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The term 'harmful practices' covers forms of violence or ritual discrimination, primarily committed against girls and women, that have become culturally normalized. They are violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Overview

Harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) happen across cultures, religions, and countries. They are violations of human rights and fundamental freedom and they include:

  • female genital mutilation
  • child, early and forced marriage
  • bride kidnapping
  • female infanticide
  • breast ironing
  • forced feeding
  • stoning
  • polygamy
  • virginity testing

UN Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 requires all countries to eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation by 2030. Yet child marriage and FGM continue to happen across all continents, except Antarctica, with governments failing to fulfill their obligations to protect girls and women. 

Some people defend harmful practices by saying that they are based on culture, religion, tradition. However, we believe the right to culture and freedom of religion can not limit the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination.

We are working toward a world where women and girls are protected from harmful practices by the law and are surrounded by social attitudes and behaviors that enforce women’s equality. We push for states to be accountable in line with their international obligations, and ensure they enact and effectively implement laws that prohibit harmful practices.

Equality Now’s work to end harmful practices at a glance

Protecting anti-FGM laws in Kenya. In March 2021, the High Court in Kenya upheld and validated the constitutionality of the Prohibition of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2011. As the first interested party, Equality Now convened and coordinated all the interested parties, both state and non-state, in the case in support of the law. Upholding and implementing the anti-FGM law ensures that women and girls at risk of this human rights violation have legal protection.

Calling for a global response to ending female genital mutilation. In March 2020, in collaboration with the U.S. End FGM/C Network and the End FGM European Network we released a global report FGM/C: A Call for a Global Response which shone a spotlight on the presence of FGM in over 90 countries around the world.

Ending harmful practices across the United States. We are part of coalitions working to fully ban child marriage and FGM in more US states. Currently, only six states have banned child marriage and 39 states have passed anti-FGM laws.

Our work

Since 1995, Equality Now has been at the forefront of efforts to end FGM and child marriage, working toward a world where women and girls are protected from harmful practices by the law and are surrounded by social attitudes and behaviors that enforce women’s equality.

Through a combination of advocacy reporting, strategic litigation, and partnership-building, Equality Now pressures governments to end this harmful practice and address the gender inequalities that drive it, creating a safer, healthier world for girls.

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Key resources

Georgia – Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child – 90th Session September 2021

This submission details our concerns with regard to access to justice for sexual violence against children and adolescent girls, including in the context of …

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Canada CAT Submission 2021

Our joint submission details our concerns about the continued prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in Canada and the failure of the Canadian government to take concrete and effective action to end FGM/C in Canada and provide support for …

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Canada – Submission to the Human Rights Committee 132nd Session June 2021

The following submission, made in advance of the 132nd session of the Human Rights Committee, covers our concerns about the continued prevalence of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Canada …

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Stories

Hear from some of the incredible survivors and activists committed to raising their voices to end harmful practices around the world.

Saza – Singapore

FGM/C is documented amongst the Malay community in Singapore, where it is known as ‘sunat’. The Malay community makes up 15% of the total population in Singapore. There are no prevalence estimates available. It was at my niece’s second birthday party when my …

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Rena – Indonesia

Rena Herdiyani is the vice-chairperson of Kalyanamitra, a women’s rights organization in Indonesia that has been doing advocacy on FGM since 2011, including policy advocacy, public awareness-raising, and discussion at the community level.  FGM happens in regions …

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Habiba – Oman

Habiba al Hinai is an Omani women’s rights activist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Omani Association for Human Rights (OAHR). She is based in Germany. I was approached by some people in Germany from Stop FGM Middle East who wanted …

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Serat – Canada

FGM is illegal in Canada. With diaspora communities from across Africa and the Middle East, it is estimated that over 80,000 women and girls are living with the effects of FGM in Canada. They may have immigrated having already undergone FGM, been subjected to it on trips …

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Join

None of us can afford to sit back and wait for equality to arrive – we need to act now. Only by working together will we achieve the legal and systemic change needed to address violence and discrimination against women and girls.

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Social change begins with legal change and people like you — raising your voice against injustice — play a vital role in our collective success.