Harmful traditional practices

Early marriages, female genital mutilation or “honour crimes” are among the many forms of violence against women that are considered harmful traditional practices, and may involve both family and community. While data have been collected on some of these forms of violence, this is not by far an exhaustive list of such harmful practices.

Key dates

6 February

International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation

8 March

International Women’s Day (UN) 

April

Sexual Awareness month


11 October

International Day of the Girl Child

25 November

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

10 December

Human Rights Day

Female Genital Mutilation

Definition

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. (Source: WHO)

  • Clitoridectomy: Partial or total removal of the clitoris. (Source: WHO)
  • Excision: Partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora. (Source: WHO)
  • Infibulation: Partial or total excision of the external female genitalia and suture or narrowing of the vaginal orifice. (Source: WHO)
  • Other mutilations: All other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g. pricking, piercing, incising, scraping or cauterizing the genital area. (Source: WHO)

Key figures

  • Across 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, over 200 million women and girls have been subjected to some form of genital mutilation.

  • 30 million more are at risk of becoming FGM victims over the next decade. This harmful traditional practice also occurs in European countries where excision victims or at-risk girls now live. [Source: Unicef (2013), Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change]

  • At least 500,000 women and girls living in Europe have been subjected to FGM and around 180,000 more are currently at risk. [source: WHO]

  • The number of women and girls victims of FGM residing in the UK is estimated at around 65,790 [source: European Institute for Gender Equality /EIGE]
  • The number of women and girls victims of FGM residing in France is estimated at around 61,000 [source: European Institute for Gender Equality /EIGE]
  • The number of women and girls victims of FGM residing in Italy is estimated at around 35,000 [source: European Institute for Gender Equality /EIGE]
  • 194 Member States have ratified the United Nations Resolution 67/146 adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2012 and intended to “intensify global efforts to eliminate female genital mutilations”. The Resolution urges all UN Member States to “take all necessary measures, including enacting and enforcing legislation”, awareness-raising campaigns, allocation of dedicated resources, “to prohibit FGM and to protect women and girls from this form of violence”[Source: UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation - Annual Report 2012]

Why FGM is practised?

DFID - Department for International Development

 

The main risk factor for genital mutilation relates to traditional ethnic customs rather than religious practices. FGM is frequently a component of fertility or coming-of-age rituals, and is generally regarded as a way to ensure the chastity or sexual “purity” of young women. It can be performed on girls at any time between infancy and puberty until the age of 15.
The procedure is performed by traditional excisors who often hold a crucial role in the life of the communities, frequently as midwives. But genital mutilations are also increasingly carried out by health professionals trained in modern medicine.

What are the consequences on health?

Female genital mutilations present absolutely no health benefits and are harmful for women and young girls. Apart from inhibiting women’s genital pleasure, it causes immediate and delayed complications that include violent pains, septic shock, haemorrhaging, tetanus, septicaemia, urine retention, complications at childbirth, or fistula.

Where is FGM practiced?

In spite of the adoption of the UN General Assembly’s Resolution, 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East were identified in July 2013 where female genital mutilation is still practiced. Western countries hosting large communities of immigrants are taking action against FGM practices on their national territory, and attempt to raise community awareness to eradicate the practice in their own countries. The fact that women are regarded as objects, a piece of property, a concept deeply rooted in patriarchal societies, contributes largely to this form of violence.

Focus on Europe

In 2012, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling on Members States to “end female genital mutilation”. The Resolution qualifies these practices as “an act of violence against women and girls which constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights”. The Resolution stresses the necessity of informing, educating, raising awareness and mobilising the communities, and of involving national, local and regional authorities along with civil society in combating excision. While female genital mutilation is practiced primarily in some African and Middle Eastern countries, it also affects European countries where many women and girls victims or at risk of FGM live. 

