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UK’s 85% family planning aid cut will be devastating for women and girls: UNFPA

“When funding stops, women and girls suffer”, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, said in a statement, “especially the poor, those living in remote, underserved communities and through humanitarian crises.”  

Dr. Kanem added that the UNFPA deeply regrets the UK’s decision to step away from its commitments at a time when inequalities are deepening, and international solidarity is needed more than ever. 

Impact of the cuts 

The withdrawal of approximately $180 million to the UNFPA Supplies Partnership, would have helped prevent around 250,000 maternal and child deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions, she added.  

Whilst acknowledging the challenging situation facing many donor governments, Dr. Kanem said the UNFPA deeply regrets the UK’s decision to step away from its commitments at a time when inequalities are deepening and international solidarity is needed more than ever.  

154 million GBP ($211 million) had been the expected contribution from the UK for 2021. This will now be reduced to around 23 million GBP ($32 million), a retreat from agreed commitments made to the programme in 2020.  

In addition, 12 million GBP ($17 million) is to be cut from UNFPA’s core operating funds. Several country-level agreements are also likely to be impacted. 

Delivering on rights to modern contraceptives  

Dr. Kanem stated that the UNFPA remained dedicated to its mandate and is currently assessing the full scope and impact of the cuts, whilst actively formulating mitigation strategies.  

Reiterating the rights of women and girls to modern contraceptives, Dr. Kanem called on all the agency’s partners and allies to come together and secure the viability of UNFPA Supplies and of all its programmes.  

In this Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the unfinished business of the International Conference on Population and Development programme, to deliver on the promises made to women and girls must be finished.  

They are counting on us, Dr. Kanem said. 

More uniformed women in peace operations, ‘key priority’

“It is one of our commitments to implement the Women, Peace and Security agenda under the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping Initiative (A4P) and will remain a priority” during the next phase of A4P and A4P+, said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations (DPO).

He was speaking at the launch of the UN Elsie Initiative Fund, where it was announced that Liberia, Mexico, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone will receive financial support to increase the participation of women military personnel and police in peace operations.

“Women can fill any position in peacekeeping as well or better than men”, he said.

One way of promoting participation is by recognizing their contributions in different roles and positions throughout UN missions, including steering the public discussion away from so-called “women’s added value”, which he said “often silently places a burden of justification on women”.

Diverse teams

To improve the way UN missions operate, Mr. Lacroix underscored the importance of diverse teams in which both women and men can “contribute their skills, experiences and perspectives to the fullest”.

“When our operations reflect the diversity of the communities we serve, we are more successful at building trust with them and at understanding the different security needs of the men, women, boys and girls that are part of these communities”, he explained.

Moreover, he argued that it is critical in protecting civilians and implementing peacekeeping’s mandate overall.

Meeting targets

Since the launch of the Uniformed Gender Parity Strategy in 2018, DPO has made good progress in meeting its targets, according to the peacekeeping chief.

He said that from 2018 to 2021, the number of women Staff Officers and Military Observers had increased from 12.3 to 17.8 per cent; the number of women Individual Police Officers from 22.3 to 30.4 per cent; and women in Formed Police Units went from 9 to 14.8 per cent.

And a newly introduced requirement that all Infantry Units deploy with Engagement Platoons, a minimum of 50 per cent women, should also improve that situation.

Transformation needed

But increasing the number of women deployed is not enough, underscored Mr. Lacroix, saying: “We need to transform our institutions to ensure that women can participate and contribute fully as part of our peace operations”.

He lauded the Elsie Initiative as “an essential partner” in providing support and resources to achieve this goal, both to Troop and Police Contributing Countries and UN-led initiatives.

In the framework of the Elsie Initiative Project for Field Missions’ Facilities and Infrastructures, he gave the example of DPO’s work with the Department of Operational Support (DOS) on a “200-person conceptual camp design that incorporates design improvements for women in our missions”.

Maintaining ‘fragile gains’

Yet, despite good progress, the peacekeeping chief said that more must be done to “maintain these fragile gains” and continue supporting women’s meaningful participation in peace operations.

In partnership with Troop and Police Contributing Countries and other Member States, he stressed that everyone must “work even harder on this shared commitment”.

Full partnership ‘essential’

Meanwhile, Executive Director of UN Women and Fund Co-Chair Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka upheld that accelerating women’s full and equal participation in security institutions is “essential to ensuring they are representative, responsive and accountable to all”.

