The International Day of Zero

The International Day of Zero

The International Day of Zero

Female genital mutilation (FGM), as defined by the United Nations, includes all procedures that alter a female’s genitalia for nonmedical purposes. Today, over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone some form of genital mutilation. Despite many claims that support the idea that FGM is rooted in long-term health benefits, studies done by the World Health Organization confirms that FGM has no benefits, only harm. These painful physical changes often result in both short-term complications such as hemorrhage, infections, and cysts, as well as permanent damages such as infertility and increased risk of newborn deaths.

Most likely performed on girls between the ages of 2 and 15, female genital mutilation is a serious and universal violation of human rights. As a result, the UN has designated February 6th of each year as the International Day of Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation.

Deeply rooted in a mix of cultural factors, FGM is associated with a variety of reasons. In many societies that promote FGM, genital mutilation is a social convention that is considered crucial in the upbringing of a girl. It is driven by the belief that women are born impure and thus only by permanently eliminating their ability to experience pleasure from certain parts of their bodies considered “male” and “unclean” can they be beautiful.

Why is it that women have to be denied of sexual pleasure to be considered worthy? Why are men then the judge of such beauty? A practice so embedded in inherently dehumanizing and unequal ideas, FGM has unfortunately become intricately woven in many cultures and traditional religions. In more isolated areas in Eastern and north-eastern Africa, FGM is simply adopted when new groups migrate to an area and copy the traditions of neighboring regions. The apparent ease of how FGM can be accepted in societies is both shocking and disconcerting.

The inequality that exists between the sexes is an undeniable fact that has consistently placed women and girls under incredible mental and physical risks. In particular, female genital mutilation embodies the extremes of sexual discrimination that not only violates female’s rights to physical security, but also to individual freedom and life. It is crucial to recognize that while FGM is primarily concentrated in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is a widespread issue for all nations. In fact, even in the United Kingdoms, FGM still plagues girls as a 2010 case of the mutilation of 2000 British school girls brought the issue of FGM into the international community’s attention. This case not only highlights the existence of such a degrading practice in some of the world’s most advanced nations, but it more importantly revealed the lack of regulation against FGM. In Britain, the UK Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act was already passed in 1985, and in 2003, the Female Genital Mutilations Act prohibited FGM on anyone in the UK and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. However, to this day, even when cases of mutilation are rampant, there has been no prosecution made.

Combatting a practice as violent as FGM is inevitably difficult. However, the international community is becoming increasingly aware. In December of 2012, the UN General Assembly resolved to eliminate FGM. Furthermore, the US agency for International Development has also joined this global effort by not only observing the International Day of Zero but also creating educational campaigns and policy changes.

While the International Day of Zero tolerance for female genital mutilation is only one single day of advocacy, awareness of FGM should not cease at the end of February 6th. In such a technologically oriented world where information can spread at the tap of a finger, social awareness has become more important than ever. Spread awareness of FGM through Twitter or Facebook today with the hashtag #FGM. The mutilation of one girl regardless of where in the world she may be is a mutilation of human rights for all.


Living in Durham, North Carolina, Cheryl is currently a junior in high school. She is completely in love with free expression through writing and has a wide range of opinions on various issues in popular culture, politics, and social topics.

She is also passionate about women's and children's rights. Besides Her Culture, Cheryl also writes for Miss Heard Magazine, United 4 Social Change, and is a high school ambassador for Her Campus. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, shopping, and 20th century books in particular.


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