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We Must Act United Against Female Genital Mutilation, High Commissioner for Human Rights Tells Human Rights Council

Meeting Summaries

 

Council Starts Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

 

The Human Rights Council this morning held a high-level panel discussion on the multisectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation. It also started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to health.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that female genital mutilation affected women and girls everywhere in the world, with more than 90 countries affected according to a recent report. Prior to COVID-19, more than 200 million girls and women alive today had undergone female genital mutilation and at least four million girls were at risk every year. Innovative and more effective strategies were needed, creating stronger partnerships prioritising a multi stakeholder approach involving girls and women themselves. Such an approach meant that consideration of how female genital mutilation was linked to intersecting forms of discrimination and other root causes of gender inequality must be addressed.

Helène Marie Laurence Ilboudo, Minister for Women, National Solidarity, Family and Humanitarian Action of Burkina Faso, speaking on behalf of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso and African Union Champion for the promotion of the elimination of female genital mutilation, recalled that the Council had adopted resolution 44/16 under the leadership of Burkina Faso, and noted that considerable progress had been made, in particular the establishment of a legal and institutional framework for the prevention and repression of female genital mutilation in several African countries. Despite encouraging progress, according to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million women and girls had unfortunately already undergone female genital mutilation, and more than 50 million girls under the age of 15 were at risk of being subjected to it by 2030.

Anna Widegren, panel moderator and Director of End FGM European Network, explained that in Europe, there were over 600,000 female genital mutilation survivors, as well as a further 190,000 girls and women who were at risk of undergoing the harmful practice in 17 European countries alone. In the European context, her organization had worked hard with its members over the past decade to ensure an increased attention to ending this practice and supporting survivors, as one of its key objectives had always been to ensure a comprehensive, coordinated and human rights-based approach.

Natalia Kanem, panellist and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, said resolution 44/16 on the elimination of female general mutilation addressed female general mutilation as a human rights violation and a form of gender based violence. The current estimate of 3.9 million girls mutilated each year could rise to 4.6 million by 2030 if current efforts were not accelerated. There was progress, albeit uneven, with female genital mutilation prevalence in Africa in overall decline.

Amira Elfadil Mohammed Elfadil, panellist and Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission, noted that the human rights nexus was critical in accelerating the elimination of female genital mutilation. As such, the African Union Commission had launched the African Union Saleema Initiative on Female Genital Mutilation in 2019 to mobilise continental resources, action, monitoring, reporting and accountability. The African Union Assembly Decision 737 of 2019 requested the Commission to implement a harmful practices accountability framework, facilitating wide-scale monitoring and reporting.

Bahrul Fuad, panellist and Commissioner at the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) of Indonesia, said that female genital mutilation was highly prevalent in Indonesia, with more than half of instances taking place before the girl reached four months of age. This practice was viewed as a religious requirement and a rite of passage. Medicalisation of female genital mutilation had resulted in greater harm to girls due to the use of more invasive surgical techniques. The National Commission had fostered dialogue and strategic partnerships with religious and traditional leaders.

In the interactive discussion, speakers emphasised that female genital mutilation was a harmful and deadly practice that must be eliminated, outlining the wide variety of laws, practices and policies their Governments had introduced to make this a reality. All States must deploy efforts to eradicate this practice, help victims and provide appropriate health services. The medicalisation of female genital mutilation must urgently be addressed, including by sensitising healthcare professionals, speakers stressed. They urged increased financial support for grassroots and women-led organizations and emergency response programmes.

Speaking were Ghana, Egypt, Portugal on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Cameroon, Egypt and Burkina Faso of behalf of a group of countries, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Mauritania, Iraq, Angola, Senegal, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Austria, Sudan, UN Women, Niger, Tanzania, Monaco, Switzerland, and Namibia.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Planned Parenthood Federation, Defense for Children International, ARROW, RADDHO, and Geneva for Human Rights.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, introduced her first report to the Council on her strategic priorities and her vision. Ms. Mofokeng said that through the lens of intersectionality, she would address how multiple oppressions and discrimination intersected and the impact this had on the enjoyment of the right to health. People were not intrinsically vulnerable. Vulnerabilities were rather brought by the obstacles people faced in the social, economic and political contexts they lived. She would examine how racism and coloniality continued to impact the enjoyment of the right to health. She spoke about her predecessor’s visit to Fiji.

Fiji took the floor as a country concerned.