Summer breaks in particular are a time of high risk for female teenagers sent back to their home country between middle school and high school. Europe is also affected by the issue via asylum seekers. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, every year 20,000 women and girls from countries where FGM is practiced apply for asylum in the European Union. France is the number one asylum country. Between 2008 and 2011, over 20% of female asylum seekers in France originated from countries where FGM is practiced. Combating excision in Europe also requires working closely with the diaspora communities who can play an essential role of prevention and awareness-raising among the local immigrant populations.

Progress achieved to end FGM

Some progress to end FGM practices has been achieved on a local and international scale over the past few years, among which:

  • Establishment of international monitoring bodies and adoption of resolutions condemning the practice,
  • Revised legal frameworks and growing political support to eradicate FGM practices,
  • In some countries, declining FGM practices and growing numbers of women and men declaring themselves in favour of their eradication in communities where they are traditionally practiced.

Recent research has revealed that the practice could disappear very quickly if these communities were to decide on their own to abandon female genital mutilations.
In addition, a number of political and legal processes have been initiated over the past few years in the countries of operation of the Kering foundation.
The United Kingdom, France and Italy are signatories to several European and international conventions prohibiting female genital mutilation practices. Among other, FGM practices are liable to criminal prosecution inside and outside the national territory of all three countries. National laws on child protection may also be used as legal grounds to prosecute and punish this practice.

  • In France, the first legal measures on FGM date back to the 1990s. From the political angle, a chapter of the “Ministerial Plan to Combat Violence against Women 2011-2013” is specifically dedicated to FGM. Three additional measures were later adopted in the “4th Ministerial Plan 2014-2016”. FGM constitutes a legal ground to apply for asylum on the French territory.
  • In the UK, the legal prohibition of FGM dates back to 1985 with the Female Genital Mutilation Act amended in 2003. On the political level, the UK government has established an action plan (2011-2015) to combat violence against women, involving training programmes to help police officers deal with FGM cases (“A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls”, 2014). FGM constitutes a legal ground to apply for asylum in the UK.
  • In Italy, FGM practices have been legally prohibited since 2006 via the law No. 7/2006 . FGM may constitute legal grounds to apply for asylum if regarded as “physical or psychological acts of violence specifically targeting children or gender-based”.

Projects supported by the Foundation

"La Maison des femmes" (Women's House)

Supporting women victims of violences and Female Genital Mutilation in Seine-Saint-Denis department Aware of the difficulties faced by women at different steps of their life, the medical and health care team of the hospital of Saint-Denis, France decided to create a unique place to offer counselling to women victims of violence and female genital mutilation (FGM). In the French department of Seine-Saint-Denis, 16% of the patients that come to the hospital’s maternity (Maternité Angélique... Read more

Tackling FGM Initiative

The Tackling FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) Initiative is the largest ever UK investments in grass-roots FGM prevention work, with a budget of £2.8 million over six years. The Initiative, in partnership with Trust for London, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Rosa Fund and Comic Relief, started in 2010.It is estimated that 137,000 women live with FGM in the UK; it is the highest prevalence in Europe. Some other 60,000 girls, born to women who have experienced FGM, live in the UK and are... Read more
excision parlons-en

Excision, parlons-en !

Combatting Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia. On 20 December 2012 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution banning this practice. The FGM resolution urges countries to take all necessary measures, including enforcing legislation, raising awareness and allocating sufficient resources to protect women and girls from this form of... Read more
Photo credits: John Russel

Desert flower

Desert flower: Raising awareness of Female Genital MutilationIn 2010, the Kering Foundation promoted the release in France of the film Desert Flower to raise awareness on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).Desert Flower, a movie directed by Sherry Hormann, tells the incredible destiny of Waris Dirie, member of the Foundation Board of Directors. Raised in the Somali desert, she fled to escape a pre-arranged marriage at 13 and became a housemaid in London, to finally be celebrated as a famous... Read more

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Early and forced marriage

Definition

Forced marriage is defined as any civil, religious or customary union where one or both of the spouses are wedded against their free will and consent only under pressure from their families (blackmail, threats, physical violence, etc.). It is qualified as child or early marriage when the bride is under 18.

