Ahead of the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February 2024, the European Commission and the High Representative/Vice-President reaffirm the EU’s strong commitment to eradicate Female Genital Mutilation worldwide:
“Female Genital Mutilation is a violation of human rights and a form of violence against girls and women. Let us be clear: these procedures do not happen for medical reasons. The lives of girls are at risk, their human rights are violated and they suffer lasting physical and psychological trauma. There is simply no justification for Female Genital Mutilation.
Communities, governments, organisations and international partners shall unite to protect women and girls’ human rights, dignity and health. The European Union will continue to cooperate with international partners in a zero-tolerance approach towards Female Genital Mutilation to strive for a World where every girl and woman is free from any form of violence.
Last year, the European Union ratified the Istanbul Convention. This is a crucial step underlining violence against women as a human rights violation. Another important step will be to enshrine the effective criminalisation of Female Genital Mutilation in EU law. We are working on these rules and they will be part of a broader legal framework to combat all forms of violence against women. In our proposal to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence we suggest to specifically criminalises Female Genital Mutilation as a self-standing offence. The proposal is currently under negotiations. We are also preparing a recommendation on how to prevent harmful practices against women and girls in the first place. In Europe and across the world, women and girls need to be free from Female Genital Mutilation and all other forms of violence.”
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization. It is a form of violence against women and girls and has severe life-long physical and psychological consequences. It is estimated that 190,000 girls in 17 European countries alone are at risk of being mutilated while 600,000 women are living with the consequences of FGM in Europe. Every year at least 20,000 women and girls are coming to Europe from FGM-risk countries as asylum seekers.
The European Commission is strongly committed to ending all forms of gender-based violence including FGM both inside and outside the EU as outlined in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the EU Gender Action Plan III, and the EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, which aims to end violence against children. In line with these policies and our commitment to end FGM in Europe and globally, we support and cooperate with survivors, affected families and communities, experts and policymakers.
Criminalisation of FGM is required under the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (“the Istanbul Convention”). The Convention was signed by all EU Member States and has been ratified by 22 Member States so far. The Convention entered into force for the EU on 1 October 2023. With this accession, the EU is bound by ambitious and comprehensive standards to prevent and combat violence against women in the areas of judicial cooperation in criminal matters, asylum and non-refoulement, and its public administration.
In March 2022, the Commission put forward a proposal to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence, which specifically criminalises FGM as a self-standing offence. The proposal is currently under negotiations. The Commission will also soon adopt a specific Recommendation on preventing and combating harmful practices against women and girls, including FGM, in 2024. This would include specific suggested actions directed at Member States and additional and specialised support for the protection of victims of harmful practices such as FGM.
The Commission’s Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) offers funding for projects tackling gender-based violence, including FGM. In November 2023, the Commission published a new call for proposals to prevent and combat gender-based violence. Projects can be submitted until 24 April 2024. Harmful practices are among the call’s priorities, covering female genital mutilation, intersex genital mutilation, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, child and forced marriage or honour-related violence.
The 1989 UN Convention on the rights of the child, to which all EU Member States are party, also condemns violence against children. In 2021, the Commission adopted a comprehensive EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child to reinforce the EU’s commitment to safeguarding children from FGM in EU Member States and globally, and emphasise the importance of education, awareness-raising, and legal measures to eradicate FGM practices, with concrete actions and recommendations to end all forms of violence against children.
In the context of external action and development cooperation, ending FGM continues to be a key action under the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 and the EU Gender Action Plan 2021-2025. This is reflected in political dialogues as well as concrete actions. The EU and its Member States has been a leading donor of the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation, supporting it with a total contribution of €18.5 million since 2016. The EU contributed €60 million to support the Team Europe Initiative on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa, and €23,5 million to the Spotlight Africa Regional Programme, that combats gender-based violence, including FGM in 18 partner countries.
The EU seeks to transform social and gender norms by partnering with men and boys, which is key to ending FGM and child marriage. By 2023, over 6 million boys and men have participated in dialogue and education sessions that reinforce positive masculinity and male engagement to prevent harmful practices and empower girls, facilitated by close to 900,000 religious, traditional and community leaders mobilised by the programme.