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02/06/2013

Female circumcision: It's time for zero tolerance

Femalecircumcision
A doctor from the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, center, talks to women about the dangers of circumcising their daughters. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Asmaa Waguih)

Today is the "International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting" -- but given the fact that some 6,000 girls are being circumsized every day, according to the WHO, the world is still a long ways away from achieving zero tolerance. (The UN General Assembly, however, recently adopted a zero tolerance stance; late last year, it approved a resolution for a global ban on female genital cutting. New data released today by the UN also states that female genital mutilation
is becoming less prevalent overall -- however, 120 million girls and women are still affected in the 29 countries where the practice remains entrenched).

This morning, the United Nations Population Fund took a modern-day approach to raise awareness of a centuries-old practice: they hosted a Google+ hangout (albeit one with plenty of technical difficulties).

Among those who gathered together in this corner of cyberspace were Lynne Featherstone (UK under-secretary of state for international development and "champion" against international violence against women), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin (UNFPA executive director), Molly Melching (founder of non-profit organization Tostan) and Janet Tumer, a Kenyon activist who has survived genital mutilation.

Dr. Atef El Shitany, rapporteur of the National Popluation Council of Egypt was also there. His country has an extraordinarily high prevalence rate for the practice: 94% of Egyptian women arrange for their daughters to undergo female genital mutilation -- but the trend there has been towards "medicalized" female genital mutilation, meaning it's being carried out by trained health-care workers.

"We have to reach deeply inside the community, we have to contact with families, all over the country," El Shitany said in the Google+ hangout this morning. "This is not easy because in Egypt, it’s not the poor. Some of the rich, some of the policy makers, (are) practicing genital mutilation."

On a related note, have you all heard of Mae Azongo yet? She is a spitfire journalist from Liberia who has been bravely covering the practice of female genital mutilation in her country. Azongo received death threats soon after her articles were published and was forced into hiding. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her when she was in Toronto to accept an award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Check out her undercover expose of female genital mutilation in Liberia here.

Jennifer Yang is the Toronto Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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