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13 March 2008 - speech to commemorate International Women's Day in Sudan

Your Excellency the First Lady, Your Excellency the Minister of Social Welfare, Women and Children’s Affairs, distinguished representatives of the government, colleagues from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, young people, ladies and gentlemen.

 Today we come together to celebrate two important occasions; firstly, the International Women’s Day which took place on Saturday 8th March, with the theme (Investment on Women and Children), and secondly the launch of a major campaign to end all forms of violence against women and children and the National Campaign against one of the biggest threats to women in the north of Sudan - Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting.

The UNICEF’s programme in Sudan is primarily based on investing in women and children.  We support the increase of access to basic education, improved health services with focus on maternal and child health, access to improved drinking water and better sanitation. The most recent evidence on the importance of investing in women is in the 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey. The survey shows clearly the positive correlation between a mothers’ education and several of the indicators related to maternal and child health.  In addition, UNICEF provides support to child protection including the protection of girls from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination by strengthening protective systems, supporting strategies and mechanisms for implementation of programmes.  Our support to the National Strategy to end FGM/C by 2018 is to improve the investment on children and women.

There have been important steps taken in recent years to reduce the prevalence of FGM/C in Sudan, including essential leadership from the government in highlighting how FGM/C is physically and psychologically harmful, is, in some cases, fatal and has direct and indirect repercussions on increasing maternal mortality, infertility and the risk of transmitting HIV and AIDS. Religious scholars have actively emphasised that FGM/C is not an Islamic obligation or duty. There is a growing public debate about the practice, and its implications on the health and wellbeing of girls and women.

Despite success in awareness raising and a drop in the practice, today the prevalence of FGM/C remains at nearly 70 per cent in Sudan. Faced by this statistic, we must do more to get the message across to families that FGM/C is never in the best interests of their daughters, sisters and wives.

One key strategy to communicating that message is the national awareness campaign based on the concept of ‘Saleema’. This beautiful Arabic word – signifying whole, undamaged, unharmed, or complete – is of course also a girl’s name. What better word could have been chosen around which to promote the idea that being complete is also to be beautiful?

This campaign aims to end the perception that failure to perform FGM/C brings shame and exclusion for women and girls. To the contrary, leaving a girl and a woman complete is something to be proud of.

In the past, information about FGM/C and its dangers have focused on the negative messages related to the risks to health. Today, we are turning that approach around and encouraging parents, midwives and health workers to see the rejection of FGM/C, and the intact status of a girl, to be something worthy of celebration.

The success of this campaign will rely heavily upon the continued leadership shown by the National Council for Child Welfare (NCCW), the Ministry of Social Welfare, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Media and Information, all of which have become part of a national movement against FGM/C.

UNICEF is proud to be a partner in that movement. Currently, we support anti-FGM/C programmes in six states through which we strive to empower women in the community to advocate against the practice, to increase awareness and understanding amongst young people, community and religious leaders, women’s groups and health practitioners, and support the sharing of knowledge amongst legislators, decision makers, law enforcement personnel, educators and other influential leaders in Sudanese society to take forward the message on abandonment of FGM/C.

These collective efforts have reached out already to more than 2 million people, with more and more community members publicly declaring the abandonment of the practice. Seventy sufist sheikhs have made statements against FGM/C. Tens of thousands of school girls have mobilized around the message of ending the practice. We will continue to support this work, with our partners, paying more attention to communication to male members of communities, while enhancing training for community members to roll out the awareness campaign, building a shared momentum that we hope will see an end to FGM/C by the year 2018.

In addition to the leading role played by government, this awareness campaign is being undertaken with the support of the DAL Group and represents an important contribution of the private sector in Sudan to the protection concerns of women and children.

Your Excellencies, female genital mutilation and cutting is not just a harmful practice. It is a violation of the rights of girls and women. There is no defence or justification for this practice. Let us join together today to share the joy of the uncut girl, and celebrate the pride that she brings to her family and society. And let us reaffirm our determination to bring that joy and pride to every girl and woman in Sudan.



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