member States agreed for the first time to a resolution on ending female genital mutilation.

The prevention efforts undertaken by Governments, national and international organizations and local communities have begun to bear fruit. 

As public support for the abandonment of female genital mutilation has grown, its prevalence in some countries has declined.  Communities that have employed a collective decision-making process have been proved particularly successful.

However, despite these laudable gains, the rate of decline in this practice leaves much to be desired.  In far too many countries, the prevalence of female genital mutilation remains high.  If we are to eliminate it, we must redouble our efforts.

This inter-agency statement reflects our resolve.  The statement reaffirms our collective commitment to this issue, while incorporating new evidence and lessons-learnt over the past decade.  It highlights the human rights and legal dimensions of the problem, and underscores that the practice can only be changed through collective action by affected communities.  And it makes clear our determination to help end this practice.

The United Nations agencies confirm their commitment to support Governments, communities and the female victims of genital mutilation achieve the abandonment of this procedure within a generation.

And we call on Member States to join us as full partners in this fight, to promote the end of this terrible practice, to respond to its consequences, and to hold those who perpetrate it criminally responsible for inflicting harm on girls and women.

I hope we shall stand together in this.  I thank you very much for your kind attention.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record