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Monday, November 30, 2009

Female circumcision: "Europe should learn from Africa"

November 27, 2009 By Helen Michaud, Radio Nederland Wereldomroep

Nine villages in Mali ban female circumcision, and celebrate this in a solemn ceremony; a future bride in Ethiopia proclaims in public that she and her fiancé are happy that she has not been circumcised.

More and more men and women in Africa are saying ‘no” to the genital mutilation of their daughters, as a result of effective local interventions that have helped break ancestral taboos.

The incidence of female genital mutilation (FGM) is even regressing in Ethiopia, Guinea, Niger and Sudan, says Berhane Ras-Work, who has been fighting it for the past 25 years. Berhane Ras-Work is the Executive director of the Inter-African Committee (IA) on traditional practices, based in Addis Ababa. "I'm salima"

In Sudan, women are taking a positive approach to the phenomenon. Nafisa Nedri refuses to say that she is “not circumcised”. Instead, she says ‘I’m salima”. Her 19-year old daughter is salima too. Salima means “whole, intact” in Arabic.

“I fought for my daughter. I had to take a very strong stance and teach her to do the same whenever she’s bullied or called names because she’s not circumcised,” says Ms. Nedri.

Wearing stunning red, green and yellow shawls, their message is to celebrate the beauty of the female body left intact. Members of the "salima" campaign joined an international conference on FGM this week in the Netherlands.

“Salima is born, she has been created from the Nile water. Salima is a beautiful, happy girl with a smile. She’s the future, ” their theme song goes. 89% of girls in Sudan undergo genital mutilation

Similarly, in Mali, abolitionists dress up young girls in beautiful traditional attire to celebrate the fact that they have remained untouched by the blade, though the battle is far from won. In Sudan, mainly in the North, about 89% of girls are at risk; in Mali, the rate is 85%.

FGM is illegal in 17 African countries and in Europe, although the legislation is rarely enforced. With its important migrant communities, Europe is also trying to come to grips with this practice, with the help of Diaspora organisations. Diaspora organisations Diaspora groups, in order to affirm their identities, sometimes hold on to traditional practices that are slowly being abandoned in their countries of origin. Sometimes, because of exposure to other cultures, they are more progressive than those "back home ".

Dutch Deputy health minister Jet Bussemaker, hosting the international delegates at the conference, said that European countries have much to learn from effective campaigns against the genital mutilation of girls in Africa. "The immigrants here should learn about what is happening in their country of origin, in Africa, and that would help them in saying "no" here as well. That’s why I side with my colleague Bert Koenders, Minister for Development Cooperation, to improve this exchange. And then we, in the Netherlands, should ensure that other European countries join in too." The ministers intend to visit Africa next year to examine successful initiatives. Likewise, anti-FGM campaigners in Africa hope they can count on the support of European countries. "You should put more pressure on our leaders, says Berhane Ras-Work. Sometimes they listen more to you than to us".