Outlining that it would take 30 years to reach gender parity for military troops; 12 for formed police units; eight for individual police officers and seven for military observers and staff officers, she spelled out: “Women cannot afford to wait this long”.

“Institutional transformation is only possible when it is driven by leaders who create an enabling environment for women and who commit firmly to zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual exploitation and abuse, and an end to impunity for perpetrators” she said.

UN Photo/Hervé Serefio
Zambian women peacekeepers patrol in northeastern Central African Republic (file)

 

‘Careers have no gender’, connect girls to tech, for a brighter future UN urges 

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data, there is a 17 per cent gender gap in Internet use globally, which is even wider in least developed countries.  

In some regions, this gender gap is growing, reinforcing gender inequalities by denying women and girls opportunities to access education, find better-paid jobs, and start new businesses. 

“Making these technologies available to all is an essential part of building back stronger communities and economies, and addressing many of the world’s most pressing challenges”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his statement commemorating the day. 

Signalling that Girls in ICT Day aims to inspire a global movement that increases the representation of girls and women in technology, he urged everyone to “recommit to the goal of equal access for young women and girls to opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math”.   

Celebrating a decade 

While girls across the world tend to outperform boys in reading and writing skills, they continue to be under-represented amongst top performers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  

To celebrate the 10th anniversary milestone of the day, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao threw his support behind The 10 moments of girls in ICT initiative, a year-long commitment to the next generation of young women in technology.  

As an international gender champion, he pledged to help countries raise awareness and promote the active participation of girls and young women in ICT-related careers. 

“It will be key to fulfilling the demand of future jobs on an equal basis”, he said. 

The ITU chief also committed to reinforce nations’ abilities to collect and disseminate gender and age disaggregated data on access and use of ICT and data skills, calling it “an important step towards informing, monitoring and tracking our global progress towards gender equality”. 

With more support towards education and skills training, ITU hopes to encourage more girls and young women to actively pursue careers in STEM to bridge the gender digital divide. 

Shaping the future 

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said that every girl has a right to be connected and play her part in “shaping a more equal, green and tech-driven future”.  

“This is the world we are building together through Generation Equality, and specifically, through our collective work on the Technology and Innovation blueprint, which proposes goals to bring about a more equal and diverse digital transformation”, she said in a statement. 

For every girl, the goal must be meaningful connectivity – including broadband that is reliable, fast and regularly available – along with access to digital technologies and universal digital literacy, according to Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

“Today, and every day, we recognize that digital power must be in the hands of girls”, she spelled out. “We have a unique window and momentum now to secure bold commitments that will ensure girls are connected and empowered to create the brighter futures the world needs”. 

Careers have no gender 

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that girls’ education is “one of the most powerful investments we can make for our collective future”. 

The UN agency also underlined the importance of mobile applications, female leadership and female entrepreneurship for sustainable development, tweeting: “Careers. Have. No. Gender”.

Prevention is ‘only cure’ to end sexual violence in conflict, Security Council hears

“We meet at a moment when this crime, which should have been consigned to a closed chapter of history, is once again in the headlines”, said Pramila Patten, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, affirming that now was the time to “take stock of both the persistent and entrenched, as well as new and emerging, challenges…to eradicate the scourge”.

‘Chasm between resolutions and reality’ 

The UN envoy highlighted the Tigray region of Ethiopia where women and girls are being subjected to sexual violence “with a level of cruelty beyond comprehension”, including gang-rape and other atrocities.  

And while the Council has adopted ground-breaking resolutions to combat sexual violence in the past, she wondered how the 15-member body was helping protect women on the ground in Tigray today. 

Citing over 2,500 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 18 countries last year alone, Ms. Patten said there was a “chasm between resolutions and reality”.  

“When history looks back on this painful episode – as part of the long litany of battles fought on the bodies of women and girls, from Bosnia, to Rwanda, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere – we will rightly be asked what we did to honour our commitments”, she said.  

Protection ‘more urgent than ever’ 

The Special Representative also drew attention to the chronic underreporting of wartime sexual violence, due to “stigma, insecurity, fear of reprisals, and lack of services”, all of which have been compounded by COVID-19 containment measures.  

“Proactive measures…for survivors to safely come forward and seek redress have become more urgent than ever”, she stressed. 

While some survivors have broken their silence, many fear shame, isolation and rejection. 

