Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation: action in Asia is needed

February 6, 2014

On the fourth official International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the practice is far from being eradicated. While the numbers of mutilated girls are decreasing in Africa after decades of concerted efforts, large regions where FGM is practised are entirely neglected in this worldwide battle. This is particularly true for Asia. The practice is widespread in Indonesia and Malaysia; it exists in Iran, Iraq, and Jordan. In several countries of the Arabian peninsula, FGM is practised by significant parts of the population.

These countries need to make an effort to fight FGM among their population. We also call upon Indonesia and Malaysia, where the practice is legally carried out in hospitals, to ban FGM and initiate a strong campaign against it. In some Arab countries and Iran the practice is not legal in hospitals, yet governments shy away from tackling the issue. As a first step reliable studies must be conducted and a campaign initiated. In some countries authorities must stop censuring voices that talk about FGM.

WADI and Hivos take out of Africa approach

Currently, the United Nations and the World Health Organization estimate that 140 million girls and women have undergone an FGM procedure. Yet, data is mainly collected in Africa, as last year’s UNICEF report on FGM worldwide showed. Activists need such data to support their demands; governments won’t act without it. It was even more disappointing to find that many countries had been forgotten in the UN report.

Enough evidence exists which proves that FGM is not only an ‘African problem’, but also widespread in various parts of Asia and the Middle East, such as Iraq and Yemen, which are on the UN’s FGM-map, but also in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Thailand, Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and others. It stands to reason that the number of FGM victims worldwide would double if all these countries were also included.

WADI and Hivos have taken it upon themselves to put the existence of FGM in these forgotten countries on the agenda and founded the initiative “Stop FGM Middle East” at the beginning of 2013. A first field trip to Oman and a pilot-study were conducted. A prevalence of 80 percent in the capital of Oman – the most advanced and liberal part of the country – was found. This supports the thesis that FGM is indeed practised much more in these countries than the often-used phrase “practised in Africa and pockets in the Middle East” implies.

The “Stop FGM Middle East” initiative has already yielded encouraging results. This year, people in Oman will be asked for the first time about FGM in the UN-designed Multi-Cluster Surveys.

In a next step, WADI and Hivos will hold a conference on FGM in the Middle East and Asia in May this year in Istanbul.