Side Event: Ambassador Berger on "Harmful Traditional Practices"

Mar 8, 2013

(Remarks as prepared for delivery by Ambassador Berger at a side-event to the 57th session of the Committee on the Status of Women on "Harmful Traditional Practices: Violence Against Women & Girls; Laws vs. Practices: Rhetoric vs. Reality")

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

On behalf of the German Mission, I would like to welcome you all to today’s panel discussion on “Harmful Traditional Practices – Violence Against Women & Girls; Laws vs. Practices: Rhetoric vs. Reality” which has been jointly organized by Germany, The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC-CIAF), Women Enabled, the Women’s UN Report Network (WURN) and Forward Germany.

We are especially delighted that this event coincides with the International Women’s Day and we hope that today’s discussion will guide us in finding better ways to further enhance the full enjoyment of women’s human rights all over the world.

I am honored to welcome today’s panelists who will be presented in a minute by our moderator Dr. Tobe Levin from the W.E.B. (William Edward Burghard) Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and representative of Forward Germany.

Distinguished guests,

The Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment Juan Mendez has put it clearly: Harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation, forced and child marriage or female infanticide (infant homicide) violate fundamental human rights of girls and women, including the right to non-discrimination, the right to protection from physical and mental violence, the right to the highest, attainable standard of health, and, in the most extreme cases, the right to life.

Mendez further states that Female Genital Mutilation/FGM as one of those traditional practices constitutes torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. His assessment is in line with international jurisprudence, including many of the UN treaty monitoring bodies, the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and the European Court of Human Rights.

Paradoxically, harmful practices are inflicted by families on daughters who they actually love and for whom they wish nothing but the best. FGM is only one of those traditional practices that violates basic human rights. Although many States have adopted legislation prohibiting FGM, the practice and social acceptance of FGM persist in many countries, and effective mechanisms to enforce prohibition are absent.

Ending harmful practices requires a comprehensive approach which includes action both in the public and private sphere.The most effective efforts against these harmful practices are grass-roots initiatives by local women working for change from within a culture. Germany is proud to be supporting numerous projects and initiatives that focus on the grass-roots level.

Figures are still alarming – per day, about 8000 girls face Female Genital Mutilation, and approximately one third of girls living in the developing world are married before the age of 18, to name just two particularly wide-spread harmful traditional practices – FGM and child marriage.

But there have also been remarkable achievements. At last year’s side event on FGM during the CSW in the German House we learned about the positive example of Burkina Faso, where the number of women having undergone FGM has been reduced from 66 % in 1996 to 25 % in 2005.

Burkina Faso, supported by the African Union, also sponsored a resolution at the 3rd committee during the 67th session of the General Assembly to ban Female Genital Mutilation. The unanimous adoption of this resolution on the 20 December 2012is a milestone in the combat of FGM. In this resolution, the world speaks out with one voice against FGM. Now, the states have the obligation to implement this ban.

Our combined efforts are needed to take this message into every community where FGM is still practiced.

Legislation is not enough. New, innovative approaches are needed to achieve a change of mind and conduct regarding harmful traditional practices. Germanyis committed to continue our strong efforts in the fight for the equal enjoyment of human rights for all women and girls.

Our panelists today will give us insight into highly important innovative approaches, initiatives and ideas on how to change the life of millions of women and girls and I look forward to a fruitful discussion.

Thank you.”

© GermanyUN

Women's rights and gender equality

Sexual abuse, trafficking in women, domestic violence, forced marriage and genital mutilation are human rights violations which affect women and children almost exclusively. That's why the protection of women are central to Germany's human rights policy.