There was no reason for me to attend the meeting on "Ending Female Genital Mutilation: Addressing Social Norms Harmful to Girls and Women" organized by UNICEF yesterday. But UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) whom I have been writing reports for kindly issued me passes to attend as many meetings I want at the "Commission on the Status of Women," event that is unfolding at the UN this week and next.
As a woman, I was curious - and my curiosity has often led me to many places and events like these. Anyhow, the main UN building is under renovation and a new building has been set up on the North Lawn which is housing some of these offices. The whole place is packed with meetings as all UN agencies are more or less involved in reviewing how far they have come in 15 years after the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995 which was responsible for making women's health and reproductive rights a human rights issue.
When I saw the title of the conference I was alarmed. Wow, I thought to myself, these practices are still going on? In this day and age? What are they doing about it? It looked like many were equally curious. The place was so packed, there was only standing room. I tried to sit on the floor but I was taking up space!
I happened to be standing next to a man from Kenya, who asked me why I was there? "Its not really relevant to you is it?" he asked. "Do you have genital mutilation practices in your country?"
"Oh Thank Lord No!" I said, "But I am a woman and I care about whats happening to women in other parts of the world."
"Good, good," he responded and we got talking. He reaffirmed something that I have been writing about lately; that it is often the extremely religious people who "believe" these practices are good. Those were the people who needed to be targeted, the most. Ahh... again, always in the name of religion that we see pain and discrimination inflicted upon others.....
However, after listening to one or two statements I decided to leave because people were still pouring in, even standing out in the hallway, and I felt that since that was the case, I should really let people who were from that region have more priority to this than me.
But here is what I came away with from the meeting.
*It made me "Thankful" and "Grateful" once again that Bhutanese society has been free from ANY religious and cultural practices that are harmful towards women. However, that does not mean we don't have discrimination. In all societies, no matter how advanced they be, women still face various forms of discrimination.
*That attitudes - not only towards women, but any marginalized group like gays and minorities - will not change unless people give up "Beliefs" and realize that these attitudes stem from ignorance and their desire for power, and sometimes their own insecurities.
*That ALOT is being done and the fight to eradicate such harmful practices has come a long way Thanks to the work of the UN, governments, civil society activists, volunteers, and women themselves.
A few governments like Egypt have now "Criminalized" this practice. "A move which was the crowning achievement of nearly a century's hard work by many partners ranging from courageous local communities in remote and marginalized areas to diligent advocates," said Egypt's Minister of Family and Population.
The national efforts and public hype, she said, showed that these practices on young girls was harmful. There is a social change and it has taken at least one generation to realize that this practice is shameful.
Statistics reveal that there is a decline and over 60 percent of the youth in Egypt see it as a harmful practice.
But this problem is not confined to Egypt alone. Many other African nations are also waging the battle against this practice. However, it is reassuring to know that concerted efforts are being made at all levels.