Message of the Regional Director, Dr Luis G. Sambo on the occasion of International Day on Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation, 6 February 2005


Throughout human history, women have been victims of traditionally condoned forms of violence worldwide. In Africa, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has long survived in the name of tradition. This silent tragedy, which has been re-enacted for thousands of years, has been able to perpetuate itself through ignorance, superstition, misconceptions, the traditionally low status assigned to women in African societies and the extraordinary capacity of African women to suffer in silence. In modern days such a practice cannot and should not be tolerated.

The International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM was adopted at the International Conference on Zero Tolerance to FGM in Addis Ababa in February 2003 organised by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices affecting the health of Women and Children (IAC). The International Conference gathered high level Government officials from African countries, as well as those from the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa, African first ladies, high-level representatives from UN agencies (WHO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP), the World Bank and NGOs, international donors, representatives of the International Parliamentary Union, delegates from the IAC's 27 National Committees, African religious leaders, Youth groups and Women's groups, who all agreed to put their collective effort in the fight against FGM. A Common Agenda for Action was developed to enable all those involved in the struggle against the practice to intensify the campaign against FGM in a more strategic and coordinated manner.

Today, as we are celebrating its 2nd anniversary, in the African Region, many countries have increased their political and legislative policies regarding FGM elimination. Civil society and development partners have been highly involved in advocacy and legal reform. Several best practice initiatives have been undertaken, and health professionals have been sensitized on FGM prevention and care.

In the global effort to abandon FGM, a joint statement was signed by WHO, UNICEF, UNFPA and IAC. Each organization was assigned roles and responsibilities, such as assessment, harmonisation and dissemination of training material (WHO); definition and dissemination of indicators (UNICEF); development of generic tool for research (UNFPA); and, mobilisation of resources (IAC).

These positive developments confirm the increasing recognition of the problem of harmful traditional practices by different sectors of society and the commitment toward FGM abandonment. Continuous efforts need to be maintained and more resources mobilized to intensify the campaign for zero tolerance in a strategic coordinated manner. The commitment and full involvement of governments are indispensable in this endeavour. I appeal to all of you to recognise that FGM is a violation of the rights of the girl-child and the woman. To achieve the objective of "Zero Tolerance-to-FGM", we need to combine forces so that our girls and women can attain a high standard of health and well-being.