Conference delegates in Ethiopia call for end to FGM
Friday 5 March 2004


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AFRICA: Conference delegates in Ethiopia call for end to FGM

©  IRIN/Anthony Mitchell

Somali excisors

ADDIS ABABA, 6 February (PLUSNEWS) - African governments faced renewed demands on Friday to introduce and enforce tough laws to stamp out female genital mutilation (FGM) and protect the women of their countries. Leading health and human rights experts on the continent called for legislation to end the practice to which 2 million African women and girls in 28 countries are subjected every year.

Only 16 African countries, including Ethiopia, have adopted laws to protect women and girls from the ancient custom, which is also blamed for spreading HIV/AIDS.

But Berhane Ras-Work, president of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, said that despite the introduction of legislation, the laws were not always enforced. Speaking during a conference in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to mark the international day on Zero Tolerance to FGM, she said more action must be taken.

According to statistics, between 100 million and 130 million women have endured FGM or excision at the hands of unqualified practitioners, often without any anaesthetic or sterilised instruments. The practice is ubiquitous in the Horn of Africa, where, for example, 98 percent of Somali women are estimated to have undergone the procedure. In Ethiopia, it is almost as widespread.

Experts stressed that legislation was not the only way to eradicate the practice, and also advocated "comprehensive community involvement" towards achieving attitude changes.

Dr Olusegun Babaniyi, who heads the World Health Organisation in Ethiopia, said FGM was a human rights violation. "It is due to social reasons relative to the low status of women in society, and affects the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of women. In fact, it is an important form of violence against women," he said.

He stressed that "educating the community is probably the most important way to change the attitudes and practises of long-standing issues like FGM".

The nine women ambassadors to Ethiopia, including those of the US, Germany, Canada, Ireland and Mozambique, supported Babaniyi's comments. In a joint statement read on their behalf, they urged the promotion of advocacy and the involvement of local leaders in helping to bring about changes of attitude and behaviour in the context of FGM.

"The decision-making ability by women for their health and the health of their families needs to be strengthened," the ambassadors said. "Every attempt must be made to maximise the input and participation of local leadership and the community members to stop female genital cutting."

Bience Gawanas, the African Union (AU) social affairs commissioner, said that the AU had established legal frameworks towards helping to enforce a continent-wide ban. She went on to note, however, that only a handful of African governments had bothered to ratify the laws and introduce them into their domestic legislation.

Gawanas said the AU – which has replaced the Organisation of African Unity – had embarked in a "large-scale" campaign to persuade African governments to sign up. Without their commitment, she told the conference, legal and policy instruments to combat violence against women were just "dead letters".

Earlier, Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis told delegates that harmful traditional practices were obstructing development and preventing women from reaching their potential. "Above all, by preventing individuals from utilising their potential and abilities effectively, it hinders them from making a meaningful contribution to their country’s development," he declared.



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International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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