Today (22 July) my Prime Minister, David Cameron, and UNICEF, are hosting the world’s first #GirlSummit in London.
The Summit’s aim is to mobilise domestic and international efforts to end the appalling practices of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early Forced Marriage (CEFM).
This is a high priority for the UK government and the Prime Minister personally. It’s our conviction that girls and indeed all women have the right to live free from violence and discrimination and thus to achieve their potential.
But it’s all to clear that many are being prevented from doing so by harmful practices such as FGM and CEFM, both of which are illegal in the UK and Sweden.
What can you do to help change this?
We are urging people to pledge their support through Facebook and Twitter and it would be great if you could do the same via www.girlsummitpledge.com. Many thousands of pledges have been made – let your voice be heard and let us together #endchildmarriage and #endFGM everywhere.
So what is FGM?
FGM is an extreme form of violence against women and girls. It is a human rights violation and can have a lifelong impact on survivors’ physical and psychological health.
More than 125 million girls and women alive today have suffered some form of FGM in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice is concentrated. In most populations which practice it, FGM is a deeply embedded social norm that is thousands of years old. Many engage in the practice even though they do not support it because it is considered essential for marriage.
Internationally, there is a growing, Africa-led, movement to end FGM – worldwide, it includes women and girls, community and religious leaders, politicians and First Ladies campaigning for change. Thousands of communities have chosen to abandon the practice and are encouraging others to follow suit. In 2012, an African-led resolution calling for a ban to FGM was passed unanimously at the UN General Assembly.
Despite these positive changes, unless efforts are accelerated, as many as 30 million more girls are at risk of being cut over the next decade. Today’s event in London is intended to redouble international efforts to end this awful practice.
Forcing a woman or girl into marriage robs her of the right to choose her own future, and can put her at greater risk of not going to school or of dying through early childbirth. A forced marriage is different to an arranged marriage. A forced marriage is one where one or both of the spouses has not consented to the union, but are being coerced or pressurised into it.
Poverty, lack of education and social norms are among the root causes of child marriage. Addressing these drivers and investing in girls’ education can help tackle significant inequities in society. Evidence suggests that girls who have little or no education are up to six times more likely to marry as children compared with girls with secondary schooling. The experience of going to school can provide a girl with skills, information and social networks that better equip her to communicate and defend her interests. So education and development are a crucial part of prevention.
The good news is that things are changing. In the heart of communities and families in the UK and across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe, more and more people are saying no to these practices. Many governments in developing countries are already working to end these practices and have passed laws and developed plans. Our role is to get behind, support and accelerate efforts to end them. The London event is bringing together women, girls and community leaders from the UK and overseas, alongside governments, international organisations and the private sector to agree on action to end FGM and CEFM within a generation.
The Prime Minister will be joined by Home Secretary Theresa May, and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, alongside heads of state, domestic and international practitioners, survivors, charities, community groups and celebrities. Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Hillevi Engström will represent Sweden at the summit and we welcome her attendance and Sweden’s continued partnership in tackling these terrible practices.
The summit will aim to secure new commitments from the private sector, faith leaders, other civil society organisations and governments. Success stories and good practice in tackling these issues will be shared. The attendees will also hear from girls and women who have lived through the ordeal of FGM or CEFM, and from many inspiring individuals from affected communities who are now driving through changes so that other girls and women can enjoy greater opportunities in the future.
Globally, we will not see an end to these harmful practices unless we all work together, stepping up our efforts and partnering with other countries efforts to end FGM and CEFM forever.