Today, February 6, 2014, marks the United Nations International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.

Female genital mutilation is a practice that has historically victimized at least 125 million women and girls.  It is a procedure that involves the partial or complete removal of a female’s external genitalia and is practiced in twenty-seven African countries, seven Middle Eastern countries, as well as in several areas of Malaysia, India, and Indonesia. Over 30 million girls continue to be at risk, as female genital mutilation is still practiced today.

29 countries, more than 125 million girls and women

29 countries, more than 125 million girls and women

As Canadians, we acknowledge that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a form of child abuse, and as a country we have taken steps to speak out against this practice.

When I was President of the Liberal Women’s Commission, I worked with many women to have Chretien’s government forbid this practice in Canada.  Our efforts germinated in 1997 with the passing of Bill C-27, which made FGM a criminal act. Today, those who perform this procedure can be charged under the Criminal Code. Unfortunately, I am extremely sad to report that no one has been convicted under this law, even though women and children in Canada are subjected to this practice.

Many countries have stepped up to the plate and taken steps to protect young women and girls. New Zealand for example, has an active campaign to stamp out female genital mutilation in their country. The United Kingdom is investing 35 million dollars in an African-led initiative that focuses on building a global movement that will encourage the abandonment of this culturally ingrained practice. They state that they will not rest until FGM comes to a stop the same way foot binding did in the history books.

The United States has been working on this issue since 1990 and has incorporated the elimination of FGM into its development agenda. The United States uses an integrated multi-sector approach that aims to bring together advocates, policy makers and community so as to transform people’s perceptions on this subject.

This hard work is starting to pay off, as the practice of FGM is showing a decline:

 However, there is still more work to be done until the day that no girl dies from this practice.

I want to share with you my firsthand experience of FGM.  I was in a small hospital in East Africa when I saw a family huddling together. The father’s clothes were drenched in blood; so, too, were those of the little girl that he held in his arms. The father and mother were sobbing. The girl had undergone the procedure, and now she was not moving. The hospital rushed her into surgery, where the doctors fought valiantly to save her life. Unfortunately, she bled to death.

This story is commonplace: every day, girls around the world are forced to undergo this horrifying procedure. Many do not survive. This practice continues within our borders as well.

Today, I rose in the Senate Chamber and reconfirmed my commitment to help eliminate all forms of female genital mutilation and urged my colleagues to do the same.