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ZERO Tolerance to FGM


8th Vienna Global Citizen Education conference with the Global Women’s Peace Network

On Monday, March 27, The Women’s Federation for World Peace brought the topic FGM to the UN:

        Vienna Int. Centre, C1 in the C building 2nd floor

Despite considerable effort to raise awareness of FGM over two decades, it continues to exist. Countries of origin indicate a slow decrease, while western communities indicate an increase due to the influx of immigrants.

The conference was opened by Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, UN Office Director of WFWPI.

His Excellency, Mr. Leigh Turner gave the keynote speech.

Mr. Turner stated that gender equality is a top priority in the UK and SDGs are a necessary tool but need to be implemented. Policies are required to encourage equality and end violence against women and girls. The UK has invested £35 million in a program to end FGM within one generation and enable women and girls to live in a violent free world.

H.E. Dr. Christine Stix Hackl, Permanent Mission to the UN from Austria

Dr. Stix Hackl welcomed the conference participants and referred to the “gender balance” in the audience. She stated that FGM practice deprives women and girls of sovereignty over their bodies; it is child abuse with serious physical and psychological consequences, hindering female development. Austria has been involved in stopping FGM both nationally and internationally.

Mrs. Alexandra Grasl

Mrs. Grasl expressed her gratitude for the invitation to greet conference participants. She stated that FGM is human violation of women and girls, frequently causing high risk births. Local communities and governments play an important role, and a Vienna hospital provides information for migrant Arabic and African women affected by FGM.

13.40 SESSION 1: Zero Tolerance to FGM

Ms. Valentine Nkayo, Moyatu Foundation

Ms. Nkayo, a Kenyan FGM survivor, addressed the issue at the WFWP’s Conference in Bratislava in November 2016. She described her study move to Nottingham in 2014, and the lack of support for FGM survivors. She started an initiative, which now has members from 29 countries who hold monthly meetings to raise awareness of FGM and train health professionals. Partnerships have been set up with local MPs, police, refugee forums and schools to train young people and teachers; a survivors’ club to offer a safe place to women has been set up. Zero tolerance to FGM was first declared by Nottingham city; nine other UK cities have followed suit. The Sheriff of Nottingham and Ms. Nkayo, who have been invited address international conferences, will speak in Kenya in the framework of cultural and sport festivals. Other projects include a small charity run by volunteers to build trust within communities through sports a goat farm and a tree planting scheme.

Ms. Jackie Morris, Sheriff of Nottingham

Ms. Morris met Ms. Nkayo at an African culture event. Ms. Nkayo shared her personal experience of FGM with the Sheriff, who was so moved that she determined to work to end the practice. She took a personal approach to the issue from the perspective of a mother and grandmother to end this child mutilation through educating parents and children. This led Nottingham City to declare zero tolerance to FGM. Now FGM is outlawed in the UK. 

Councillor Anja Hagenauer, Deputy Mayor of Salzburg

Ms Hagenauer, who has worked for 25 years for women’s integration, stated that FGM is also a problem in Europe, Austria and Salzburg. She was recently confronted by a concrete case of a 10-year-old Somalian girl. The girl’s teacher was finally persuaded to report the situation to the police. This experience motivates her to have Salzburg declare zero tolerance to FGM.

Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, Prog.Officer, Gender+HIV, Law Enforcement + HIV, South Europe/Central Asia-UNODC

Ms. Kosmukhamedova outlined the work of UNODC, especially for women, and raised the topic of SD3.3: ending the epidemic of AID´s by 2030, tuberculosis and other venereal diseases, among people using and injecting drugs.

