By Victor Gotevbe, Editor-in- Chief,

There are several issues defying human rights and thereby ravaging world peace. One of such is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is globally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. According to the United Nations, “it reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on minors and is a violation of the rights of children”

It is in the light of the foregoing that  United People for African Congress (UPAC) in partnership with African Community Service Awards, National Association of Nigerian Nurse Practitioners and Diplomatic Watch Magazine will hold a forum on Thursday, February 6, 2020 to commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, at the Courtyard by Marriott, Largo, Maryland, United States by way of adding their voices to the campaign against FGM as well as creating awareness about its danger and urgent need to stop the practice.

Statistics have it that at least more than 200 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequences of FGM. That equals the entire populations of Germany, France and Italy, combined. More than half the survivors live in Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia.

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and seldom on adult women. Globally, more than 4.6 million are projected to be subjected to FGM annually by 2030.

Worldwide, more than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk every year of being subjected to the procedure, even though it is outlawed in 42 countries, including 24 nations in Africa. Between 2015 and 2030, 68 million girls globally are at risk of FGM if efforts are not accelerated to end this harmful practice.

FGM/C is now criminalized in most countries around the world. Perpetrators risk significant jail time, including life imprisonment in Kenya, Uganda and Guinea.

Therefore, FGM remains an abhorrent human rights violation affecting women and girls around the world. It denies them their dignity, endangers their health and causes needless pain and suffering, even death.

Interestingly, the United States of America is also affected due to the increasing number of migrants to the US from other continents the practice is prevalent. As matter of fact, in 2017, CNN’s Michelle Krupa reported about the alarming rise of female genital mutilation in America.

She stated “since 1990, the estimated number of girls and women in the US who have undergone or are at risk of the practice has more than tripled. The increase is due to rapid growth in the number of immigrants from countries where risk of FGM is greatest. These girls and women are concentrated in California, New York and Minnesota.”

She further stated that “Experts across the globe agree that the practice has no medical benefits whatsoever. Ten global agencies issued a joint statement in 2008 branding the practice a human rights violation and calling for its elimination within one generation. Meantime, the health risks — including death — are plentiful.”

“Girls and women most at risk in the US come from or have relatives who come from the African nations of Egypt, Ethiopia and Somalia, where three-quarters or more of all girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation.”

Only 35 states of the 50 states in America had passed legislation making FGM illegal as of last August (2019). Quite a few of these states passed legislation that made it unlawful to perform FGM on anyone, while the federal law (the Female Genital Mutilation Act 1996) only protects those under 18.

However, the act was declared unconstitutional when on November 20, 2018, Federal Judge Barnard A. Friedman ruled the Female Genital Mutilation Act 1996 exceeds the enumerated powers of Congress and cannot be justified by the commerce clause.

Internationally, the FGM continues to face condemnation from several  organizations and individuals. In 2015, FGM was incorporated into one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2017, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) formed a joint UN initiative with the goal of terminating FGM within a generation.

In view of the foregoing, ‘it becomes even more necessary and urgent to continually create the awareness amongst the African community’ said Dr. Sylvester Okere, Founder and President of UPAC.

He shared with Diplomatic Watch that this year’s event will have presentations for discussion from Department of Homeland Security’s Suzanne Priest, National Program Manager, Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit; and Kate Finley, Attorney, Human Rights Violators Law Division. Dr. Okere informed that participants will be exposed to the cultural history and details of procedure of FGM/C, laws, current cases, and prevention amongst others.

A visit to the US travel website shows that the US Government takes FGM/C seriously as it accounts for why facilitators are coming from the DHS. Dr. Okere cited the statement by the US Government on the said website:

“The U.S. Government opposes FGM/C, no matter the type, degree, or severity, and no matter what the motivation for performing it.  The U.S. Government understands that FGM/C may be carried out in accordance with traditional beliefs and as part of adulthood initiation rites.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Government considers FGM/C to be a serious human rights abuse, and a form of gender-based violence and child abuse.”

