De-linking Female Genital Mutilation From Religion

Kenyan teenage Maasai girls attend an alternative right of passage at Kilgoris, Trans Mara district, 220 kilometres north-wes
Kenyan teenage Maasai girls attend an alternative right of passage at Kilgoris, Trans Mara district, 220 kilometres north-west of the capital Nairobi, on April 19, 2008 at a ceremony organised by an anti-female genital mutilation, (FGM) campaign, Cherish Others Organisation. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 100 and 132 million girls and women around the world have been subjected to the 'cut' and despite having been outlawed FGM is still regarded as a crucial tradition in some Kenyan communities regardless of its negative physical and psychological health repercussions. AFP PHOTO/TONY KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Female genital mutilation has long survived, hidden under the cloak of religious, cultural, and tribal practices, but this week, as we commemorate the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), it is time for every leader whether political or religious, whether male or female, to unequivocally stand in opposition to FGM. We can no longer allow the ignorance surrounding women's rights and FGM to be perpetuated by traditions and rituals disguised as religious teachings.

As the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's (OIC) Ambassador to the United Nations, I personally find it important to combat any notion that FGM is in the true nature of Islam. OIC Secretary General Professor Ihsanoglu recently stated that FGM "is a ritual that has survived over centuries and must be stopped as Islam does not support it." Yet, despite statements from political and religious leaders and studies such as the Frontiers Program report put out by USAID de-linking FGM from Islam, the practice continues at an alarming rate. This can be explained by the fact that the practice takes its roots primarily in tribal culture, not religion; though some misguided local religious scholars might contest otherwise.

Thus, elders and midwives will have to be the target of messaging and direct dialogue. As was reported by Catherine Hornby from the recent international meeting held in Rome under the title of "Worldwide Ban on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)," it is encouraging that the participants of the meeting underlined the need for laws to be accompanied by education and discussion in traditional communities to help dispel misleading myths.

It is similarly encouraging that the news on the Rome meeting were accompanied by another report from Cairo that the Egypt's High Constitutional Court rejected a legal challenge and upheld the ban on FGM.

UNICEF reports that nearly three million girls in parts of Africa could be at risk of FGM each year. FGM is practiced mainly in 28 African countries and in other parts of the world particularly among immigrant communities related to these countries. GlobalPost senior correspondent Erin Cunningham reported that the "practice crosses religious lines and is also carried out in Christian communities." Even girls and women in the United States with cultural connections to the countries where FGM is practiced face the risk of FGM. They are sent abroad to their countries of descent to have the procedure done. In a major development, in December 2012, a new U.S. federal law strengthening the 1996 one was enacted making it illegal to intentionally take a girl out of the U.S. for the purpose of undergoing FGM procedure elsewhere.

It is essential that we all stand in support of this law and all other efforts to end FGM around the world including efforts to be based on the recent UN General Assembly resolution adopted by consensus of 193 UN member states, on December 20, 2012, calling for a global ban of FGM.

From Muslim women activists who agree that FGM is incompatible with Islam to global or local religious leaders who are making a stand against this horrific act, we must not only support their message but also put power behind these statements. FGM is a violation of human rights and women's rights, and we must do everything within our power to end its pervasive hold on the well being of women which has globally affected the lives and health of more than 100 million women to-date.

The center on the development of women to be established within the OIC system in Cairo will hopefully play a significant advocacy role in this regard.