MALI: Government Against Female Circumcision
UN Humanitarian Affairs (Dr. Claudia R. Wintoch)
January 11, 2004



MALI: Government moves softly against female circumcision

BAMAKO, 31 December (IRIN) - The government of Mali has agreed to take firm but low profile action to counter the widespread practise of female circumcision, otherwise known as female genital mutilation (FMG).

Nine out of 10 girls in this poor West African country suffer the total or partial removal of their clitoris before or shortly after they reach puberty in a ceremony that has formed part of social life for centuries.

Given the popularity of this custom among Mali's 12 million people, the government has not so far come forward with a law to ban the practise, even though it can lead to serious health problems, some immediate and others which occur later at childbirth.

However, the government-backed National Programme against Excision and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) held a meeting in Bamako with religious and civil society leaders last week to review progress in combatting the practise and develop new strategies.

The participants recommended that training about how to combat FMG be incorporated into the government training programmes for teachers and nurses. They also called for a national summit meeting be held to publicly debate the problem of female circumcision.

The participants also agreed to draft a brochure about FMG in Arabic to take the message to the Muslim religious community.

Several representatives of Muslim youth organisations pointed out that although Mali is overwhelmingly Islamic country, there is nothing in Koranic law that calls for FMG.

Alhaji Kadi Drame, a representative of the Islamic Action association said: "Islam does not mention is just a customary practice."

He pointed out that FMG was not practised in neighbouring Mauritania, or indeed in other devoutly Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Several women representing non-governmental organisations protested that many Muslim clerics in Mali openly endorsed FMG. But Drame said they were doing so out of ignorance.

This debate gave rise to the suggestion that a brochure about FMG be produced in Arabic to raise awareness among the Islamic religious community.

According to a demographic and health survey called EDS II, 92 percent of Mali's female population have undergone FGM. It is most widely practiced in the south of the country, much less so by the nomadic Sohrhai, Tuareg and Moorish peoples of the desert north.

In Mali, it is an honour for older women to be called upon to circumcize a young girl and many are practised at performing the operation.

Others have turned female circumcision into a business, charging up to US$5 per girl.

According to Kadiatou Ly Diallo, a UNICEF protection officer in Mali, parents circumcise their daughters in the belief that it will suppress their sexual desires and help preserve their virginity.

Widely practied throughout Africa, FGM is the partial or total removal of external female genital organs whether for cultural, religous or other non-medical reasons.

According to the World Health Organization, this painful practice has grave immediate and long term health consequences. These include tetanus infection, the formation of cysts and abcesses, painful sexual intercourse and difficulty during childbirth, urine retention, heavy bleeding, sterility and psycho-sexual and psychological trauma.

The use of improperly sterilised blades can also lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

About two million young girls, between 4 and 12 years old, are circumcised each year, according to WHO.

Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance. (Ps 2:8)

Dr. Claudia R. Wintoch
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