People's Stories Women's Rights

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
by UN Women, UNFPA, Equality Now
Feb. 2023
There are few more extreme reflections of deeply entrenched discrimination against women and girls than female genital mutilation. It is deeply rooted in communities’ gender and social norms and cultural and religious traditions. There is no way to change such harmful practices without challenging these discriminatory norms head on.
The International day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation is an opportunity to focus efforts and build upon successful interventions. These include investing in the education of girls and their mothers, health education and community dialogues with parents and traditional and religious leaders. Men and boys also have an important role in transforming social and gender norms to end female genital mutilation as key change agents in prevention initiatives.
2023 sees the hard-won rights and freedoms of women and girls around the world under threat. The impacts of health crises, climate change and ongoing conflict increase their vulnerability to harmful practices, while also undermining programmatic efforts that have been making important progress. This is not a time to step back from efforts to end FGM, but rather to redouble them.
Women and girls have a right to live free from all forms of violence, have decision-making power over what happens to their bodies and equal access to education, employment, and income-generating and leadership opportunities. These rights imply duties in everyone to respond and to do so with urgency.
This International Day is also an opportunity to recognize the role of women’s rights activists working on the front lines to protect and support many millions of women and girls. They are the ones making the difference. They deserve every support.
UN Women continues to work with women and girls to accelerate the abandonment of this harmful and often deadly practice.
We will continue to engage in concerted activities with men and boys and traditional and religious leaders to build political will and reverse discriminatory laws; enforce existing laws and policies; support women’s economic empowerment and scale up evidence-driven prevention programming to create new norms that are survivor-centered, trauma-informed and emphasize accountability for ending FGM once and for all.
* Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a harmful traditional practice involving the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It can cause immense physical and psychological damage and is internationally recognized as a grave violation of women’s and girls’ human rights. It is estimated that some 200 million girls and women globally have undergone some form of female genital mutilation. The practice continues in communities worldwide, with Unicef warning 4.3 million girls are at risk of female genital mutilation this year.

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Forced marriage: a violation of human rights
by UN Human Rights Office, agencies
Jan. 2023
“One night he came home and had the purpose to kill me, the children, and himself,” said Dianah Kamande, a victim of forced marriage in Kenya.
Kamande survived with 21 cuts on her head and face. Her children were unharmed. When they were rescued, her husband was left in the house. “That’s when he murdered himself,” she said. He stabbed himself in the stomach.” She became a young widow and a mother of two children.
According to the Exodus Road, a non-profit organization that works on fighting modern-day slavery, as of 2022, 650 million girls and women are being forced to marry.
Within this dynamic, there is a continuum of coercion ranging from physical violence to psychosocial pressure. It’s a marriage where at least one is married without consent, against their will or is not able to exit the marriage.
Kamande participated in a UN Human Rights’ expert workshop on the dire consequences of forced marriage on women and girls and on the tools to end this harmful practice. The workshop brought together the international experts, forced marriage survivors and activists.
According to UN Human Rights, forced marriage is a human rights violation and a harmful practice that disproportionately affects women and girls globally. The goal of the workshop was to increase understanding about the complexity of forced marriage including the diverse drivers and the need for context specific policy and legal measures.
“Ending forced marriage requires strengthened and concerted efforts in all contexts, following a collaborative approach, as we can only make a difference together,” said Hannah Wu, UN Human Rights Section Chief of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality. “We must address this issue in partnership involving all stakeholders at community, national, regional, and global levels, in both peace and conflict situations. Above all, we need to work with girls and women.”
Support for women & girls
After her traumatic experience, Kamande said she founded the organization, Come Together Widows & Orphans Organization (CTWOO). She took on this journey to heal herself and to support other survivors of forced marriage and domestic violence. She became a champion for the rights of widows, survivors of domestic violence, and the children who were left behind. Kamande also manages a program in New York, Global Fund for Widows, an organization that advocates for girls who have experienced both forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
“As a young mother, going back to school is where I got everything I needed at that time,” she said. “I have seen so many women rise from nothing to something. I want these children to become better and greater women.”
Kamande explained that forced marriage opens the door for gender-based, domestic, and physical violence where men who marry these girls are often older and take advantage of them and may even sexually abuse them. Currently, there are 63 children in the program, the majority of whom are girls. They have been able to rescue some boys who have been through family violence as well.
Caroline Ndiangui, another workshop participant, is also a survivor of forced marriage. She visits people in villages to explain to these communities the consequences of forced marriage. Ndiangui also meets with girls, and she informs them that they do not have to get married when they are young.
Poverty levels and peer pressure from parents and religion are among the main causes of forced marriage, she said. Through this experience, she started her own initiative, Teen Mothers Arise Initiative.
“I work with teenagers who have given birth through early or unwanted pregnancies, who have been in forced marriages,” she said. “I'm inspired because I've seen the results. I've seen girls who've become big people in society.”
She emphasized her primary purpose in this field is to be an advocate for young girls. She explained that once a young girl is into forced marriage, they lose their right to education and their right to childhood.
“Being given the role of being a wife, a mother for those who end up having children, and even the role of being child widows becomes too heavy a burden for them to bear,” she said.
Ndiangui got married and pregnant at the age of 16.
“Life wasn't easy for me,” she said. “I was going through verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. Today, I look at myself and my story. It was not a good start in life. I help girls in situations of forced marriage, I help them know their rights, and realize that they can always go back to school and create a better future for themselves.”
Health care workers, police officers, and community leaders in Kenya are working with Ndiangui and her team. They're helping to try and dissolve those marriages and send girls to school.
“I wish I would have known what my rights were,” she said. “Anywhere that it [forced marriage] is happening in the world, it should stop. Girls need to be given a chance to be a child, and a chance to be a girl. Let's allow girls to grow into women before we force them to become a wife or a mother.”
* Worldwide, more than 650 million women alive today were married as children. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. This is 28 girls every minute. One in every five girls is married, or in union, before reaching age 18. In the least developed countries, that number doubles: 40 per cent of girls are married before age 18, and 12 per cent of girls are married before age 15. The practice is particularly widespread in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings (source: UNICEF).

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