Every May, nearly half the world’s nations, including a number of African countries, honor women by celebrating Mothers’ Day. On this day, society pays tribute to the contributions of women in general, and mothers in particular.
But women deserve that kind of respect all year round. Unfortunately, in many countries, they do not always get it. "At least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime," says U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He adds that others suffer from trafficking, sexual harassment, dowry murder, honor killing, pre-natal gender selection and infanticide.
Many traditions, such as wife inheritance, a practice in which a woman is given in marriage to her brother-in-law; childhood marriage; and female genital mutilation are harmful to women and deprive them of their basic human rights. Female genital mutilation, for example, involves the cutting of some or all of the genitalia, and sometimes also sewing up the genitalia, leaving only a small hole. Female genital mutilation does serious bodily harm and confers no benefits, yet it persists in many parts of Africa.
Women who have undergone this procedure frequently suffer from a wide range of medical problems including bleeding, infections, infertility, and complications giving birth. Ambassador Patricia Brister, who heads the U.S. delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women said earlier this year, "the U.S. government has addressed another serious threat to women’s health, female genital cutting or mutilation, since the mid-1990s." Over the years, said Ambassador Brister, the U.S. has "funded research and supported programs that help communities abandon this harmful traditional practice."
Many African states have committed themselves to protecting women, and to improving their lives, by signing various international and regional policy documents, such as the constitutive act of the African Union; the Beijing Platform for Action; and the Millennium Development Goals. Many of these countries have developed strategies and passed laws that protect women from violence and from practices that harm them. Yet women still suffer, because these laws are only rarely enforced.
For its part, the United States is deeply committed to addressing issues that are important to American women and women throughout the world. Promoting respect for women is a priority for U.S. foreign policy.