KENYA INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: SPEECH OF EMMA BONINO


September 16, 2004

Opening Ceremony of the International Conference on Female Genital Mutilation: developing a political, legal and social environment to implement the Maputo Protocol - Speech of the Hon. Emma Bonino, Founder of No Peace Without Justice

Your Excellency, the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya;
Your Excellencies, representatives of regional organisations: the African Union and the European Union;
Ministers;
Ambassadors;
Colleagues from Parliaments;
My dear friends from civil society;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

Before giving the formal vote of thanks, which is my honour during this opening ceremony, allow me to share with you some of my thoughts about this fight against FGM. Looking around the room, I am encouraged to see so many of you here from this beautiful country, from neighbouring countries, from the region and elsewhere, representing Governments, Parliaments and civil society. I am especially happy to see old friends, particularly “veterans” from the Cairo Conference, as well as some new friends, with whom we look forward to building strong partnerships and a lasting relationship over the next few days. But more than that, I am happy to see a cross-section of so many of you from across Kenya. You, as traditional leaders, human rights activists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers and fathers, can take what you discuss here back to your communities and take the fight against FGM to the grassroots level across whole country.

I have been given hope by the speeches we have listened to this afternoon, for the issues they have raised and the perspectives they have presented. A good stage has been set for the discussions over the next couple of days and for the future work of all of us involved in the fight against FGM. Some of what I would like to say now has already been canvassed by our opening speakers, but these things are worth saying again. They are worth saying a hundred times. They are worth repeating until no woman or girl anywhere in the world is faced with the prospect of undergoing FGM.

The main thing is that FGM is a human rights issue. Simple as that. It is a human rights issue and it is a political issue. It falls squarely within the broader fight, the non-violent struggle for the improvement of women’s human rights throughout the world. This is a period in which terrorism, violence and kidnapping seem to be spreading in many parts of the world, with escalating brutality. In this context, we should appreciate all the more the non-violent approach and the work of so many people trying to protect human rights in increasingly difficult circumstances, including the increasing threat of kidnapping. I really cannot give my vote of thanks without paying tribute to all the civilians, the journalists, the humanitarian workers, the women and the children, who are the target of this brutal violence throughout the world, notably in Iraq and Sudan, especially in the Darfur region. As a woman, my mind goes to the two young Italian women who are currently in the hands of hostage-takers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta. On this occasion, at this Conference, I would like to make an appeal for their prompt and safe return and for the prompt and safe return of all hostages taken throughout the world.

We know the non-violent approach works: through the tenacity of people like you gathered here today, some battles have been won in some places. In Morocco, the new laws on the personal status of women represent an enlightened Islamic perspective on women’s rights; in Jordan, the movement against honour killings is gaining strength; in Kuwait, following Yemen’s example, voting rights for women will be realised in the not too distant future and where human rights organisations were recently legally recognised. In Rwanda, there have been efforts to increase the participation of women in political life and also an increase of women elected to Parliament. In respect of FGM, we have examples here in Kenya of former circumcisers publicly renouncing the practice and some very courageous young women refusing to undergo FGM. In Sierra Leone, in addition to the work done by civil society there, we even have a man publicly supporting his wife’s refusal to become a circumciser, which was the tradition in her family.

But the war is far from over. In too many places, specific problems facing millions of women and girls are still justified in the name of “culture” or “tradition”, whether expressly or by implication. We see it every day, and you know this far better than I do, from domestic violence, to denial of the right to vote, to forced marriage, to inheritance rights and, of critical importance for all of us, to female genital mutilation. As His Excellency, The Vice President, has just said, the continuing practice of FGM is a striking example of the inequality of women, going hand in hand with the abuse of women, including domestic violence. FGM is part of the broader human rights struggle of women everywhere and needs to be recognised as such.

That is why the Maputo Protocol is so important and why we were so happy and thankful, Mr Vice President, to hear the Republic of Kenya really taking a lead on this issue by announcing formally your intention to ratify the Maputo Protocol. The Maputo Protocol covers a broad range of women’s rights and is progressive in the detail into which it goes, in particular in article 5 condemning and prohibiting FGM. What is striking about article 5 is that it is so comprehensive in its approach to the abandonment of FGM. As we recognised in Cairo and have heard repeated this morning, FGM does not require only legal solutions, not only political solutions, not only social solutions. It requires an integrated approach, concerted and coordinated action in the political, legal and social areas, if we are to see any positive change. This is the type of approach that we can see throughout the Maputo Protocol on a range of issues of critical relevance to women, who make up more than half the world’s population. And as we all know, based on nearly 20 years experience in the fight against FGM, it is the only type of approach that can work in the long term.

I don’t need to tell you that FGM remains a sensitive issue and that different countries are at different stages of the fight. There are still countries where there is a veil of silence over FGM and then there are countries where we already have legislation prohibiting the practice, like here in Kenya. I would like to take this opportunity to pay a special tribute to a very strong woman here in Kenya, who is a leader in the fight against FGM and who has worked hard not only throughout the years but also in the lead-up to this Conference, the Honourable Minister for Home Affairs, Mrs Linah Kilimo. I would also like to highlight the incredible work done by the Association of Media Women in Kenya and their very dynamic leadership. AMWIK has been working closely with civil society organisations in the local preparation for this Conference. The presence of so many of you representing civil society from across Kenya is testament to the work that the local team has done.

I know that we will do good work during this Conference. And as we work together over the next few days, let’s remember the importance of this work not only for the fight against FGM but also for enhancing an open society where all women and children are free to exercise their human rights. The responsibility that we all bear is tremendous; it is a responsibility towards current and future generations of women and children. But I know that the responsibility is more than matched by our collective commitment.

I would like to conclude offering my vote of thanks. First and foremost, thanks go to the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya, His Excellency the Honourable Arthur Moody Awory, for your welcome address and your presence here today. Thanks also go to the organisers of this Conference, the Government of Kenya, in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the team of No Peace Without Justice working on this, together with the African Media Women’s Association in Kenya. Special thanks go to the sponsors and contributors to this Conference, namely CIDA-GESP from Canada and UNICEF together with the Italian Cooperation, the Governments of Norway and France, UNIFEM jointly with the Swedish Government, the Sigrid Rausing Trust and GTZ from Germany and, for its constant political support, the European Union. Our warmest thanks go to all the speakers at this Opening Ceremony; you have inspired us to do our best work. Finally, thanks to all of you, the participants at this Conference, for your presence and the contributions you will make over the coming days. I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together.

I would like to conclude offering my vote of thanks. First and foremost, thanks go to the Vice President of the Republic of Kenya, His Excellency the Honourable Arthur Moody Awory, for your welcome address and your presence here today. Thanks also go to the organisers of this Conference, the Government of Kenya, in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the team of No Peace Without Justice working on this, together with the African Media Women’s Association in Kenya. Special thanks go to the sponsors and contributors to this Conference, namely CIDA-GESP from Canada and UNICEF together with the Italian Cooperation, the Governments of Norway and France, UNIFEM jointly with the Swedish Government, the Sigrid Rausing Trust and GTZ from Germany and, for its constant political support, the European Union. Our warmest thanks go to all the speakers at this Opening Ceremony; you have inspired us to do our best work. Finally, thanks to all of you, the participants at this Conference, for your presence and the contributions you will make over the coming days. I am looking forward to seeing what we can achieve together.