Mali: Calling for a Law Against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

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Date: 
1 Jul 2004

Fanta CamaraFanta Camara was 5 years old when she was genitally mutilated. In the course of the mutilation her urethra was damaged as a consequence of which she became incontinent. She is now 12 years old but does not look her age. According to her doctor her growth has been retarded by repeated infections of her genitals. She has had to drop out of school as her fellow pupils, who could not bear the smell of her incontinence, made fun of her. In the village she spends her time washing her clothes that are repeatedly soiled by the ceaseless flow of urine. The same community that required her, in accordance with tradition, to undergo the process now shuns her. Without corrective surgery her condition, compounded by lack of an education, heralds a bleak future.

Fanta's is not an isolated case in Mali. FGM is practiced in all parts of Mali with a prevalence rate of 94% according to the country’s second Demographic and Health Survey of 1996. The practice is performed not only by traditional circumcisers but also by midwives and retired medical personnel. Three forms of FGM are practiced in Mali: the partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy), the removal of the entire clitoris and the cutting of the labia minora (excision), and the most extreme form--the removal of all external genitalia and stitching together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small vaginal opening (infibulation). The effects of FGM, which is generally done without anaesthesia, can be devastating. In Mali, it is generally performed on girls below the age of 10 years with some as young as 3 months old. The cutting may have lifelong health consequences including chronic infection, psychological trauma, and severe pain during urination, menstruation, sexual intercourse and childbirth. Many girls die from the cutting, usually as a result of bleeding or infection.

Non-governmental organizations in Mali, including the Malian Association for Monitoring and Orientation on Traditional Practices (AMSOPT) and the Association for the Advancement and the Defense of the Rights of Women (APDF), have been carrying out awareness-raising campaigns on the dangers of FGM. APDF has undertaken a detailed program of sensitization with local communities across the country and also with circumcisers, which led to the first putting down of knives in Mali, in 1994. In 1999, APDF organized a workshop of experts, including parliamentarians and NGOs working for the protection of the human rights of women and children. This workshop led to the production of a legal text that included the prohibition of FGM in Mali. A copy of the text was sent to the President of the Malian Parliament as well as the Minister of Justice with the aim of generating discussion within government about a law banning FGM. A roundtable organized by APDF in 2000 brought together NGOs from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea-Conakry, where FGM is illegal, with the aim of informing their Malian colleagues about the advantages of having a law against FGM to promote and protect the health and the rights of women and girls in Mali. Parliamentarians from Mali also participated in this roundtable.

AMSOPT has worked, in the regions of Kayes and Koulikoro and the district of Bamako, with a total of 75 villages of which 30 have pledged to abandon the practice and the circumcisers there are now engaging in other income-generating activities. The awareness created by these activities has culminated in the promulgation of unwritten community laws that prohibit FGM and impose sanctions on any person found carrying out or assisting in FGM. These communities are concerned, however, that their efforts will be futile in the likely event that their daughters marry into one of the many other communities that are yet to abandon the practice and would be forced to undergo genital mutilation. Also, owing to the absence of a national law against FGM, Mali serves as a safe haven for FGM practitioners from Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea-Conakry, who bring girls across the border and cut them in Mali to escape punishment in their own countries. AMSOPT and APDF believe that a national law against FGM must be enacted urgently in order to ensure that the life and health of thousands of women and girls are protected from the harmful effects of FGM.

In June 2002 the former president of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konaré, unsuccessfully tabled a Bill before parliament seeking to criminalize FGM. Some attribute the failure of this Bill to insufficient awareness-raising and lack of political will. APDF and AMSOPT are campaigning to have the Bill strengthened to reflect Mali's international legal commitments and re-tabled. They believe such a law would now have a greater chance of passing as awareness levels in the country about the dangers of FGM are high and the government-created National Action Committee for the Abandonment of Harmful Practices has become more engaged in the national campaign against FGM. The Bill would effectively criminalize FGM with deterrent penalties. It also provides for education and outreach to relevant communities on the dangers of FGM.

Article 1 of Mali's Constitution preserves the right of all citizens to integrity of person and guarantees the protection of all citizens from inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment. Article 116 of the Constitution provides that the treaties and conventions ratified by Mali take precedence in authority over the domestic laws of the state. These treaties include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which both call for an end to FGM. CEDAW in Article 2(f) obligates States Parties to undertake all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination against women. Article 24(3) of the CRC requires that States Parties take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of the child.

FGM is not unique to Mali. Around the world it is estimated that more than 130 million women and girls have been subjected to FGM and 2 million every year, or 6,000 every day, are at risk of FGM. An extreme form of the many traditional practices used by communities to deny women equality, FGM is defended by both men and women as a rite of passage and a social prerequisite for marriage. It is used in an effort to control women’s sexuality. However, 14 of the 28 African countries where FGM is practiced have adopted laws to protect girls from this harmful practice. These laws appear to be having an impact on reducing the prevalence of FGM, particularly in those countries such as Burkina Faso where the law is publicized and enforced.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Malian authorities and urge them to support the introduction and passage of a law against FGM as a matter of urgent priority. Mention the harmful effects of FGM and remind them of Mali’s obligations under international law, as well as its own Constitution, to eradicate FGM and to end discrimination against women and girls. Urge them also to take measures and support efforts to educate practicing communities on the harmful effects of FGM. Letters should be addressed to:

H.E. Amadou Toumany Touré
President
BP 1463, Koulouba
Bamako, MALI

H.E. Maharafa Traoré
Minister of Justice
BP 97, Quartier du fleuve
Bamako, MALI