By Milica Dimitrijevic
On October 7th the event “The Transnational Phenomenon of Female Genital Mutilation” was held at The Seventh Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in Vienna International Center. The event was organized by African Women’s Organization in collaboration with ACUNS Vienna Liaison Office. Mrs. Etenesh Hadis, Chairwoman of the African Women’s organization in Austria and Coordinator of the National Plan of Action to Prevent and Eliminate FGM in Austria in her opening speech expressed her gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the combined efforts towards eradication of harmful traditional practices in particular, female genital mutilation (FGM)and introduced the honored guest speaker Mrs. Berhane Ras-Work.
The speech was followed by Ms. Véro la Reine’s touching song dedicated to the late Austrian Parliament President Barbara Prammer who was a strong feminist, advocating for minority rights and campaigned for Anti-FGM activities in Austria, in Europe and in Africa as well as on the level of the United Nations.
The panel discussion led by Ms. Lilian Plapan, President of ACTPEW (African Coalition on Harmful Traditional Practices and for the Empowerment of Women), Ms. Mulu Haile Tesema, Chair of IGAD/CSO-NGO, Ms. Ines Stilling (speaking on behalf of Mrs. Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, Minister of Women and Education in Austria) and chaired by Dr. Michael Platzer, focused on challenges in prevention of harmful traditional practices, in particular, FGM.
FGM is a collective term for procedures that intentionally harm women and girls for non-medical reasons, causing chronic pain, traumas, bleeding and gynecological and other problems. The tradition is upheld for fear that girls who are not circumcised will face serious social consequences. This dangerous practice is common in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa but has also become a growing phenomenon in migrant and refugee communities in Europe and other parts of the world Within the last two decades, as a result of combined efforts of experts and activist, FGM has become internationally recognized as a violation of human rights of girls and women, and a criminal act in all of the EU Member States. However, the practice continues in secrecy.
Ms. Lilian Plapan pointed out a growing new problem -the “Trafficking of FGM” – the practice of parents bringing their female children to a foreign country, usually the country of origin, to facilitate the procedure. She noted that there is no statistical record about this phenomenon and called on CSOs to be involved in victim protection and to increase efforts in protecting their human rights through a new holistic approach.
Ms. Mulu Haile Tesema spoke about the activities of IGAD in tackling trafficking of women and children for inappropriate labour. She pointed out that Ethiopia is one of several source countries for trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced prostitution and forced labour/She stressed that it is important to foster integration of victims through education and vocational training.
As guest of honor Mrs. Berhane Ras-Work, who was Secretary General of UFER (International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples) 2000–2005. She worked with WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA to advocate the integration of harmful traditional practices (HTPs) into their area of work. She presented her new book “The Unbidden Pain” which is a personal narrative on community responsibility and raising awareness about fatal consequences of harmful traditional practices. Mrs. Ras-Work spoke about how she succeeded in breaking the taboo on FGM and brought the unspoken outrage to the center of the world stage. She expressed her great gratitude to everyone who has helped her and pointed out the importance of international collaboration.
The panel discussion concluded with an award ceremony where Mrs. Toni Michael (DANIDA) and Ms. Agnete Strom (Women’s Front of Norway) and Permanent Mission of Norway to the International Organizations in Vienna represented by Mr. Kristian Ødegaard Minister Counselor, Deputy Head of Mission and Ms. Martina Østerhus, first Secretary, Permanent Mission of Norway, received awards for their ‘30 years’ experience of anti-FGM Work in Africa”. Ms. Gillian Murray, Deputy Director, Division for Policy Analysis, and Chief, Public Affairs and Policy Support Branch, UNODC also honored the audience with her presence.
This event has shown the significant achievements of these courageous women, who are united in their efforts to tackle FGM and other harmful traditional practices at both the local and global level.