Strasbourg, 6 February 2013 - Today's International Day of Zero Tolerance to female genital mutilation (FGM) is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the fact that much remains to be done to eradicate the practice. In Europe, the main challenge remains combating ignorance and changing attitudes. Many of us are not even aware that this practice also happens in our continent!
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) tackles FGM by recognising it for what it is: a serious crime and a human rights violation. Putting an end to FGM in Europe requires more than political gestures. It requires changing legislation so that it is recognised as a criminal offence, it requires a change in how women and girls at risk are approached and supported, and most importantly, it requires a change in mentalities so that no girl or woman is ever mutilated again. The Istanbul Convention is a step towards achieving this. It requires all states parties to introduce the offence of mutilating a girl’s or woman’s genitals in their criminal codes. This includes the act of pressuring or coercing them to undergo the procedure "voluntarily". The Convention also requires state parties to ensure that perpetrators of FGM, whether they are family members or doctors, are held responsible for their acts and effectively prosecuted.
Often, those at risk of FGM are very young and lack the means to say no. For this reason, the Convention requires that professionals in regular contact with girls at risk are properly trained to identify and manage such cases, in particular teachers, health professionals and social workers. However, little progress can be achieved if the root cause of the problem is not addressed. That is why the Convention calls for a change in attitudes towards women and girls, and to overcome gender stereotypes and prejudices. This implies more than merely distributing a leaflet. This requires going in and working together with affected communities, raising awareness that FGM is not a private matter and emphasising its traumatising effects and devastating consequences on the victim’s health and life. In this manner we can change attitudes and views on FGM in the hope that we may one day bring an end to this damaging practice.
Although this treaty was drafted in Europe, it is not for Europe only. The Convention is open to non-member states, and it is hoped that its catalogue of standards will serve as a source of inspiration for action against FGM in other parts of the world.