I’ve been Secretary of State for two years now and in all my travels, one of the most horrific and searing things I’ve witnessed is seeing firsthand the destruction to young women’s lives wrought by female genital mutilation and cutting. It has to end. We have to speak out. We cannot be afraid to talk about this and, uncomfortable as it may be, call it by its name: violence, plain and simple.
This tragedy spans the globe, including many migrant and diaspora communities in the United States. More than 125 million women and girls are living with the consequences of FGM/C, and another 3 million are at risk each year on the Africa continent alone. There are those who defend FGM/C as a cultural tradition. But make no mistake: a tradition that threatens the health and well-being of those who are subject to it must belongs in a history book, not in the present day.
Change can come quickly when we commit ourselves. I remember as a young prosecutor in Boston in the late 1970s when a lot of people still didn’t believe that violence against women and girls was a crime. They saw it as cultural, not criminal – and so we had to do a lot of advocacy to do in order to change perceptions, not to mention some prosecuting. We chipped away at that old thinking by speaking out and putting together programs that worked.
Today, we’re working hard to do the same on FGM/C. Government officials, religious leaders, health practitioners, family members, elders, activists, and survivors—we are all standing together for zero tolerance. We’re supporting programs on the ground and working with local communities to eradicate FGM/C globally. And we are launching our first ever social media campaign on FGM/C. Using #TogetherForZero and #endFGMC, the State Department’s Office for Global Women’s Issues is calling on others to stand up for zero tolerance of FGM/C – not just today, but every day the world over.
The United States strongly believes that the world is a safer, healthier, and more prosperous when all people – women and men, girls and boys – are able to live with dignity and without fear of gender-based violence. Today of all days, we must declare in a single, loud voice that there is no place in the civilized world for this harmful practice. Together, we can banish FGM/C to the history books where it belongs.
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