Rid the world of female genital mutilation
The moral imperative to end this brutal practice exists – now we need the leadership and political will to consign it to history
In countries all over the world today, women live with the threat, or consequences, of female genital mutilation.
In Africa alone an estimated 3 million girls and women are subjected to the practice each year, and some 92m of the continent’s female population are estimated to have been victims of FGM.
The justification for the procedure changes from country to country. In some parts of the continent, religious scriptures are disingenuously invoked. In other parts it is cultural traditions that help keep the practice alive. But whatever the reasoning, the simple fact of the matter is that female genital mutilation is a blatant violation of the most fundamental human rights and must be eradicated.
Many States in which FGM is practised are signatories to the African Union’s Protocol on the Rights of Women, article 5, which explicitly calls for legislation banning FGM. And while there are positive signs of a shift away from the practice in many countries, the failure of many African Union states to ratify the protocol and the scarcity of effective national legislation is hampering a more co-ordinated effort to rid the continent of this scourge.
Which is why the government of Burkina Faso and the human rights organisation No Peace Without Justice is organising a high-level meeting in Ougadougou (8-10 November) to discuss the important next steps that need to be taken towards a global ban on FGM.
The meeting, which is sponsored by the Italian government, will bring together lawmakers, NGOs, government ministers and community leaders as well women from throughout the region who have dedicated, and sometimes even risked, their lives to ensure that future generations are not subjected to female genital mutilation.
The meeting will also be used to issue a call to other African first ladies to commit themselves to the abolition of FGM by joining a continent-wide effort to educate and legislate. Educate their communities – particularly women – about their rights under international law, and push for legislation that enshrines those rights at a national level.
Her Excellency Mrs Mubarak of Egypt and Her Excellency Mrs Museveni of Uganda are among those who have already spoken publicly – and vociferously – about their opposition to FGM. What is important now is to expand and co-ordinate the actions of this alliance of like-minded women. A coalition of Africa’s first ladies committed to the eradication of FGM would not only give the issue the visibility it deserves, but also provide the leadership required to outlaw the practice once and for all.
Burkina Faso is proud of the leading role it has played in the region in the elimination of FGM. It is among only a handful of African nations to have enacted effective legislation banning the practice. The subsequent prosecution of FGM practitioners, combined with a nationwide education campaign, has shifted community attitudes, led to a drop in the incidence of FGM and – importantly – provided an example, and encouragement, for similar campaigns that have sprung up in neighbouring countries.
The Ougadougou meeting comes at a crucial moment for the growing movement – in Africa and around the world – towards a global ban on FGM. This summer in Mali, thousands of women marched throughout the country demanding that their parliament enact legislation against FGM. Despite the best efforts of the conservative forces promoting FGM, communities in countries all over Africa are starting to question the practice.
The lesson learned in Burkina Faso is that women across the country are empowered to resist FGM when the population as a whole, including women in both rural and urban areas, understand not only the health consequences of FGM but are made aware of women’s legal rights, as recognised and protected by the constitution and by national laws.
The moral imperative to rid the world of this most heinous violation of human rights most definitely exists, the international protocol is firmly in place – now all that is required is the leadership and the political will to consign this brutal practice to the history books where it belongs.
By Chantal Compaoré is the First Lady of Burkina Faso http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/08/female-genital-mutilation