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15th Dec 2019

Female genital mutilation not on EU agenda

  • Monday 6 February is the International day of Zero Tolerance for female genital mutilation (Photo: United Nations Photo)

The Danish EU rotating presidency has made a "safe Europe" one of its top priorities. But female genital cutting, which affects an estimated 500,000 women a year in Europe alone, is not on its agenda.

Girls, some even just days old, are sent abroad on family holidays to destinations in Africa, India, Indonesia and Kurdistan to have their labia removed and - in some cases - even stitched up.

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Preben Aamann, the Danish EU presidency spokesperson told this website that Copenhagen has no plans to discuss the problem in Europe, adding instead that "Denmark supports initiatives against FGM [female genital mutilation] around the world" citing two UN bodies active on the subject.

Last April, the Council of Europe (COE), a 47-member intergovernmental organisation in Strasbourg, adopted a convention on combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The convention, launched in Istanbul, specifically addresses forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence. It would legally bind countries to prevent violence, protect victims and end the impunity of perpetrators. Eighteen countries have signed the convention but not one has ratified it.

Denmark, along with several other EU member states, have yet to sign the Council of Europe’s convention. However, Denmark says it strongly supports the convention and even helped negotiate it.

"We have been informed by several countries that they have started the process of ratification but that it takes around or more than a year to complete. For this reason, it is not surprising that we have not received any ratifications," said an official at the Strasbourg council. The contact noted that Turkey would probably be the first country to ratify the convention.

Genital mutilation, often condoned by family members and encouraged by traditional notions of beauty and hygiene, leaves scars on girls both physically and psychologically. To save the mother and the unborn child, doctors in the EU sometimes have to perform costly Caesarean sections on women whose labia have been sewn shut.

For its part, the European Commission adopted a strategy in 2010 on violence against women and promised to "adopt an EU wide strategy on combating violence against women, including practices of female genital mutilation."

The executive called upon civil society to contribute ideas to tackle the human rights violation. But Amnesty International says the European commission has stalled on its EU-wide strategy and has yet to provide any clear-cut vision on the matter.

"There has been absolutely no progress made beyond the commitments made by the EU institutions over a year ago. Human rights is just not a high priority on the European Commission's agenda because of the financial crisis; even less than migrant women issues," Christine Loudes, Director of the END FGM European Campaign, led by Amnesty, told this website.

Meanwhile, the commission said it is taking the issue seriously and has asked its European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius to produce a report on the practice in the EU this year.

To date, only Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Sweden and the UK have any specific legal provision in their national laws against it. But laws alone are not proving effective. The procedure has been criminalised in France, Sweden and the UK for the past decade but still remains prevalent among some diasporas.

The NGO says preventive measures, such as education and raising awareness, are urgently required.

"The EU really needs to take some action internally. We can't put pressure on developing countries to curb FGM while Europe drags its feet on adoptin a strategy to protect women and girls living in Europe," added Loudes.

This story was amended at 7.30pm Brussels time on 6 February to clarify a quote by Loudes

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