Further, the fact that this FGM is only against women and girls brings it under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), (Article 5), which makes all state parties responsible to (CEDAW, 1979). However, CEDAW has more exemptions for traditional practices than any other United Nations treaty making its relevance and effectiveness limited (Breitung, 1996: 683). The role of women in deciding and organising the practice of FGM also reduces the argument for gender inequality.
Female Genital Mutilation is a multi-faceted problem, which challenges categorisation by the attempts to end it. To eliminate this practice there is a need to change the values and norms of communities through information, education and empowering women and men. Religious and community leaders and politicians, men locally, as fathers, sons and husbands need to be involved as much as women. Despite, or perhaps due to the slowness of change, campaigns to end FGM are innovating and regenerating themselves. More engaging strategies through music, theatre and film are being used to reach people. They are now firmly a part of school and health programs at all levels. (Rogo and Subayi, 2006).
Female genital mutilation is a new rights issue, as it is not adequately categorised by and does not appear in any of the key conventions of human rights. Struggling to deal with this gap, campaigners have utilized rights including the rights of women, the right to health, and the rights of children to support their campaign to end it. Change in society, in terms of tradition and culture, must come from within that society itself, otherwise other rights are at risk, including the right of self-identification. However, the current social and community structures oppress women and push men and women to support these practices, meaning that conventions on human rights are all too inaccessible to women in these communities. Efforts to end FGM need to be allied with broader efforts to support the sexual and reproductive rights of women. Women face a host of connected violence and oppressions which threaten their right to enjoy their lives and their sexuality without the threat of social punishment, disease, death and abuse in conflict or war.
Campaigns to end female genital mutilation are part of a broader long-term process to concretise women’s rights within all government processes. A multi-strategy government approach is required as criminalization alone will not address the issue. Professional Associations, at all levels need to be explicit in their support for women’s rights and provide guidance on the complexities of issues such as FGM. Changes in the practice of FGM also go hand in hand with much broader social changes, which governments must lead, for example the education and literacy of girls and women.
This paper has sought to bring out the tensions which exist between two conceptual frameworks for female genital mutilation, cultural and human rights. FGM is an issue which has greatly advanced debates on balancing multiculturalism and universal human rights. Whilst rights-based language may not be used at a local level, at an international and national level it is practically and conceptually most effective to use the rights-based principles and frameworks when developing strategies to combat FGM. The last decades of research, advocacy and education by feminists and women’s rights groups have identified that female genital mutilation must be considered within the broader issues of women’s socio-economic status and their overall well-being. The impact of the last decades of campaigns and legislation is hard to quantify. To some extent it has lessened the worst practices, and improved education for women through a variety of programs. It is still a long way until basic levels of self-determination for millions of girls and women is reached.