He added that “it is our conviction as an organization that the legal and policy interventions alone are not adequate deterrent for FGM/C. Hence, there must be an ongoing awareness with the goal of involving the whole community whether they are senior citizens, parents, males and females and other community members.”

Sylvester emphatically stated that “we cannot effectively develop Africa, nor talk about its economic advancement if we continue to neglect to reengineer the mindsets of the people. Equip them to do away with some primitive traditional ideologies. Transformed people understand the value of others; they also approach people or public assets with renewed mind. Hence, this forum is critical at such a time like this.”

UPAC’s Vice President, Africa, Ambassador MacDella Cooper, a 2017 Presidential Candidate for Liberia and also Activist, Philanthropist  and politician, added her voice to the campaign: “I think it is important that we hold on to our traditions and culture.  However, I also do think that we must work to eliminate those harmful cultural or traditional practices that infringe on another person’s human rights and dignity.

“Our children should learn the traditions of our ancestors by going through the rights of passage.  We should continue those exercises and teaching but we must wait until the girl is of the age of consent.  We must wait until she is of age when she decides if she wants to go through the cutting or not. She must decide for herself when she is of the age of consent.”

In Similar vein, Maimouna Oumarou Gbor, Republic of Niger Diaspora USA and CEO of Africa Global News quoted Waris Dirie, a victim of FGM at the age of 5, who opined that “Female Genital Mutilation targets little girls, and baby girls – fragile angels who are helpless, who cannot fight back. It’s a crime against a child, a crime against humanity. It’s abuse. It’s absolutely criminal and we have to stop it.”

In her own words, Maimouna said: ‘I love this quote by Waris Dirie. No one can describe this crime better than a victim. Let’s all come together and fight against FGM.’

John B. Manirakiza, a Burundian Diaspora of the USA also made a clarion call on the subject matter: “We must put an end to Female Genital Mutilation FGM because it’s a cruel practice which denies millions of African girls of their most basic fundamental rights, submit them to lifelong trauma and suffering. All African women, men, boys and girls should commit to fighting for girls equal rights and end of Female Genital Mutilation before 2030”

Further still, Ambassador Noella Nsanwa, Congolese (DRC) Diaspora USA and CEO Karibu Global Initiative, Inc similarly opined: “Karibu Global Initiatives, Inc. joins with other international agencies in condemning the practice of genital mutilation. Stopping female genital mutilations (FGM) requires action on strict enforcement of laws prohibiting the practice, medical and psychological care for women who are victims and prevention of FGM by education, risk assessment, early detection and engagement with community leaders.”

“FGM of any type is a violation of the human rights of girls and women, as it is a harmful procedure performed on a child who cannot give valid consent. FGM has no health benefits and harms girls and women in many ways, regardless of which procedure is performed.  Research shows grave permanent damage to health, including hemorrhage, infections, urinary retention, injury to adjacent organs, shock and very severe pain. Long-term complications include severe scarring, chronic bladder and urinary tract infections, urologic and obstetric complications, and psychological and social problems. FGM has serious consequences for sexuality and how it is experienced, including the loss of capacity for orgasm. There are also many complications during childbirth including expulsion disturbances, the formation of fistulae, and traumatic tears of vulvar tissue.”

Dr. Nikki Ezeani, DNP, APRN, ANP-C; President: National Association of Nigerian Nurse Practitioners, USA-DMV also condemned the practice. “FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women which must be stopped”, she said.

The event is open to everyone to attend. There will be great knowledge sharing and participants will also have the opportunity to exchange ideas, leads and recommendations.

About UPAC:

United People for African Congress (UPAC) is an umbrella organization that advocates for the rights of all African Nationals in the United States and motherland. UPAC organises forums for leaders, lawmakers and authorities to have direct engagement/dialogue with African Community in America on issues that Affect the millions of ethnic Africans across the country and their integration.