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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

African elders ban female circumcision

March 15, 2011

Village officials in the West African countries of Senegal and Mali have decided to place an official ban on the practice of female circumcision.

The elders of the villages have also promised to end the forced arranged marriage of children within their communities.

Representatives from nearly 90 villages in the two countries held a ceremony in eastern Senegal at which they agreed to ban the practice.

Ali Ba of the NGO Tostan, which aims to empower African communities, said that the ceremony represented the abandonment of excision and the early and forced marriages of girls.

About 1,500 people from 70 Senegalese villages and 19 Malian villages showed up for the ceremony.

The name Tostan means 'breakthrough' in the West African Wolof language.

The villages affected by the pledge to end female circumcision belong for the most part to Mande-speaking communities, meaning that most of them share thousands of years of cultural legacy, including that of the ancient West African Mali, Ghana, and Songhai empires.

The practice of female circumcision is widespread throughout Mande-speaking regions of Africa, affecting up to three million girls who undergo the procedure every year.

Ba said that the recent declaration had brought the NGO's tally up to 4,751 communities which had pledged to end female circumcision.

He said that Muslim clerics in Senegal and Mali had been involved in promulgating new standards of awareness about female circumcision.

Kalidou Sy, the national coordinator of Tostan, said that the NGO held ceremonies in the presence of regional leadership, in order to promote its message.

The Senegalese government banned female circumcision in 1999, but many communities have not heeded government regulations.

When a Senegalese community seeks to circumcise a girl, it does so in secret, or brings the girl to a neighbouring country where the practice is still lawful.

Some 40 villages had previously participated in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a 30-month programme that aims to educate people about human rights, health, and literacy.

A group of community leaders from the villages said they believed it was necessary to create Tostan centers in all Senegalese villages and continue awareness raising discussions so that everyone could abandon female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation, female circumcision or female genital cutting refers to "all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons," according to the World Health Organisation.

Traditionally carried out by an older woman in the community with scant medical training, the practice rarely involves the use of antiseptic or anaesthetic.

Knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass and razor blades have been documented as instruments, with herbs or iodine used to stop the bleeding.