In the discussion, speakers said meaningful equality in health must be a priority for all States. Drawing attention to the negative effects of lockdowns, they urged the Special Rapporteur to consider this issue while examining the consequences of the pandemic. The realisation of the right to health was fundamental to social and economic development and interdependent with other human rights. Prejudice faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people too often proved an impediment to their access to healthcare. The effect of embargoes on the right to health were nefarious; the world needed greater solidarity to ensure speedy and equitable access to vaccines and thus overcome the pandemic.

Speaking were Paraguay on behalf of a group of States, Estonia on behalf of a group of States, European Union, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Brazil, United Nations Children’s Fund, France, Cuba, Viet Nam, Ecuador, Indonesia, Libya, Portugal, Sovereign Order of Malta, Israel, China, Republic of Korea, Costa Rica, United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Bahrain, Iraq, Armenia, Togo, Syria, and Burkina Faso.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will reconvene at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to health will resume on Thursday, 24 June at 10 a.m.

High-level Panel Discussion on the Multisectoral Prevention of and Response to Female Genital Mutilation

Keynote Statements

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that female genital mutilation affected women and girls everywhere in the world, with more than 90 countries affected according to a recent report. Prior to COVID-19, more than 200 million girls and women alive today had undergone female genital mutilation and at least four million girls were at risk every year. It was now estimated that 20 million girls more may never return to secondary school – and everyone knew that secondary education reduced female genital mutilation. The economic cost to countries was also high. According to the World Health Organization, treating the health impacts of female genital mutilation cost $ 1.4 billion every year, and this could soar with the increasing population. Innovative and more effective strategies were needed, creating stronger partnerships prioritising a multi stakeholder approach involving girls and women themselves. Traditional and religious leaders must also be engaged in this process, as well as political, judicial, law enforcement and immigration sectors. Such an approach meant that the consideration of how female genital mutilation was linked to intersecting forms of discrimination and other root causes of gender inequality must be addressed.

Girls and women must have access to information, education, health care and social justice. Countries also needed laws and programmes that included strong accountability mechanisms, with the contribution of national human rights institutions, as well as national, regional and global accountability bodies. Good practices in many countries existed, such as the Action Plan in Burkina Faso convening 13 Ministries, women’s groups, religious and community leaders, as well as law enforcement officials and the judiciary, to oversee the implementation of the law eradicating female genital mutilation. International cooperation was another essential element, said Ms. Bachelet, welcoming the 2019 Regional Inter-Ministerial Declaration and Action Plan between Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda to tackle transnational and cross border female genital mutilation in East Africa - these encouraging measures should be replicated in other regions. Female genital mutilation could be prevented and stopped so that millions of women and girls could enjoy life. This high-level panel provided a critical forum to highlight best practices, to amplify them, and to encourage new commitments.

HELÈNE MARIE LAURENCE ILBOUDO, Minister for Women, National Solidarity, Family and Humanitarian Action of Burkina Faso, speaking on behalf of Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of Burkina Faso and African Union Champion for the promotion of the elimination of female genital mutilation, recalled that the Council had adopted resolution 44/16 under the leadership of Burkina Faso, and noted that considerable progress had been made, in particular the establishment of a legal and institutional framework for the prevention and repression of female genital mutilation in several African countries. Despite encouraging progress, according to the World Health Organization, more than 200 million women and girls had unfortunately already undergone female genital mutilation, and more than 50 million girls under the age of 15 were at risk of being subjected to it by 2030 if the international community did not act strongly today. It was therefore more than necessary that all acted with determination at all levels, and in perfect synergy of actions, to end female genital mutilation in order to achieve the goal of zero tolerance by 2030.

The current context marked by the COVID-19 pandemic exposed girls and women to greater risks. The President of Burkina Faso made a solemn appeal to all the actors, including States, leaders, technical and financial partners, and actors from the world community, to comply with the requirements of resolution 44/16 by mobilising financial resources and allocating them to the prevention and elimination of female genital mutilation. They should also take global inter-organizational initiatives that promoted the participation of concerned people in coordinated and complementary actions for the achievement of zero tolerance to female genital mutilation by 2030

Statements by Panellists

ANNA WIDEGREN, Director of End FGM European Network, moderating the panel, explained that in Europe, there were over 600,000 female genital mutilation survivors, as well as a further 190,000 girls and women who were at risk of undergoing the harmful practice in 17 European countries alone. In the European context, her organization had worked hard with its members over the past decade to ensure an increased attention to ending this practice and supporting survivors, as one of its key objectives had always been to ensure a comprehensive, coordinated and human rights-based approach. The establishment of multi-stakeholder platforms to coordinate the work among the different sectors at policy and service-provision level was key. It was important that such multi-agency coordination mechanisms were owned and led by governments and that they not only connected sectors, through a horizontal axis, but were also multi-layered, connecting different levels of governance, from national to regional to local level on a vertical axis.

NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, said resolution 44/16 on the elimination of female general mutilation addressed female general mutilation as a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence. The current estimate of 3.9 million girls mutilated each year could rise to 4.6 million by 2030 if current efforts were not accelerated. There was progress, albeit uneven, with female genital mutilation prevalence in Africa in overall decline. Despite progress, however, the absolute number of girls at risk continued to climb with population growth. Moreover, as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and disrupted programmes, 2 million additional cases of female genital mutilation may occur over the next decade. Far from dampening their ambition, however, the pandemic had sharpened their resolve. In 2020, more than 430,000 women and girls had received health services thanks to the United Nations Population Fund/United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Programme. As of 2020, 14 of the countries covered by the United Nations Population Fund/United Nations Children’s Fund Joint Programme had adopted legislation criminalising the practice of female genital mutilation, including most recently Sudan.

AMIRA ELFADIL MOHAMMED ELFADIL, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission, noted that the human rights nexus was critical in accelerating the elimination of female genital mutilation. As such, the African Union Commission had launched the African Union Saleema Initiative on Female Genital Mutilation in 2019 to mobilise continental resources, action, monitoring, reporting and accountability. The African Union Assembly Decision 737 of 2019 requested the Commission to implement a harmful practices accountability framework, facilitating wide-scale monitoring and reporting. Working within existing structures and processes of the Union, the Commission was currently designing this important technical and legal guidance for Member States. The Commission was looking to expand on policy and political action, strengthen partnerships, and continue to grow and expand work that mobilised Member States to deliver on commitments to end gender-based violence and assure the human rights of girls and women. Investments such as the Spotlight Initiative Africa Regional Programme were lending critical capacity support needed to move this forward and end gender-based violence.

BAHRUL FUAD, Commissioner at the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) of Indonesia, said female genital mutilation was highly prevalent in Indonesia, with more than half of instances taking place before the girl reached four months of age. This practice was viewed as a religious requirement and a rite of passage. The medicalisation of female genital mutilation had resulted in greater harm to girls due to the use of more invasive surgical techniques. The National Commission had fostered dialogue and strategic partnerships with religious and traditional leaders. It had equipped ministries to foster a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of this practice. Despite successes, challenges remained. Gathering accurate data was challenging: as female genital mutilation was practiced on infants, it relied on secondary reporting from parents or family members. The Government planned to continue mobilising and strengthening advocacy consortia and expanding the number of ministries and experts involved in the prevention and elimination of female genital mutilation.

Discussion

Speakers emphasised that female genital mutilation was a harmful and deadly practice that must be eliminated, outlining the wide variety of laws, practices and policies their Governments had introduced to make this a reality. All States must deploy efforts to eradicate this practice, help victims and provide appropriate health services. Gender inequality and discriminatory gender norms were cited as root causes of female genital mutilation. The practice persisted, notably in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, further underlying the primary responsibility of States to eradicate it. Traditional, religious or cultural grounds could no longer be used as excuses for the continual existence of this harmful practice. Speakers feared that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including the eradication of female genital mutilation, was no longer possible by 2030 due to the reversal of progress taking place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The practice had wide-ranging negative impacts on women and girls’ mental and physical health, requiring complex medical care.

The medicalisation of female genital mutilation must urgently be addressed, including by sensitising healthcare professionals, speakers stressed. They urged increased financial support for grassroots and women-led organizations and emergency response programmes. Sexual and reproductive healthcare services should be declared essential, to ensure their continuous provision during emergencies. Access to such services must be universal, and so should access to comprehensive sexual education. Several speakers touted efforts by their governments to criminalise female genital mutilation domestically. Recalling that at least 20 million women had undergone female genital mutilation, speakers urged the inclusion of prevention strategies in COVID-19 response plans and humanitarian programmes.

Concluding Remarks

ANNA WIDEGREN, Director of End FGM European Network, welcomed the many calls for action heard during this session, as well as the many comprehensive policies and strategies to rehabilitate and take care of survivors. Working with all stakeholders was crucial, especially in recognising women as agents of change.

MONICA FERRO, speaking on behalf of NATALIA KANEM, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, thanked all the speakers, noting that the good thing about social norms that were the root cause of female genital mutilation was that they were constructed - hence they could be deconstructed. Accountability had to be strengthened, especially in relation to protection, engaging all relevant stakeholders - this was why the good examples shared by the African States were so inspiring.