Lilly Sucharipa, President of UN Women National Committee of Austria

Ms. Sucharipa stated that an attack on one woman is an attack on all and a violation of human rights. FGM continues because mothers, elders, religious leaders consider it necessary to avoid social stigmatization of their children. Laws are often not enforced due to a lack of financial resources and political will. Furthermore, illiteracy, poverty, patriarchal structures and deep stereotypes make it difficult to eradicate. Special NGOs in the field approach this topic best. In Gambia, The Committee on Traditional Practice’s organized a two-year program for 300 women, of whom 64% declared they will never practice FGM. The Permanent Mission of Kenya criminalizes FGM and failure to report it. In Vienna, approximately 2000 women with FGM must give birth by Caesarian section. Ms. Sucharipa works in the FemSüd Center in Vienna, where treatment and reconstructive surgery are offered.

The session was chaired by H.E. Olga Algayerova, Permanent representative of Slovakia to UN Vienna.

16.00 – Session 2: FGM by 2030

Mr. Mamadou Kone, MES, Mali, Aktion Regen

Mr. Kone introduced the initiative, Aktion Regen, an NGO which uses knowledge as a preventive tool against FGM. They train health personnel and cooperate with eight local Malian NGOs, community leaders, elected officials and local media to teach people about the consequences of FGM through lectures, home visits, counselling in villages and radio broadcasts in a language people understand. They also clarify the false concept that FGM prepares girls for acceptance in society. Other innovative activities include handicrafts and a film detailing the consequences of FGM.

Mag. Marijana Grandits – Academic Coordinator, Vienna Master of Arts in Human

Rights, Vienna University. Mag. Grandits expressed gratitude to Ms. Nkyo for her courage and recalled her own first encounter with FGM through a Senegalese dancer. She recounted legal initiatives made through Human Rights in a top-down approach, but stated that a multidisciplinary, holistic and bottom-up approach to change attitudes towards stereotypes and racism is preferable. She cited a recent study in Ethiopia that indicated that university educated fathers advocated FGM for their daughters due to deep-rooted traditions and concluded that while women need empowerment, men need education.

Ms Christiane Ugbor of the African Women’s Organization, Austria

Ms. Ugbor introduced the organisation, which was founded in 1996 to empower, integrate and strengthen African women in the fight against FGM. Ms. Ugbor listed important milestones between 1998 and 2020. Following a book presentation in 1998, an FGM Study was conducted in Austria, which led to an International FGM Conference in the UN Vienna in 2000. The Austrian Parliament passed a law prohibiting FGM in 2002, and by 2005 a counter campaign was under way, using teaching materials, while taking a multilateral approach based on ethnic and religious backgrounds. An FGM Counselling Centre was opened in Austria in 2005, and by 2009, action plans were developed to prevent and eliminate FGM in the EU. Since 2016 the EU Daphne Project, CHAT (changing attitudes fostering dialogue) has trained positive agents in communities through workshops with entrepreneurs and development agencies to prevent FGM. 

Dr Slawomir Redo, Senior Adviser, Academic, Academic Council on the UN System (Vienna, Austria) Urban safety as FGM issue.

Dr. Redo expressed his concern for urban safety and the timely issue involving the dignity and integrity of women. Using the acronym FGM positively – Focus on Girl’s Mind – he referred to Vienna as a multicultural and pluralistic city, but highlighted the need for change in some monocultural kindergartens to allow children to experience a multicultural environment. He coined another term for the acronym FGM, Finally, Girls Matter. He referred to cases of domestic violence, rape, FGM and improper assault against girls where the attackers run free. To deal with such issues, women need empowerment through education, commencing in kindergartens where girls are treated as global citizens. He concluded that City Representatives face these challenges when working to create safer and inclusive cities.

Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, UN Office Director of WFWPI

Mrs. Handschin described a WFWP initiative in Kenya where women missionaries offered a week-long education programme for traditional FGM surgeons, girls and their parents. This was an example of a best practice. The traditional surgeons received alternative professional training and left their traditional work – eight left after the first year and twenty-four in the following year. This is a good example of a best practice of an in-situ training program.

The second session was chaired by Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, UN Office Director of WFWPI.

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