International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation 2023

Remarks by Mandeep O’brien, UNICEF Representative in Sudan

05 February 2023
Saleema initiative, female genital mutilation, FGM, Sudan, girls, young people, school clubs, empowerment, zero tolerance day against female genital mutilation
UNICEF Sudan/2023
L-R - H.E. Irma Van Dueren (Dutch Ambassador to Sudan), Ruth Lawson (Development Director at the British Embassy), H.E. Ambassador Philip Lupul (Canadian Ambassador to Sudan), Mandeep O'Brien (UNICEF Representative) together with Saleema champions after unveiling the Saleema caravan.

Your excellencies, Ambassadors
The Representatives, WHO and UNFPA
Senior Government Officials
Teachers and all members of the school
Our dear children

To the school management of Al-Fayha Basic School for Girls, thank you for hosting us. To the girls in this school, and all girls in and out of schools across Sudan, my warmest wishes and deepest thoughts on this important day and beyond. 

Today the world is commemorating the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. A day where we all stand up, unite, and remind nations and communities about the need to END Female Genital Mutilation, a harmful traditional practice that violates the rights of women and girls. 

The theme for the 2023 commemoration is “Partnership with Men and Boys to Transform Social and Gender Norms to End Female Genital Mutilation”. The UN Secretary General has called on men and boys everywhere to join him in speaking out and stepping forward to end this practice, for the benefit of all. “We need urgent action by the whole of society….We need urgent investments and action to reach the Sustainable Development Goals target of eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030”. 

The sad reality is that in Sudan, almost 9 in every 10 women have been subjected to this harmful practice, often in its most severe form. We need to work together to replace this harmful social norm with one that honors the dignity, autonomy, physical and mental health of our girls.

With the generous support of the UK and Canada, UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA through the Sudan Free from FGM programme, have been working closely with partners and communities to create safe environments where girls and women can live free from Female Genital Mutilation.  We see progress building in two areas:

  • The first is in creating a positive shift in social norms. This change in opinions is critical for achieving wide-spread changes in behaviour and to ending the practice. Our engagement with men and boys is critical to the fight against Female Genital mutilation.
  • The second is in strengthening systems to both prevent FGM and support those affected by the practice. Article 141 of the Criminal Code being a critical step in that regard.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Through the Saleema initiative, we remind parents, caregivers and communities that every girl is born Saleema, and should grow up Saleema, healthy in body and mind, whole and unharmed.  

Now almost 3 out of 10 girls 0-14 years old are still subjected to this practice. While this marks a successful decrease in female genital mutilation over recent years, more needs to be done to tackle the last obstacles until no girl will undergo FGM. 

Supported by Canada and the United Kingdom, we will not stop until every community is free from Female Genital Mutilation. Let us empower communities including men and boys to protect girls in Sudan. So far over 1,300 communities have pledged to end this practice and over 200,000 people engaged through community platforms in reflective dialogue, including girls clubs, towards eliminating discriminatory social and gender norms and harmful practices. Let us keep this momentum! We need all hands on deck – deepest appreciation to Netherlands, Sweden and Norway for their continuous advocacy and strong support. 

The Saleema caravan that you see here today will traverse Kassala, North Kordofan and Northern State. They will encourage young people to join the Saleema Initiative, while sharing critical messages on benefits of keeping girls Saleema.

We encourage you to spread the word and mobilize communities to take part in this great cause.   Through the caravan’s journey, and with the work of our partners, we will help create FGM free spaces one community at a time, for every girl, for all girls, for all women, for the future of this resilient country – Sudan!

I thank you!

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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child and is committed to the children of Sudan. We never give up on finding solutions that provide immediate help to save the lives of children or provide durable support so that those children grow up with dignity, health and an education.  

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