Ms. Patten shared real-life stories of survivors, including a mother and daughter who fled a rebel attack on their village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), only to be raped by government soldiers arriving to fight the rebels; and survivors of ISIL captivity who, due to a lack of social acceptance, were forced to abandon their children, born out of rape. 

“Each of these cases cries out for justice”, she underscored. 

COVID concerns 

At a time when the Secretary-General has called for a global ceasefire to combat the pushback on women’s rights and shrinking civic space, COVID-19 has given rise to new gender-based protection concerns, the Special Representative said. 

Marginalized women tend to be left further and further behind in times of crisis and social stress — UN  Special Representative

Despite the UN system and others having pivoted to online support – such as hotlines and remote case management, for those hardest hit by the overlapping crises of conflict, displacement and COVID-19 – women on the wrong side of the digital divide, remain difficult to reach. 

“Marginalized women tend to be left further and further behind in times of crisis and social stress”, she told the Council. 

Historical ‘turning point’ 

Building back from the pandemic requires an “inclusive, intersectional and gender-informed approach”, Ms. Patten said, spelling out: “this is not just a point in time; it is a turning point in history”.  

She upheld that it “demands a paradigm shift” to silence the guns, amplify women’s voices, invest in public welfare, ensure women’s and survivors’ representation, reduce military expenditure and foster human security and resilience to social and economic shocks.  

“The only cure for these overlapping ills is an injection of political resolve and resources equal to the scale of the challenge. It is not the time to return to the status quo, but rather to dig deeper and tackle the root causes of this problem as never before”, the UN official said. 

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Justice and healing 

Beatrix Attinger Colijn, Senior Women Protection Adviser of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), spoke about limited access to justice for victims, including social obstacles to reporting violence and a lack of service infrastructure in rural areas. 

And humanitarian access to many regions has become “from risky to impossible”, due to numerous thefts of vehicles and bridges being deliberately destroyed.

Ms. Colijn also underlined the importance of restoring the dignity and confidence of victims to regain control of their own lives. 

Civil society voices 

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Denis Mukwege, said humanity should feel a collective sense of shame, for doing so little to draw a “red line” against those who commit “odious” crimes of sexual violence.   

And while some progress has been made in international law surrounding sexual violence in war, abuses remain far too frequent and responses dramatically under-funded.  

Meanwhile, Caroline Atim, Director of South Sudan Women with Disabilities Network, highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence as a tool of subjugation and control, including for victims who are forced to marry their abusers. 

She also spoke of the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women with disabilities and the importance of “non-discriminatory” services for victims, including psychological services.

Hundreds of millions of women living lives ‘governed by others’, UN report shows

According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)’s State of World Population report, the lack of bodily autonomy may have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, placing record numbers of women and girls at risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices such as early marriage.

“The fact that nearly half of women still cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have sex, use contraception or seek healthcare, should outrage us all”, Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, said in a news release announcing the findings.

“In essence, hundreds of millions of women and girls do not own their own bodies. Their lives are governed by others”, she added, noting that the denial of bodily autonomy is a violation of women and girls’ fundamental human rights. It also reinforces inequalities and perpetuates violence arising from gender discrimination.

“It is nothing less than an annihilation of the spirit, and it must stop”.

The report also noted that a woman’s power to control her own body is linked to how much control she has in other spheres of her life, with higher autonomy associated with advances in health and education, income and safety.

Alarming findings

Amongst its findings, the report documented several ways through which bodily autonomy of not only women and girls, but also men and boys, is violated, with factors such as disability worsening the situation. 

For instance, girls and boys with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to be subjected to sexual violence, with girls at the greatest risk, the report said.

It also noted that punitive legal environments, combined with stigma, discrimination and high levels of violence, placed gay men and other men who have sex with men, at high risk of HIV infection because they are driven underground out of fear of prosecution or other negative consequences. 

As a result, they do not receive appropriate health education, and are reluctant to seek healthcare services, testing and treatment.

The report added that some 20 countries or territories have so-called “marry-your-rapist” laws, where a man can escape criminal prosecution if he marries the woman or girl he has raped, while 43 countries do not have legislation addressing the issue of marital rape.

The report also outlined how efforts to address abuses can lead to further violations of bodily autonomy. For example, to prosecute a case of rape, a criminal justice system might require a survivor to undergo an invasive so-called virginity test.

