Women’s rights groups bring Mali to regional court for inaction against FGM

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A number of women’s rights groups have lodged a complaint against the government of Mali with the ECOWAS regional court to try to force the authorities in Bamako to take action against female genital mutilation (FGM). The initiative could set a legal precedent and have broader implications on the continent.

The legal deposit, confirmed by RFI on Monday, before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in Abuja, Nigeria, challenges the inability of the Malian government to promulgate laws or legislation. policy making FGM illegal.

“We are moving forward to see if this can push the current government to take action,” said Grace Uwizeye of Equality Now, an international organization working to protect women and girls.

“This is our last resort to see how we can support and protect women and girls in Mali from this practice,” Uwizeye said.

FGM involves the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia and has no beneficial effects on health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The procedure can cause infection, create problems with childbirth, and lead to an increased risk of newborn death. It also leads to bleeding, problems with urination and cysts, the WHO warns.

Legal obligations

Mali is a party to international human rights instruments, such as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which specifically includes articles against the elimination of harmful practices such as FGM.

Nevertheless, despite the signing of the Maputo Protocol, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), successive governments in Mali have failed to criminalize this practice.

“There have been many governments in place in Mali, so we can’t wait any longer,” said Uwizeye, a consultant for the non-governmental organization, referring to various governments in power before the current military junta who have not acted either.

The case, which was filed on March 29, 2021, could set a legal precedent and establish case law in West Africa and the African continent as a whole, using a regional court to hold a state accountable for its obligations. to protect women.

Such legal action has already been taken against the Malian state in relation to child marriage, but using similar legal avenues to end FGM would be a first, according to Uwizeye.

Equality Now has partnered with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), the Malian Association for the Monitoring and Orientation of Traditional Practices and the Association for the Progress and Defense of Women’s Rights in the context of the legal challenge.

Religious teachings

FGM remains a common practice in Mali and authorities rely on awareness raising, but this is not enough, Uwizeye told RFI.

“The biggest challenge comes from the religious leaders, who really continue to believe that the practice is a religious requirement, but it is not,” she added, describing how many religious figures had in fact publicly denounced practice, and have gone so far as to publish fatwas against it.

Yet not all spiritual teachers have taken a stand against it, and “a certain group of religious leaders” continue to influence the government, making them reluctant to ban FGM, according to Uwizeye.

The Malian government has already considered banning the practice, as reported by local media, although no changes to the law have ever been enacted.

Some 89% of women aged 15 to 49 are circumcised in Mali, according to a 2018 demographic and health survey conducted by Mali’s national statistics agency, with funding from the US Agency for International Development.

Almost three-quarters of girls aged 0 to 14 are circumcised and the vast majority of girls are circumcised before the age of 5, according to the survey.

A majority of men and women believe the practice is required by religion, but the more educated a person is, the less likely they are to think it should continue.

Elna M. Lemons