When used in the gender equality context, harmful practices towards women and girls are those grounded in discrimination based on sex, gender, age or other grounds, and have often been justified by invoking sociocultural and religious customs and values as well as misconceptions related to some disadvantaged groups of women and girls. They serve to highlight the gender dimension of violence and indicate that sex- and gender-based attitudes and stereotypes, power imbalances, inequalities and discrimination perpetuate the widespread existence of such practices, which are themselves a form of gender-based violence or involve violence or coercion. They are also often used to justify gender-based violence as a form of ‘protection’ or control of women and children.
In addition to practices associated with tradition, harmful practices related to socially defined notions of beauty have been emerging in the so-called western world. Many women and children in societies throughout the world increasingly undergo medical treatment and/or plastic surgery, often at considerable risk to their physical health, to comply with such social norms of the body. Many women and girls are also pressured by the cultural obsession with thinness as a cultural and sexual ideal, putting their health at risk by severely restricting their dietary intake. This has resulted in an epidemic of eating and health disorders.
CEDAW and CRC Committees (2014). Joint General Recommendation/General Comment No 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and No 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on harmful practices. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CEDAW/Pages/Recommendations.aspx