U.N. Calls for Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation


The United Nations has designated Friday a worldwide day of zero tolerance on FGM, and called for concrete action to be taken against the cutting of girls and women. This follows 12 months of historic change and growing awareness of the practice.

The Guardian launched its campaign to end FGM a year ago, joining with activists, media organisations and committed politicians to shape laws, influence policy and transform social attitudes.

In the UK it worked with Bristol student Fahma Mohamed and her colleagues at Integrate Bristol to get information about FGM into schools, gathering the support of more than 230,000 people on her Change.org petition.

Inspired by Mohamed’s petition, Atlanta resident Jaha Dukureh took up the baton in the US, lobbying the government to carry out the first prevalence study into FGM for 17 years and set up a working group to tackle the practice on American soil.

In her home country of the Gambia, Dukureh held the first youth summit to fight FGM, while also confronting her father about the practice, and meeting the woman who cut her.

In Kenya, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon gave his backing to a joint Guardian-UNFPA project that will give reporting grants to African journalists to increase the coverage of FGM and its dangers across the continent.

There was much to celebrate, thanks to tireless campaigning by local and international activists. In London, global dignitaries gathered at the Girl Summit, hosted by prime minister David Cameron, and countries pledged to tackle the issue head on. There have been setbacks too: questions were raised when a doctor was found not guilty of performing FGM in a London hospital in the first UK prosecution, and the movement lost a lifelong campaigner with the death of Efua Dorkenoo. With 130m women and girls thought to be living with FGM across the world, and prevalence rates still high in many of the 29 countries in Africa and the middle east where FGM is still carried out, campaigners still have much work to do.

February 2014: International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. Working with Bristol student Fahma Mohamed, the Guardian launches a campaign which calls for FGM to be addressed in schools. Within days, Mohamed’s petition on Change.org gathers 230,000 signatures. The then education secretary Michael Gove quickly agrees to a meeting, and subsequently writes to all teachers in England and Wales about FGM. The campaign is given a further boost when it is backed by Pakistani schoolgirl and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai, and Mohamed is invited to meet UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who calls her an inspiration.

May: A US petition begun by mother-of-three Jaha Dukureh is relaunched with the help of the Guardian. Thousands begin signing the petition and more than 50 members of congress support the campaign, which calls on the Obama administration to carry out an FGM prevalence study – the first for 17 years.

July: UK David Cameron hosts the first Girl Summit in London to tackle FGM and early forced marriage. Jaha Dukureh and Fahma Mohamed are joined by dignitaries from around the world to hear the prime minister announce that the government will legally oblige doctors, social workers and teachers to report FGMif they become aware of it, while parents would be criminalised if they failed to protect their children from the practice.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Obama administration announces it will carry out a study to establish how many women are living with the consequences of FGM and how many girls are at risk. This has been a central demand of Jaha Dukureh’s campaign.

October: The UN backs a major new push in the Guardian’s global media campaign, as the UNFPA and Guardian co-fund five international FGM reporting grants and a reporting award that will be given annually to an African reporter who has demonstrated innovation and commitment in covering the subject. Jaha Dukureh holds the first youth summit on FGM in the Gambia, where hundreds of young people pledge to join the fight.

January 2015: A doctor becomes the first person in Egypt to be convicted of FGM, seven years after the procedure was criminalised in the country. Jaha Dukureh goes on a tour of the Gambia spreading the anti-FGM message.

February: Questions are raised about the decision to prosecute a doctor at the Whittington hospital in London after he is found not guilty of performing FGM by suturing a patient to stop her bleeding after childbirth. There has still been no successful prosecution in England and Wales since the practice was outlawed 29 years ago. Meanwhile, draft figures from the Centers for Disease Control reveal that more than half a million women in the US are estimated to be suffering as a result of FGM, more than three times more than previously thought.

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