People's Stories Women's Rights

A truly global effort is needed to eradicate FGM by 2030
by Divya Srinivasan
IPS, Equality Now, agencies
Feb. 2019
According to official data on the global prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) released by UNICEF there are 200 million women and girls in the world who have been cut. Shocking though this statistic is, it seriously underestimates the nature and scale of the problem.
In 2015, when the United Nations was in the process of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), civil society organizations successfully led the fight for eradication of FGM to be included in the targets and as one of the 230 global indicators used to measure progress.
Target 5.3 of the SDGs now requires all 193 countries which signed onto the SDGs to take action to end FGM and to measure prevalence of FGM within their countries.
The figure of 200 million is based on official representative data which is available for only 30 countries, 27 of which are in Africa. However, small-scale data and anecdotal evidence shows that FGM is occurring in over 30 other countries, many of which have passed laws banning the practice.
This includes at least 13 countries in Western Europe, as well as Australia, Canada, Georgia, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United States.
Thanks to growing activism from within practising communities, new information is now available that shows FGM is practised by both indigenous and immigrant communities in all continents except Antarctica.
Survivors, activists and grassroots organisations are courageously working to end FGM and have conducted small-scale research surveys to document its prevalence, provide support to affected women and girls, and advocate with legislatures, courts and local authorities to introduce and enforce legal bans.
The type of statistical information being provided is invaluable in the effort to end FGM because it pushes governments to take action and provides a baseline from which we can measure the scale and effectiveness of interventions.
However, their work is woefully underfunded and lacks sufficient international support. The United Nations, which designated 6th February as the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation in 2003, has so far failed to dedicate adequate funds to eradicate FGM at a global level, particularly in Asia, the Middle-East and the Americas.
Even the UNFPA and UNICEF Joint Programme to Accelerate the Abandonment of FGM/C only covers some of the countries traditionally acknowledged to practise FGM.
The past year has demonstrated the monumental challenges faced by anti-FGM campaigners the world over, caused partly by gaps in understanding about the nature and extent of FGM in countries where it is not historically acknowledged to occur.
For instance, in India, despite the existence of independent studies documenting FGM within the Bohra community, the Indian government has sought to deny the existence of FGM in the country because of a lack of official representative data.
In November 2018, a District Judge in the U.S. state of Michigan dismissed charges brought against two doctors and six others accused of subjecting nine girls to FGM. Judge Bernard Friedman struck down a 20-year old federal law banning FGM on the technical grounds that it was unconstitutional because the power to outlaw the practise belonged to individual states, not Congress.
It is estimated that 513,000 women and girls are at risk or have been subjected to FGM in the United States. Although Judge Friedman’s ruling currently applies only to the Eastern District of Michigan, it potentially leaves tens of thousands of women and girls unprotected and in increased danger of being cut.
Despite referring to FGM as ‘a despicable practice’, his order demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding about the discriminatory nature of FGM -which is carried out primarily to control the sexuality of women and girls – as well as the widespread nature of its occurrence within the U.S. The US Government has appealed against his ruling.
In August 2018, an appeals court in Australia overturned the country’s first FGM conviction in 2015 against a priest and mother from the Bohra community, who were found guilty of performing FGM on two young sisters.
Here again, the court ruling was not based on support for FGM but instead on the technical grounds that the type of FGM purported to be practised by the Bohra community, which involves cutting the clitoral hood, did not fall under the existing legal definition of FGM.
A request was put forward by the court asking the Government to consider expanding the law. FGM had been criminalized in the Australian state of New South Wales since 1994 and its definition has not been updated since then despite the World Health Organisation later adopting a more comprehensive definition and classification, which includes cutting of the clitoral hood.
The globalised nature of FGM requires not only a global response, but also a nuanced one that is tailored to meet the particular contours of FGM as it is practised in different countries or communities.
We need to update existing FGM laws and draft new ones to ensure that all types of FGM are covered within its ambit, as cutting of any kind violates the human rights and health of women and girls.
In line with target 5.3 of the SDGs, governments need to collect prevalence data on FGM in all countries where it is known to be practised, and report on their efforts to address the issue.
UNICEF is the organisation responsible for supporting countries in generating, analyzing and using dates for this target. This includes leading methodological work, developing international standards, and establishing mechanisms for the compilation and verification of national data, and maintaining global database.
The United Nations is failing in this commitment and needs to fund and pilot anti-FGM efforts in countries where it has not traditionally done so.
The medical community needs to intensify research efforts and publish disaggregated research and data that does not merely look at FGM generally, but analyses the health consequences for each type of FGM individually, particularly Types I and IV for which available medical research is scarce.
The fight to end FGM globally clearly stands at a turning point. There is rising backlash against the activism to eradicate FGM, and there is a threat of regression that risks losing hard-won gains.
For instance, in Kenya a petition has been filed asking the Court to declare as unconstitutional the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, which was enacted in 2011, and to abolish Kenya’s Anti-FGM Board.
However, 2018 also provided positive evidence that untiring efforts to end FGM through activism and legal bans undeniably work, with sustained efforts resulting in a “huge and significant decline” of women and girls across Africa being subjected to FGM between 1990 and 2016.
We need to learn from the fantastic work being done in Africa, adapt the strategies according to regional and cultural contexts, and implement them in every country where we know FGM is being practised.
Through the SDGs, activists and countries have made strong public commitments to ending FGM throughout the world by 2030. To achieve this goal, political commitments must now be put into action fully by accelerating and globalising efforts, collecting and circulating reliable data, and providing the proper funding needed to eradicate FGM once and for all.
* Divya Srinivasan is South Asia Consultant for the women’s rights organisation Equality Now:

