GENITAL MUTILATION: Campaigners In Rome To Denounce Practice
African and European activists met in Rome yesterday to confer on ways to combat female genital mutilation (FGM). Campaigners say FGM is a barbaric practice born out of ignorance and that girls who undergo the ritual suffer from psychological and physical damage. According to former European Union Commissioner Emma Bonino, FGM "mutilates the mind as well as the body" (SAPA/South Africa Independent Online, 6 Mar). Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato told conference participants the practice infringes on basic human rights, which "cannot be imposed from above but which must mature in the conscience of those who lack them." Regarding the practice of infibulation -- a form of female genital mutilation -- Giuliano said "no political correctness can convince me that such a violation is acceptable." He added that a "major shake-up" is needed to improve the rights of women in African countries, and that China and India also need to make better efforts. "African women have the right to regain control over their [bodies] and sexuality," said Daniela Colombo of Italian nongovernmental organization AIDOS (Agence France- Presse/Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, 7 Mar). The conference is backed by AIDOS, Bonino and Nobel Prize winner Rita Levi Montalcini. FGM is widely practiced in northern and eastern Africa, as well as among some African communities in Western countries. Anti-FGM campaigners say the practice violates human rights (SAPA/South Africa Independent Online). "African women think that suffering is a way of life," said Khadidja Sidibe Aoudou, president of Mali's Association Malienne pour le Suivi et l'Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles (AMSOPT). "Women are made to believe that an uncut clitoris can cause impotence in men and the death of their children, and that female circumcision allows women to be accepted in their communities," she added" (AFP/Johannesburg Mail & Guardian). The conference is calling for the practice to be banned worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates 120 million women have undergone FGM. In Somalia, more than 90% of women are affected, according to French anti-FGM campaigners (SAPA/South Africa Independent Online).