Mali: Renewed Call for a Law Against Female Genital Mutilation

Equality Now
"Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in all parts of Mali with a prevalence rate of 92% according to the country’s third Demographic and Health Survey of 2001."
Fanta Camara was 5 years old when she was subjected to genital mutilation. In the course of the cutting her urethra was severely damaged, as a consequence of which she became incontinent. She had to drop out of school as other students, who could not bear the smell of her incontinence, made fun of her.
In the village she spent her time washing her clothes, which were repeatedly soiled by the ceaseless flow of urine. The same community that required her, in accordance with tradition, to undergo the process of genital mutilation, shunned her as a result of the harm it caused her. Her condition, compounded by lack of education, heralded a bleak future.

Fanta’s case is not an isolated one in Mali. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is practiced in all parts of Mali with a prevalence rate of 92% according to the country’s third Demographic and Health Survey of 2001. 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, 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.

For Fanta there is finally good news. After doctors in Mali said they were not able to treat Fanta’s incontinence, in February 2007, Equality Now organized a medical consultation for Fanta in France, with the help of Equality Now supporters who financed her travel to Paris and made arrangements for her to see medical experts. Diagnostic tests indicated that the extent of Fanta’s injury precluded surgery without intensive post-operative care, which she would not be able to get in her village in Mali. While this news was disappointing, Fanta has surprised doctors with unusual improvement. She has responded positively to antibiotics and now has better control over her incontinence, which according to the doctors may be attributed to the strengthening of the bladder that occurs with puberty. An Equality Now supporter is also financing Fanta’s education through private tutoring, which has been organized for Fanta by the non-governmental organization Malian Association for Monitoring and Orientation on Traditional Practices (AMSOPT), one of Equality Now’s partners in this campaign. Fanta is making great progress. She is in Bamako, the capital of Mali, where she is re-integrating into society and making new friends. She has said she would like to become an anti-FGM activist to help eradicate the harmful practice.

Unfortunately it is not possible to help individually all the girls and women suffering the negative consequences of FGM, and in many cases the damage done is beyond medical repair.

What is needed is a law against the practice to help prevent FGM from being inflicted.

AMSOPT has worked with a total of 80 villages in the regions of Kayes, Sanankoroba, Dioila and Kangaba, of which 53 have pledged to abandon the practice. 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 believes 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 2005 Mali ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which in Article 5(b) requires States Parties to prohibit FGM through legislative measures backed by sanctions. This is in addition to Article 1 of Mali’s Constitution, which sets forth the right of all citizens to integrity of person and guarantees the protection of all citizens from inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment, as do other similar international obligations of Mali. Elections were held recently in Mali and a new cabinet appointed. Both the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr. Diouncounda Traoré, and the Chair of the Committee on Health, Dr. Omar Mariko, have publicly stated their opposition to FGM. Dr. Mariko, an opposition Member of Parliament, offered to draft a specific law against FGM. More advocacy is now needed to encourage the government to honor its commitments and to enact a strong law against FGM as well as supporting education and outreach to relevant communities on the dangers of FGM.

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 girls 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, 16 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.

July 2008

Source: Equality Now