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The Silent Pandemic: Female Genital Mutilation and the Urgent Call for Global Action

In the intricate tapestry of global issues, there exists a silent pandemic that often languishes in the shadows, overshadowed by more widely covered crises. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), a practice deeply entrenched in cultural norms, has left an indelible mark on the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide. As the International Day of Zero Tolerance against FGM passes, it is imperative that we elevate the discourse surrounding this abhorrent violation of fundamental human rights. 

António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, rightly termed FGM as "one of the most vicious manifestations of the patriarchy." It's a phrase that reverberates with the severity of the issue, demanding our collective attention and action. The statistics are staggering – an alarming 4.2 million girls are at risk this year alone, victims of a practice that causes lifelong damage to both their physical and mental well-being. 

The stories shared by survivors, such as Leyla Hussein and Shamsa Araweelo, paint a harrowing picture of the trauma inflicted upon innocent young lives. The pain, humiliation, and emotional scars are not merely personal; they are symptoms of a deeply ingrained gender inequality that manifests through control over women's bodies. 

In the face of this crisis, the call to action is clear – urgent investment and comprehensive action are needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating FGM by 2030. It is not just a medical issue; it is an egregious act of gender-based violence that perpetuates a patriarchal system limiting women's participation, leadership, and access to education and employment. 

What makes this battle even more complex is the subtle nature of the enemy. FGM is often veiled under the guise of tradition, culture, or religion. Such mischaracterization not only perpetuates the practice but also acts as a shield against the outrage it deserves. We must strip away the euphemisms and call it what it is – a grave form of sexual assault. 

The collaboration between UNFPA and UNICEF, themed "Partnership with Men and Boys to transform Social and gender Norms to End FGM," is a step in the right direction. Breaking the silence requires a multifaceted approach that involves religious and traditional leaders, health workers, law enforcement officials, and grassroots organizations. It is a collective responsibility to foster a societal shift that condemns this abhorrent practice. 

As the UNFPA and UNICEF continue their joint program since 2008, the successes in protecting women and girls and the abandonment of FGM practices are commendable. However, the battle is far from won. The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new challenges, with estimates suggesting a potential resurgence in cases by 2030. Now, more than ever, we need to fortify our efforts and address the root causes perpetuating this silent pandemic. 

The stories of survivors turned advocates, like Leyla Hussein, who founded The Dahlia Project, and Shamsa Araweelo, who sought reconstructive surgery, exemplify resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity. It is through their voices that we find inspiration and a rallying point for a global movement against FGM.

To truly end this silent pandemic, we must confront the uncomfortable truths, challenge cultural norms, and amplify the voices of those who have endured the pain. Men and boys must stand in solidarity, not as passive observers but as active agents of change. The world must unite in condemning FGM as an affront to human rights, health, and dignity. Only then can we hope to eradicate this silent pandemic and create a future where every woman and girl is free from the shackles of this cruel practice.

T Saunders

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