BAHRUL FUAD, Commissioner at the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) of Indonesia , drawing from his experience, recommended working with a multisectoral approach, in collaboration with civil society, to raise awareness. The key was adopting a multi-stakeholder strategy.

SORAYA ADDI, speaking on behalf of AMIRA ELFADIL MOHAMMED ELFADIL, Commissioner for Social Affairs of the African Union Commission, said the African Union was working with international organizations, including in the context of the Spotlight Initiative, to combat female genital mutilation. Reinforcing such partnerships, as well as fostering accountability were tenets of its approach. As regards best practices, the African Union had reached out to youth, women and survivors, to engage with stakeholders at the grassroot level and improve coordination. It had also worked to put young female genital mutilation survivors at the heart of its response, notably by giving them access to the highest political level.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

Reports

The Council has before it the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (A/HRC/47/28) on thestrategic priorities of work and (A/HRC/47/28/Add.1) on her predecessor’s visit to Fiji.

Presentation of Reports

TLALENG MOFOKENG, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, said the report prepared by her predecessor Dainius Pūra on his country visit to Fiji had identified that Fiji had a strong political will to realise the right to health. It had modernised outpatient and hospital care, invested in infrastructure and increased doctors’ salaries, and initiated public-private partnerships in the health sector. However, calls to repeal laws criminalising sex workers had not been successful. More efforts would also be needed to address health care for diabetes, as one in three people in Fiji had diabetes, and to improve health-care facilities.

Concerning her first report to the Council on her strategic priorities and her vision, Ms. Mofokeng said that through the lens of intersectionality, she would address how multiple oppressions and discrimination intersected and the impact this had on the enjoyment of the right to health. People were not intrinsically vulnerable. Vulnerabilities were rather brought by the obstacles people faced in the social, economic and political contexts they lived. She would examine how racism and coloniality continued to impact the enjoyment of the right to health. To remedy global persistent inequality and ensure accountability, the Special Rapporteur would adopt a “substantive equality approach” through intersectional frameworks in the realisation of the right to health. During her tenure, she would focus on the following themes: global health in the area of the COVID-19 pandemic; sexuality, gender based-violence and femicide; sexual and reproductive health rights; Innovation and digital technology: sexual and reproductive health rights, digital interventions and tele-health; racism and the right to health; health equity; and non-communicable diseases: reproductive cancers.

Statement by Country Concerned

Fiji , speaking as a country concerned, welcomed the recommendations of the report, and the holistic approach that could be considered for Fiji’s national health services. Fiji was pleased to have a robust and progressive Bill of Rights Chapter under the Fijian Constitution (2013) which recognised the right to health for all Fijians. Fiji continued to improve the quality of health care services and reform the health financing system. Non-communicable diseases had a devastating and disproportionately high impact on Pacific island countries, and diabetes accounted for 22 per cent of all deaths related to non-communicable diseases in Fiji. Cancer remained prevalent in Fiji, as progressive and new initiatives were being undertaken, including databases for cancer statistics and cancer-related vaccination initiatives, screening facilities and treatments. The COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated existing inequalities and socio-economic challenges as small island developing States had their health systems already weakened by their persistent fight against the climate induced health crisis. Threats to ecosystems including pollution and climate change must be addressed in order to preserve human health.

Discussion

Speakers said meaningful equality in health must be a priority for all States. Drawing attention to the negative effects of lockdowns, they urged the Special Rapporteur to consider this issue while examining the consequences of the pandemic. The realisation of the right to health was fundamental to social and economic development and interdependent with other human rights. Prejudice faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people too often proved an impediment to their access to healthcare. The effect of embargoes on the right to health were nefarious; the world needed greater solidarity to ensure speedy and equitable access to vaccines and thus overcome the pandemic. The pandemic also provided the opportunity to build back a stronger global health infrastructure. The Special Rapporteur should focus her limited resources to matters that were of universal concern and directly related to the right to health, some speakers stated.

Speakers welcomed the Special Rapporteur in her new role, expressing their support for her mandate and reiterating its importance during the global pandemic. Welcoming the Special Rapporteur’s focus on the principles of non-discrimination and equality, speakers expressed their support also for her recognition of the importance of technological innovation. Some speakers called for political and legislative plans to incorporate a global intersectional vision, ensuring the health of Afro-descendants. Countries were obliged to protect and uphold the health of their citizens by guaranteeing universal health coverage, as speakers provided examples of their high impact national health strategies and policies. Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about the ways she could contribute to discussions on achieving the fullness of the right to health, and about her vision with regards to COVID-19. Speakers expressed alarm that some Special Rapporteurs used terminology that did not have consensus, seeking an end to this trend.

 

 

HRC21.067E