Early marriages, female genital mutilation or “honour crimes” are among the many forms of violence against women that are considered harmful traditional practices, and may involve both family and community. While data have been collected on some of these forms of violence, this is not by far an exhaustive list of such harmful practices.
International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation
International Women’s Day (UN)
Sexual Awareness month
International Day of the Girl Child
International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Human Rights Day
Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. (Source: WHO)
Across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, over 200 million women and girls have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation.
30 million more are at risk of becoming FGM victims over the next decade. This harmful traditional practice also occurs in European countries where excision victims or at-risk girls now live. [Source: Unicef (2013), Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change]
At least 500,000 women and girls living in Europe have been subjected to FGM and around 180,000 more are currently at risk. [source: WHO]
DFID - Department for International Development
The main risk factor for genital mutilation relates to traditional ethnic customs rather than religious practices. FGM is frequently a component of fertility or coming-of-age rituals, and is generally regarded as a way to ensure the chastity or sexual “purity” of young women. It can be performed on girls at any time between infancy and puberty until the age of 15.
The procedure is performed by traditional excisors who often hold a crucial role in the life of the communities, frequently as midwives. But genital mutilations are also increasingly carried out by health professionals trained in modern medicine.
Female genital mutilations present absolutely no health benefits and are harmful for women and young girls. Apart from inhibiting women’s genital pleasure, it causes immediate and delayed complications that include violent pains, septic shock, haemorrhaging, tetanus, septicaemia, urine retention, complications at childbirth, or fistula.
In spite of the adoption of the UN General Assembly’s Resolution, 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East were identified in July 2013 where female genital mutilation is still practiced. Western countries hosting large communities of immigrants are taking action against FGM practices on their national territory, and attempt to raise community awareness to eradicate the practice in their own countries. The fact that women are regarded as objects, a piece of property, a concept deeply rooted in patriarchal societies, contributes largely to this form of violence.
In 2012, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling on Members States to “end female genital mutilation”. The Resolution qualifies these practices as “an act of violence against women and girls which constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights”. The Resolution stresses the necessity of informing, educating, raising awareness and mobilising the communities, and of involving national, local and regional authorities along with civil society in combating excision. While female genital mutilation is practiced primarily in some African and Middle Eastern countries, it also affects European countries where many women and girls victims or at risk of FGM live.
Summer breaks in particular are a time of high risk for female teenagers sent back to their home country between middle school and high school. Europe is also affected by the issue via asylum seekers. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, every year 20,000 women and girls from countries where FGM is practiced apply for asylum in the European Union. France is the number one asylum country. Between 2008 and 2011, over 20% of female asylum seekers in France originated from countries where FGM is practiced. Combating excision in Europe also requires working closely with the diaspora communities who can play an essential role of prevention and awareness-raising among the local immigrant populations.
Some progress to end FGM practices has been achieved on a local and international scale over the past few years, among which:
Recent research has revealed that the practice could disappear very quickly if these communities were to decide on their own to abandon female genital mutilations.
In addition, a number of political and legal processes have been initiated over the past few years in the countries of operation of the Kering foundation.
The United Kingdom, France and Italy are signatories to several European and international conventions prohibiting female genital mutilation practices. Among other, FGM practices are liable to criminal prosecution inside and outside the national territory of all three countries. National laws on child protection may also be used as legal grounds to prosecute and punish this practice.
Forced marriage is defined as any civil, religious or customary union where one or both of the spouses are wedded against their free will and consent only under pressure from their families (blackmail, threats, physical violence, etc.). It is qualified as child or early marriage when the bride is under 18.
A forced marriage can have dramatic consequences: deprivation of freedom and abuse of integrity, emotional blackmail, family break-up, sequestration, dropping out of school, early and/or unwanted pregnancy, marital violence, depression; it also involves non-consensual sexual intercourse.
Many adolescent girls forced into an early marriage may become victims of incessant marital violence. Furthermore, child brides often end up being abandoned by their spouse, which plunges them into extreme poverty and increases their risk of entering the sex trade.Lastly, it can have harmful consequences on health; while a child marriage is not a direct cause of mortality by itself, it is a contributing factor in mother and child mortality, due primarily to early-age pregnancies and to the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Child and early marriages are practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia, in the Middle East within some communities, in North Africa and in some parts of Asia where marriage at puberty, or shortly thereafter, is commonplace in some population segments.
Similarly to female genital mutilation, the issue of forced or early marriage is also a concern in European countries, primarily in the immigrant populations residing on their territories. In this instance too, the summer school-break is a period of high risk for adolescents potentially exposed to forced marriages. In France, the state authorities address 12 to 15 cases of girls seeking help from abroad each year. It is estimated that 70,000 girls are potentially at risk of forced marriage in France.
In numerous societies, rape victims and women suspected of premarital sex or accused of adultery are victims of honour-related violence perpetrated by members of their family.
Murder, or “honour” killing, is the most extreme form of such violence. Refusing an arranged marriage, rejecting sexual favours, attempting to divorce - whether for reasons of marital violence or proven adultery by the husband, are all perceived as causes of dishonour for the entire family: as the woman is blamed for failing to submit to the implicit moral order of the community and therefore dishonouring her family.
Practices of honour-related violence derive from deeply rooted social beliefs that relatives, and males in particular, must control the sexuality or protect a women’s reputation in order to preserve the honour of the family. Based on this belief, a violation of chastity is regarded as an affront to the family’s honour.
If the chastity of female relatives is violated, or even merely perceived as such, the women should be punished for bringing shame and dishonour to the family. Punishments may take various forms: women may be repudiated by their family, deprived of their freedom of movement and life choices, maimed or killed. The fact that women are regarded as personal property contributes to this form of violence and the concept is deeply rooted in patriarchal societies. Honour crimes are perpetrated in all social classes; they are not restricted to rural areas and are also committed in cities and among “educated” populations.
The London Metropolitan Police Service estimates that a dozen honour crimes are perpetrated every year in the UK. Government taskforces and specialised police units have been established to fight honour-related crimes in the country.
In Italy, some ten cases of honour killings were reported in the media in 2010. National efforts to fight honour-related crimes involve prevention, awareness-raising, investigations and victim care via coordinated actions between public authorities and NGOs.
In France, some ten cases have been reported by the media since 1993. According to unofficial statistics reported by women’s associations, the immigrant communities most affected by honour crimes are Indians, Pakistani, Sri Lankans, Kurds and Turks. “Fighting violence against women” was designated as “Great National Cause” by Prime Minister François Fillon in 2010. The national plan to fight violence against women is partly applicable to honour-related crimes.
How, where and why FGM happens? How does it affects the life of million of girls and women and why it must end? Learn more with Orchid Project Click here
14 millions de cris is a video film produced and directed by Lisa Azuelos on the occasion of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2014. The title refers to the 14 million underage girls forcibly married across the world. Watch the video