Global Resources

Harmful traditional practices: your questions, our answers

Publisher: Gender and Development Network
Publication Date: Jan 2014
What are harmful traditional practices (HTPs), and how can women and girls be protected from them? This report provides an overview of HTPs, explaining their causes and consequences, and bringing together examples of successful approaches to addressing them. It draws on the expertise of Gender and Development Network's Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Working Group members working in the areas of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage. Although there is no clear and universally agreed definition of HTPs, this document describes them as a form of discrimination that violates the human rights of affected individuals, particularly women and girls. They arise from gender inequality and discriminatory values, which lead to unequal power relations in communities and societies, and to VAWG. HTPs are rooted in particular cultural and social norms and beliefs, and particular interpretations of religion. The majority of HTPs are related to widespread social understanding of what it means to be a girl or woman, to the control of women's sexuality and to notions about girls' purity. In many societies, HTPs are used to reinforce the lower status attributed to women and girls, and are enforced as a way to keep women and girls in subordinate roles. Poverty, and other disadvantages such as living with disabilities, may also worsen the effects of HTPs. There are hundreds of different forms of HTPs. These practices continue to grow and evolve through globalisation and migration, with many of them being transferred to new countries. This publication focuses on two widespread HTPs: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage. Over 125 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C in more than 35 countries, and around 3 million girls, per year, are likely to undergo FGM/C. Where FGM/C is carried out, girls are likely to be married whilst they are still children. Among the reasons why HTPs continues are that people believe them to be necessary or helpful to their community, and because governments and the international community often perceive HTPs to be too culturally sensitive and difficult to tackle. In many cases, there is no legal framework at national level to address HTPs, or there is inadequate enforcement of legislation where it does exist.