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How to ensure that Women and Girls Count in Government Budgets
by Mary-Ann Stephenson
Women’s Budget Group
United Kingdom
While there has been progress on achieving gender equality over the past few decades, it should come as no surprise that women still experience structural inequality throughout their lives.
On average, women earn less than men do. In 2017, according to the World Economic Forum, women’s global average pay was $12,000; for men, it was $21,000. Not only are women on average paid less; they are more likely than men to have responsibility for unpaid work, including childcare, care for older or disabled people, domestic work, and in some countries for unpaid subsistence work.
This reduces their time available for paid work and other activities.
This means that women accumulate lower levels of wealth over their lifetimes and are more likely to be living in poverty. The reasons for this inequality vary from country to country but are most often due to workplace discrimination, expectations that women are responsible for unpaid work, and the undervaluing of work that is traditionally done by women.
The good news, however, is that this is a problem policymakers and civil society groups have the tools to address. And one possible solution comes from an unexpected place—a government’s budget.
My organization, Women’s Budget Group, has analyzed the impact of government economic policy on gender equality since 1989. We work to promote “gender responsive budgeting,” which encourages governments to analyze the impact their spending and revenue-raising decisions have on gender equality.
Since 2010, for example, UK governments have made cuts to social security payments (which have mainly hit women) totaling £37 billion a year by 2020/21, while at the same time making tax cuts (which mainly benefit men) that will cost £44 billion a year.
When a government practices gender responsive budgeting, they take into consideration not only what is called the “paid economy” (income, assets, pay, and employment opportunities), but also unpaid work, such as care and domestic work. They also look at other inequalities, such as violence against women and girls, or levels of participation in decisionmaking.
Gender responsive budgeting assesses how budgets meet the needs of different groups of women and men, depending on their income, ethnicity, age, or place of residence.
Among its other benefits, this approach can also show how money spent on services now can help governments save money in the future. Lancaster University Professor Sylvia Walby, for example, found that domestic violence cost the UK government £15,730 million per year in public services, economic losses, and social-emotional tolls.
Despite its many benefits, however, gender responsive budgeting isn’t as well-practiced as it should be. Our new casebook, Women Count, explores what gender responsive budgeting can accomplish across a range of policy areas (tax, social security, public services).
It also demonstrates how best to explain gender responsive budgeting to local, regional, and national governments, as well as the media and civil society groups.
Gender responsive budgeting is not only a tool for policy assessment but also a way of improving policy outcomes. And its implications can be larger than they first seem. The policy areas where gender roles and gender norms affect women differently from men include:
Public services: Globally, women are more likely than men to have social responsibility for unpaid work such as childcare, care for older or disabled people, domestic work, and unpaid subsistence work. Because shouldering these gendered responsibilities reduces women’s ability to do paid work, public services—like early childhood education—can reduce unpaid work and have a major effect on women’s opportunities and employment.
It also means that when public services are cut, it is more likely to be women who fill the gap (often by giving up employment or other opportunities to make money).
Following the 2008 financial crisis, for example, the proportion of women who said that a lack of care services meant that they could not work, or could only work part-time, increased across Europe. In Bulgaria, nearly a third of women (31.3 percent) said that the lack of care services made it harder for them to find paid work.
Women’s lower incomes and wealth relative to men mean that they particularly benefit from having good provisions of public services. It also means that they are less likely to be able to afford private provision when public services are cut.
Income distribution: Because income may not be shared equally within households [PDF], women and girls may not benefit as much as men when household income rises. This means that policies that concentrate on improving household incomes, period, may not benefit women as much as those that specifically target women’s incomes.
Studies have consistently shown that when women do not have an independent income, they are more vulnerable to financial abuse. In the United Kingdom, for example, campaigners have highlighted how payment of Universal Credit (a cash transfer to low-paid workers and the unemployed) into a single bank account may leave women with no money, making it harder for them to leave unhealthy relationships.
Violence against women: We know that violence and abuse of women and girls continues to be widespread and underreported, and we know that domestic violence and abuse often includes financial abuse. Funding for specialist services for women who have experienced violence is therefore vital to promoting gender equality.
On the other hand, cuts to such services can leave women without the help they need to overcome trauma. For those currently experiencing violence, loss of services such as refuges or shelters can be life-threatening. This isn’t a hypothetical problem, either; because of a lack of refuge space, women’s refuges in the United Kingdom have, on a typical day, rejected an average of 94 women and 90 children who are trying to escape domestic violence.
Although governments around the world have made commitments to promoting gender equality through international agreements and treaties, these commitments all too frequently exist only on paper. The fact that women continue to be underrepresented in public life, meanwhile, is surely part of the reason government policies often don’t take women’s needs and priorities into account.
Gender responsive budgeting is one way to think about fixing these serious, longstanding, and inexcusable inequalities. We hope that our casebook can help leaders in government and civil society take the first step toward finding a real solution.

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