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Written Answers. - Human Rights Abuses.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 36. Ms Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  his plans to seek international support for a worldwide ban on the practice of female genital mutilation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10260/02]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Female genital mutilation, FGM, is an abhorrent but widespread practice in communities in parts of Africa, the Middle East and south east Asia. Although it is associated with countries which have a strong Muslim tradition, it is not an exclusively Islamic practice. It occurs also in immigrant communities in North America and Europe. According to WHO, up to 130 million women and girls have undergone genital mutilation worldwide and at least two million girls are at risk of genital mutilation each year. There is no medical indication for the practice and it is frequently carried out by persons with no training. It frequently leads to serious physical and psychological problems for women who have undergone it. In a substantial number of cases it is implicated as a direct cause of serious illness and death.

The continued practice of FGM is a direct infringement of the universally recognised rights of women and children on whom it is inflicted and is rightly condemned. However, it is a complex phenomenon, deeply rooted in the cultural, social, religious, and gender relationships of the societies in which it occurs. It is just one manifestation of gender based human rights inequalities [777] which are prevalent in many societies and which compromise the physical, psychological and sexual rights of women. It is important to recognise also that efforts to curtail FGM cannot be viewed in isolation to other efforts that address the many forms of civil, political, social and economic injustice that women suffer worldwide.

The Government, through its commitment to UN declarations and agencies, demonstrates a strong commitment to advancing the social and economic development of women. We are also active in pursuing human rights issues through our membership of the European Union. At last year's session of the UN Human Rights Commission, the EU spoke out on several occasions against the practice of FGM and called for it to be urgently addressed. The EU will be taking up the matter again at this year's session of the commission, which is currently taking place in Geneva. Ireland's commitment to addressing FGM is given further expression through support for specific programmes for the advancement of women in developing countries, financed through Ireland Aid and the European Commission. The World Health Organisation, which receives considerable voluntary contributions from my Department, has a long record of addressing FGM from the perspective of the right of women and girl children to the highest attainable standard of health.

In June 2000, my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, led the Irish delegation to the special session of the UN General Assembly on the five year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which were adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. At Beijing + 5, member states adopted by consensus a document, entitled “Further Actions and Initiatives,” to implement the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The document deals in some depth with the issue of FGM and notes that while an increasing number of countries have introduced legislation to ban it, the practice continues to be widespread. The document calls upon governments to develop, adopt and fully implement laws and other measures to eradicate FGM and other violations of the human rights of women. The Government fully subscribes to this approach.

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