FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: ZERO TOLERANCE
They are three pretty, young students, and they are clearly paying a great deal of attention to what the politicians, doctors and social workers are saying tonight at the Geneva Cantonal Hospital. With them is a young man, obviously quite moved. The questions put by these young Somali women after the presentations are revealing enough. One tells us "You know, we have all been through it". "It" being the unspeakable pain and ignominious scars of excision.
Even now, some 3 million children and teens are subjected every year to excision and other forms of female genital mutilation (FGM) such as infibulation, which mark their victims for the rest of their lives. These practices, which are violations of human rights, have devastating consequences both physically and psychologically; they can even result in death. For what or for whom have between 100 and 140 million women and girls in the world, mainly in Africa, had the most private part of their bodies "cut or sewn"? Certainly not for religion. Many Muslim dignitaries have pointed out that the Koran makes absolutely no mention of FGM.
Then why is it that according to statistics from UNICEF, a little girl is subjected to excision on average every 15 seconds? According to the participants in an African parliamentary conference on this subject held in Dakar in December with the cooperation of the IPU, the African Parliamentary Union, the National Assembly of Senegal and UNICEF, it is because FGM has been perpetrated for generations in a social setting where family choices are dependent on decisions made by others. It is also because some parents, out of concern for their honour and their African culture and no doubt out of love for their daughters, believe that if their daughters are not excised they will not marry.
This is not the opinion of Mr. Mélégué Traoré, a member of parliament and the former President of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso. This highly respected traditional chief, who has himself refused to subject his daughters to FGM, explained that "We are in no way abandoning African culture when we abandon female genital mutilation".
To try to end the ordeal faced by African women from their earliest childhood and when they bring children into the world, an awareness campaign is being conducted in a number of African countries. Men, women, parliamentarians, traditional chiefs and religious leaders have mobilized to encourage the abandonment of these terrible practices, which are punishable by law in some countries. To help ensure that the awareness is universal, 6 February has been declared the International Day of Zero Tolerance of Female Genital Mutilation.
As Waris Dirie, a Somali fashion model and goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), wrote in Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, an extremely moving book she co-authored with Cathleen Miller, "I pray that one day not a single woman will have to undergo this torture; that this practice will become a thing of the past; that people will say, ‘Have you heard that female genital mutilation has been banned in Somalia?', and then in another country, and another, until the world becomes a safer place for all women. It will be a wonderful day. That is my objective. Inshallah, if God wills it, that day will come".