Pope supports global target to eradicate female genital mutilation

female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation must stop, Pope Francis told reporters on the plane when returning from a four-day trip to Bahrain on Sunday.

Defending women’s rights, Francis specifically condemned as a “criminal act” female genital mutilation (FGM) and trafficking women for prostitution.

Both these crimes are “humiliating affronts to women’s dignity” he said, urging officials to do everything possible to end both.

A global target aims to eradicate female genital mutilation by 2030. Ridding the deeply entrenched practice will protect the next generations of girls, campaigners say. They acknowledge it will be difficult.

The United Nations has designated 6 February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

An estimated 200 million women and girls live with the aftermath of the practice, which can result in serious complications and even death. Long term problems can affect health, reproduction and sexual satisfaction. The experience is traumatic.

Prevalent in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, cutting has been performed in communities of different cultures and faiths. Some view it as a rite of passage. For others it’s linked to beliefs about chastity, femininity and cleanliness. Social pressure keeps it going.

“It’s an entrenched social norm and really deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and sometimes in religious beliefs,” a UN official says. “So to be able to make any change, people need to be convinced that this is not threatening their culture.”

Some faith leaders are working to eliminate the practice. Others condone it. It’s been illegal in Egypt since 2008; top Islamic authorities condemn the practice. Online and television information cites medical evidence of its harms, pointing out it’s a custom with no sound religious basis.

There’s still opposition to the bans though. This takes many forms: resistance from some religious leaders and other “traditional gatekeepers,”. Limited funding is a hindrance. Lack of political will is a problem. There’s a perception that ending cutting reflects a “Western-led agenda.”

Meanwhile, some women suffering the aftereffects seek healing.

They express feelings of distress, discomfort in their own skin, embarrassment or fears that being cut could stop them from getting married or condemn their marriages to failure. Some want information on medical procedures.

Some considering medical interventions have found specialised treatment. But in many countries, options can be scarce or too costly. There are many treatment gaps and few trained personnel to help.

A few can access private clinics for surgical and non-surgical therapies. Psychological therapy is recommended, but many don’t pursue it. Treatment results aren’t guaranteed.

“We don’t have a recommendation in favour of that at this moment because of the lack of evidence on the safety and the efficacy,” said a World Health Organisation spokesperson.

“Any woman who has clitoral reconstruction should be offered sexual health counselling in conjunction with it.” Neither the procedure nor such counselling is widely available in high prevalence countries, she added.


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