“It’s a human rights violation plain and simple,” Secretary Hilary Clinton said during her remarks at the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation event at the Department of State this afternoon. The statement is spot on. As Clinton addressed, often times people categorize things that happen to women as “women’s problems,” “private matters,” or “not of America’s concern.” However, there are broader implications. The discussion got me wondering. If an individual male or female does not have the right to not have their government or religious officials describe the fate of their genitalia, something so intimately connected to the person, then what do we really have control of? This is forced slavery of the body as well as the mind. For so many people believe this is a cultural norm, and “just the way it is in Africa.” Clinton did a remarkable job of pointing out how this is not just an African problem. Correspondence was read from the middle east that pleaded, “please don’t forget about us in the middle east!” The subordination of women occurs in many different forms all over the world. FGM is one of them that effects more women than we think. A victim of FGM in attendance asserted that an estimated 3 million girls in Kenya alone are at risk of becoming victims of FGM. That alone is astounding. We need to educate the world that this is a world-wide issue that needs more than speaking out. Dialogue, conversations, and education were key themes of the event. Conversations among couples through pre-marital and marital counseling, dialogue with insiders as well as outsiders, and educating men and religious leaders how there is in fact no religious basis in the Qran or elsewhere for FGM are all examples cited to advance the end of FGM. So far, tactics such as these have been successful in 5,002 villages in Senegal abandoning the practice of FGM. Men, women, religious leaders, and the community as a whole are necessary to effectively advocate for the end of FGM.
There were various implications such as the term cutting (preserving the girl’s virginity for marriage) vs. mutilation(this does in fact harm the girls) debate, the religious context, and the reality of the fact young girls are being sent from America to have this procedure done abroad. One of the discussion points that really resonated with me was the declaration FGM as a human rights issue as panelist. International law may be the best platform to see any hope in obtaining across the board ending to FGM. There’s something about those buzz words “human rights” that seem to bring folks to attention. By making this a human rights issue as opposed to “not our problem” maybe we can begin to actually hold people accountable. While this has even broader implications in that it could damage our relations as States with one another, but at some point more accountability must be had at the loss of the very basic right in being in control of one’s own personhood that these victims are enduring.