Key figures

  • Over 700 million women worldwide were child brides [source: Unicef, Girl Summit].
  • In 2013, more than 1,300 potential cases of forced marriage were handled by the Forced Marriage Unit in the United Kingdom [source: Forced Marriage Unit].
  • In 2013, it was estimated that 70,000 girls were potentially at risk of forced marriage in France [source: Haut Conseil à l’intégration].

Why is forced marriage a harmful practice?

A forced marriage can have dramatic consequences: deprivation of freedom and abuse of integrity, emotional blackmail, family break-up, sequestration, dropping out of school, early and/or unwanted pregnancy, marital violence, depression; it also involves non-consensual sexual intercourse. 

Many adolescent girls forced into an early marriage may become victims of incessant marital violence. Furthermore, child brides often end up being abandoned by their spouse, which plunges them into extreme poverty and increases their risk of entering the sex trade.Lastly, it can have harmful consequences on health; while a child marriage is not a direct cause of mortality by itself, it is a contributing factor in mother and child mortality, due primarily to early-age pregnancies and to the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

What regions are affected by child and forced marriages?

Child and early marriages are practiced in Sub-Saharan Africa, in South Asia, in the Middle East within some communities, in North Africa and in some parts of Asia where marriage at puberty, or shortly thereafter, is commonplace in some population segments. 

Focus on Europe

Similarly to female genital mutilation, the issue of forced or early marriage is also a concern in European countries, primarily in the immigrant populations residing on their territories. In this instance too, the summer school-break is a period of high risk for adolescents potentially exposed to forced marriages. In France, the state authorities address 12 to 15 cases of girls seeking help from abroad each year. It is estimated that 70,000 girls are potentially at risk of forced marriage in France. 

Projects supported by the Kering Foundation

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Honour crimes

Definition

In numerous societies, rape victims and women suspected of premarital sex or accused of adultery are victims of honour-related violence perpetrated by members of their family. 

Murder, or “honour” killing, is the most extreme form of such violence. Refusing an arranged marriage, rejecting sexual favours, attempting to divorce - whether for reasons of marital violence or proven adultery by the husband, are all perceived as causes of dishonour for the entire family: as the woman is blamed for failing to submit to the implicit moral order of the community and therefore dishonouring her family.

Key figures

  • Over 5,000 cases of “honour” crimes are recorded worldwide each year [source: Fondation SUGIR Report on honour crimes in Europe].
  • 12 “honour” crimes every year in the UK. [source: Honour-based Violence Awareness Network].
     

Why is this practice perpetuated?

Practices of honour-related violence derive from deeply rooted social beliefs that relatives, and males in particular, must control the sexuality or protect a women’s reputation in order to preserve the honour of the family. Based on this belief, a violation of chastity is regarded as an affront to the family’s honour. 

If the chastity of female relatives is violated, or even merely perceived as such, the women should be punished for bringing shame and dishonour to the family. Punishments may take various forms: women may be repudiated by their family, deprived of their freedom of movement and life choices, maimed or killed. The fact that women are regarded as personal property contributes to this form of violence and the concept is deeply rooted in patriarchal societies. Honour crimes are perpetrated in all social classes; they are not restricted to rural areas and are also committed in cities and among “educated” populations.

Focus on Europe

The London Metropolitan Police Service estimates that a dozen honour crimes are perpetrated every year in the UK. Government taskforces and specialised police units have been established to fight honour-related crimes in the country.

In Italy, some ten cases of honour killings were reported in the media in 2010. National efforts to fight honour-related crimes involve prevention, awareness-raising, investigations and victim care via coordinated actions between public authorities and NGOs.
In France, some ten cases have been reported by the media since 1993. According to unofficial statistics reported by women’s associations, the immigrant communities most affected by honour crimes are Indians, Pakistani, Sri Lankans, Kurds and Turks. “Fighting violence against women” was designated as “Great National Cause” by Prime Minister François Fillon in 2010. The national plan to fight violence against women is partly applicable to honour-related crimes.

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