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2/14/03 - FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION - 2003-02-14

This month, activists from across Africa gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for an international conference on female genital mutilation, entitled “Zero Tolerance to F-G-M.” The conference adopted an agenda to intensify the campaign against F-G-M and identify programs to end this practice. The painful procedure involves partially cutting or totally removing the female genitalia for cultural rather than medical reasons. It is generally performed without anesthesia.

The United Nations World Health Organization estimates that one-hundred-twenty million women, mostly in Africa, have undergone the procedure. Every year two-million girls are at risk of undergoing it. These women are subject to what the World Health Organization said are “well documented physical complications,” including infection, urinary tract obstructions, pregnancy complications, and severe bleeding sometimes leading to death.

Roselyn Odera is a Kenyan with Equality Now, a group based in New York. She attended the conference in Ethiopia. She told The New York Times newspaper that, “From the screams you hear, it’s painful. There’s no anesthesia. The instruments are rudimentary. It’s beyond imagination,” said Ms. Odera, “how anyone could do this to another human being -- especially little girls.”

Most countries where it is practiced have outreach programs to educate people about the dangers of female genital mutilation. The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children has committees in at least twenty-six African countries.

The U.S. views female genital mutilation as harmful to the health of women and a violation of their human rights. The U.S. is committed to a policy that includes education, empowerment of women, enforcement of laws, and evaluation of existing programs in an effort to end this practice. The U.S. sponsors projects to combat female genital mutilation and provides funds to focus on the problem in Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, Senegal, Somalia, Togo, and a number of other countries.

Female genital mutilation has been around for centuries. It pre-dates both Christianity and Islam. It crosses religious, ethnic, and cultural lines. Education about its harmful health effects, as well as its impact on the rights of women, is essential if this practice is to be ended. The recent conference in Addis Ababa is a step in the right direction.