‘Men must become allies’

The report highlighted that addressing the appalling situation “requires much more than a disconnected series of projects or services”, stressing that real, sustained progress largely depends on uprooting gender inequality and all forms of discrimination, and transforming the social and economic structures that maintain them.

“In this, men must become allies. Many more must commit to stepping away from patterns of privilege and dominance that profoundly undercut bodily autonomy, and move towards ways of living that are more fair and harmonious, benefiting us all”, Dr. Kanem said, urging everyone to challenge discrimination “wherever and whenever it is encountered.”

Libya violated rights of ‘targeted’ woman activist, says anti-discrimination committee

Magdulein Abaida fled Libya in 2012 after being harassed, tortured and forced to close down her women’s rights organisation, Hakki, or “My Right”.

“She was targeted and threatened because of her activism for women’s rights. But the Libyan government failed to investigate, prosecute, punish and provide reparations for the torture and harassment inflicted on her,” Nahla Haidar, a member of CEDAW.

Interrogated over alleged Israel links

The Libyan human rights activist was taking part in a workshop on women’s rights in the city of Benghazi on 9 August 2012 when she was forced to leave by several armed men.

Later that day, she was arrested and taken from her hotel room by an Islamist militia group, the Martyrs of 17 February Brigade.

Over the next five days the 25-year old was detained at different compounds run by the government and by the Martyrs of 17 February Brigade. The organisation at that time were receiving money from Libya’s Defence Ministry to carry out law enforcement functions in southern and eastern Libya.

During this time Ms. Abaida was subjected to harassment, insults and physical beatings. She was also hit with a gun by a militia who threatened to kill her.

Ms. Abaida was interrogated about her alleged links with Israel based on her translation work for an Israeli journalist, who was making a documentary about women’s rights in Libya. She was also brought before the Deputy Interior Minister who complained about the “noise” she had created in the media. 

Complaints filed

On 14 August, Ms. Abaida was released and returned to Tripoli, the country’s capital.

But hate mail and death threats from the public, forced her to give up her NGO work promoting women’s rights and in September 2012, she fled to the United Kingdom, where she was granted asylum. 

She filed her complaint to the Committee in 2017.

“We invited Libya to respond to the complaint on four occasions from 2018 to 2020, and we regret that the State party did not respond to our requests”, Haidar said.

This is the first case in which the Committee found a violation by a country from the Middle East and North Africa region of the rights of a human rights defender.

Make reparations

The Committee requested that Libya ensure accountability and provide reparations for Ms. Abaida.

It also issued wide-ranging general recommendations to Libya to address gender-based violence against women committed by public officials and non-State actors.

According to CEDAW, gender-based violence against women includes direct actions taken by or on behalf of states parties, as well as the failure of a government to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women.

Gender equality, the ‘unfinished human rights struggle of this century’: UN chief

Although acknowledging significant victories achieved over recent decades, the UN chief stressed progress has been slow.  Meanwhile, regressive laws have resurfaced, violence targeting women and girls has increased, and the “seismic shocks” of the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated many gains.  

“It is time to regroup and re-energize our quest to create a more equal, more just, more sustainable world in which all people can realize their human rights without discrimination and without fear”, said Mr. Guterres, speaking in Spanish. 

Generating change 

The Generation Equality Forum brings together governments, international organizations, the private sector and young people, in efforts to advance global commitments on gender equality.  Elvira Pablo of the Generation Equality Youth Task Force put it bluntly:  “We youth are tired of hearing words and commitments without immediate action. This is the time to act .”

The forum was convened by the UN’s gender entity, UN Women, and is co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France.  The initial three-day meeting is now underway in the Mexican capital, and the culmination will take place in Paris in June. 

“By the time we get to Paris in June, we want to see bold commitments and investments on the table, and a strong multi-stakeholder movement for gender equality”, the Secretary-General said. “The realization of the equal rights of half our population is the unfinished human rights struggle of this century. “ 

For Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the UN Women Executive Director, the forum represents a chance to effect real change in the world. 

“We want to look to the future beyond the crisis, rather than doubling down on the mistakes of the past”, she said.  “We want an opportunity to build a new, feminist economic model that works for women, and a world that is safe for women. Such economic models prioritize both care for people, and care for our planet.” 

Make way for youth 

The UN Secretary-General outlined five areas for action as countries recover from the pandemic, starting with protecting women’s equal rights and repealing discriminatory laws. 

