Global Resources

Harmful traditional practices affecting women & girls

Publisher: Gender and Development Network
Publication Date: Jan 2013
Harmful traditional practices are particular forms of violence against women and girls which are defended on the basis of tradition, culture, religion or superstition. They include female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), early and forced marriage, crimes committed in the name of honour, dowry-related violence, and son preference. This fact sheet on harmful traditional practices affecting women and girls has been produced by ActionAid UK, Gender & Development Network, Womankind International, Planned Parenthood Federation, and Orchid Project.

The following are among the different forms of harmful traditional practices: acid violence, breast flattening, cosmetic mutilation, dowry and bride price, early/forced marriage and marriage by abduction/rape, female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), ‘honour’ crimes, corrective rape, son preference leading to sex-selective abortion and female infanticide, ritual sexual slavery, virginity testing, practices related to initiation or menstruation, some widowhood rituals and accusations of witchcraft levied at older women.

Where such practices exist, there may be negative social sanctions which are experienced by individuals if the harmful traditional practice is not carried out. As a result, women themselves often play a role in perpetuating such violence. Harmful traditional practices are caused by gender inequality, including unequal power relations between women and men, rigid gender roles, norms and hierarchies, and ascribing women lower social status. Since these practices are largely carried out without the consent of the girl/woman involved, they constitute a violation of human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Harmful practices are included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 24(3)), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (Articles 2, 5 and 16), as well as regional instruments. In many countries there are specific laws aiming to curtail these practices; in most instances they also contravene countries’ existing laws relating to physical and sexual violence. This publication gives detailed information about FGM/C, early and forced marriage, violence or murder related to dowry payment, son preference, and 'honour' crimes (when girls and women are attacked or killed on behalf of a family member due to an actual or assumed transgression of certain gender norms which are framed as damaging the honour of a family member, etc.). Additional information is provided regarding international standards and language use in the context of harmful traditional practices.