He called for special measures and quotas to ensure equal representation, and highlighted the need for equal pay as well as job protection and social protection policies. 

Mr. Guterres urged governments to immediately enact emergency response plans to address the rise in violence against women and girls that has emerged alongside the pandemic, while his final point underscored hope for the future. 

 “Give space to the intergenerational transition that is underway and to the young people who are advocating for a more just and equal world”, he said. 

 UN commission pushes equality for women in decision-making

The 65th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) ended its two-week long gathering on Friday by adopting a document that recognizes the need to significantly accelerate the pace in ensuring women a place in government and public sector leadership. 

The so-called Agreed Conclusions acknowledge that temporary special measures, such as quotas, and increased political will are needed as an enabling pathway to this goal. 

“This is the first session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 15 years to engage with the issue of women’s participation in public life and these Agreed Conclusions make important advances”, said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women, which serves as the CSW Secretariat. 

Outcome document 

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic,  the Agreed Conclusions affirm that the crisis is deepening the pre-existing inequalities that perpetuate multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

However, recent data show that women have been mostly absent from COVID-19 government task forces around the world – making up only 24 per cent of the 225 task force members examined across 137 countries. 

As such, the document recommends concrete actions to remedy the situation, such as changing laws that hinder women’s equal participation in public life; setting timelines for gender balance in government through measures such as quotas or appointments; and encouraging the nomination of as many women candidates as men. 

Moreover, it pushes for measures to eliminate, prevent and respond to all forms of violence against women and girls in public and private spaces.  

The Agreed Conclusions also calls for an end to the impunity of perpetrators and assistance for victims and survivors – for instance through psychosocial support, affordable housing and employment. 

“The women of the world have made it very clear that the past and the status quo have not met their need for gender equality”, said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka. 

Driving action further 

Meanwhile the countdown begins for the Generation Equality Forum in Mexico on Monday.  

Convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France, in conjunction with youth and civil society, the forum aims to drive major action and commitments for gender. 

With civil society at its core, it will reinforce the power and voice of feminist movements and youth, while highlighting the commitment and action of UN Member States, the private sector and international organizations, among others, in the drive to achieve gender equality. 

Motherhood on the brink in Yemen

“It was the morning of a normal working day before fighting escalated close to the hospital. I heard a mother screaming at the gate”, midwife Shrook Khalid Saeed told UNFPA, at the Al Shaab Hospital in the district of Crater, in Yemen.

By the time she arrived at the entrance to the hospital, hostilities in the area had flared and a gunfight had broken out. “Bullets were coming from all the corners of the street”, she recounted. “When I arrived at the gate, I found the pregnant woman lying down and crying for help. I pulled her and rushed her inside a car. That is where all of it happened. In a few minutes, she had delivered a healthy baby boy.”

Childbirth can be harrowing in even the best of times but the cascade of humanitarian crises in Yemen have made the journey to motherhood more dangerous than ever. The country’s long-running conflict has depleted the health system. Currently only half of all health facilities are functioning.

The pandemic has only aggravated the situation, with roughly 15 per cent of the health system shifted to deal with COVID-19 cases. Only 20 per cent of functioning health facilities are providing maternal and child health services. 

Today, a woman in Yemen dies during childbirth every two hours, almost always from preventable causes. And now, the threat of famine looms.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem, during her recent three-day visit to the country.

© UNFPA Yemen
The UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem (left) talks to a patient at the Al Shaab Hospital in Crater, in Yemen.

In place of joy, fear looms

Pregnant and breastfeeding women are especially vulnerable during times of food insecurity. Currently 1.2 million pregnant and breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished, and these numbers could double if humanitarian funding does not materialize.

“When I came to receive antenatal care at Al Shaab Hospital, I was very weak and pale. I could not stand straight”, 33-year-old Hafsa told UNFPA during Dr. Kanem’s visit. “My nutritional status was very poor. I was given medicines to supplement my diet, and I was advised to eat meat, vegetables and fruits.”

But good nutrition was beyond reach due to her family’s low income. When she delivered her daughter months later, the girl weighed only 1.8 kg. “The baby stayed in the hospital for a couple of days as I did not have enough breast milk to feed her”, Hafsa said.

Malnutrition puts both women in childbirth and newborn babies at serious risk.

“I’ve been in many maternity wards, and they are usually a place of joy. But in Yemen, I witnessed the devastation of malnutrition and hunger, with newborn babies on feeding tubes and mothers weakened by fear and exhaustion,” Dr. Kanem noted. “It is heartbreaking to see fellow members of the human family in such dire conditions.”

Violence at home

Women’s and girls’ vulnerability to violence has greatly escalated under the country’s crisis.

During Dr. Kanem’s visit, she spoke to women at a UNFPA-supported shelter.

One young girl, Alea*, told Dr. Kanem about being married off at age 13. Child marriage is increasingly being used as a coping mechanism by impoverished families. 

“When I told my father, I do not want to get married, my father and grandmother beat me with a water pipe. They said by getting married I will have a better life”, Alea said. “My life only got worse. My husband started to sell all my jewellery and when I inquired about them, he would beat me. I then ran to my father’s house, but he also beat me and chased me back to my husband. I was left with nowhere to go.”

© UNICEF/Abaidi
A nine-month-old girls is checked for malnutrition at a health centre in Sana’a, Yemen.

Escape to shelter

A neighbour helped Alea escape. She has been living at the shelter for over five months, attending training workshops and dreaming of returning to school.

“I spoke to young girls and pregnant women who had to flee for their lives and seek protection at UNFPA sites, which are among the very few safe spaces for women and girls”, Dr. Kanem said.

UNFPA is supporting eight such shelters and 51 women’s and girls’ safe spaces. Last year, UNFPA provided more than half of all health facilities in Yemen with essential life-saving medicines and reached more than 1.2 million women and girls with reproductive health services.

But much more support is needed. “The women and girls of Yemen deserve peace. For too long, they have been caught up in a conflict that is not of their making,” Dr. Kanem urged. “The world must act now.”

* Name changed for protection and privacy

First Person: ‘No daughter of mine will be cut’

‘I have never felt so much pain in my entire life’

“Today, I curse the practice of female genital mutilation, but as a child I actually looked forward to it: I thought it would mean that I was ready for marriage and that I could fulfil my parents’ wish for cattle, because a “cut” woman fetches a larger dowry than an “uncut” woman. It happened when I was 13 and, two years later, I was married off and went to live with my husband’s family.

After two years of marriage, I became pregnant but there were problems during the birth. I had to travel a long distance to the health facility, which weakened me.

The baby couldn’t pass through, and the birth attendant cut my private parts in order to allow the child to pass, which meant that I was bleeding badly. I have never felt so much pain in my entire life. Somehow I survived, but I eventually lost my baby.

I didn’t know that the birth complications, and many of my other health issues, were linked to cutting. I eventually found out when I was approached by the Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU), and attended a meeting on FGM.

United Nations

Ending FGM for good

I now have two daughters, aged seven and eight. Every time I see them, I imagine them going through what I went through, and my heart tightens. I talk to them about the dangers of female genital mutilation, and I have vowed that I don’t want any daughter of mine to go through this process that almost claimed my life.

I later received community engagement training, and I advocate for zero tolerance for FGM in my village [Luchengenge, in the Amudat district of eastern Uganda]. I used to be worried about reprisals if I spoke out, but now I feel empowered to speak out, and end FGM for good.

 Now that I have a platform, I will continue raising awareness and testifying against female genital mutilation, even to men, because I know the dangers. If I keep quiet, our daughters will go through a lot of pain and suffering. We have to continue telling mothers, fathers, and the girls themselves about the dangers of FGM, and to discourage cutting. I will not give up”.

Margaret Chepoteltel was speaking to the Spotlight Initiative a UN and European Union initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

 

UNICEF/Henry Bongyereirwe
In Uganda, the UN provides support to young girls who have avoided genital mutilation.

The UN and the fight against FGM

  • The UN and the fight against FGM

    The UN says that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected girls and women, resulting in what it calls “a shadow pandemic” disrupting the elimination of all harmful customs, including female genital mutilation.

  • In 2018, it was estimated by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) that globally 68 million girls were at risk; now the figure stands at 70 million.
  • Ms. Chepoteltel’s advocacy work in her village is part of the Communication for Development Foundation Uganda (CDFU) “Make Happiness Not Violence” campaign, which is being supported by the Spotlight Initiative and UN Women.
  • UN Women supports CDFU as an Implementing Partner to end violence against women and girls in Uganda. Supported campaigns use media and community mobilization approaches, to mobilize individuals, communities and institutions to promote positive change social norms, attitudes and practices and discourage harmful practices.

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