September 2012 – Parliamentarians from Burkina Faso, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Togo met in Ouagadougou on 5 September to discuss the problem of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in their country, particularly in border areas. For several years now, Burkina Faso has been a pioneer in Africa in trying to stamp out the excision of women and young girls, a practice that has been illegal since 1996. However, FGM/C persists and prevalence is still greater than 75 percent in several areas, particularly in several border zones.
Supported by AWEPA, the European Parliamentarians with Africa Association, in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund, and following the activities organised in April this year, the parliamentarians from Burkina Faso, Mali and other neighbouring countries wished to further examine the question of transborder excision, identified as one of the reasons the practice persists. Mali shares a long border with Burkina Faso and other countries in the region, and, to date, has still not adopted a law against FGM/C, despite the efforts made in this direction by the network of Malian parliamentarians to combat violence against women. The absence of a law in Mali encourages people to cross the border to carry out excision. These borders are often open with very little control. The Belgian Senator and member of AWEPA, Mrs Dominique Tilmans, also taking part in this activity, broached the issue of excision in immigrant communities in Europe and, in several of her interventions, emphasised the need to continue awareness raising efforts, the crucial role of the parliamentarians as opinion leaders, but also the role of the media in this struggle, as well as the necessity of raising the awareness of men, given their role as head of the family and decision-makers within society.
After the attending MPs had exchanged experience and points of view, the meeting led to the adoption of a series of recommendations with a view to boosting the action of the parliamentarians against FMG/C, particularly pertaining to the cross-border phenomenon. From the point of view of the legislation, the parliamentarians recommended, among other things, that specific laws be adopted in the countries which don’t yet have any; that the texts be translated into the national languages and widely disseminated; that the networks of parliamentarians combating violence against women in the different countries be institutionalised, and cooperation encouraged between these groups for enhanced harmonisation of the national legislations; and that the involvement of regional organisations such as UEMOA and ECOWAS be sought, to facilitate the harmonising of the texts through directives. In terms of concrete action in the border areas, the parliamentarians also recommended that parliamentary focal points be set up in the border locations; the setting up of vigilance committees in the border villages be encouraged; periodic consensus frameworks be created at the borders and awareness raising actions be implemented and pursued in the border communities and areas.
The Bourkinan parliamentarians and the AWEPA team then went to Yatenga province on 6 and 7 September, to continue awareness raising operations at the level of the community. Two public audiences were organised in the villages of Zogoré and Sissamba in the municipality of Ouahigouya, with the support of two civil society organisations, the associations AMMIE and Santé Plus. The Burkinan MPs and the European parliamentarian, with the aid of audiovisual materials, spent a long time discussing the question with local population groups, to exchange information about the harmful effects of the practice, the contents and provisions of the law against mutilation, and the role of individuals – men, women, traditional chiefs and religious leaders – within family and community. Several people gave testimony – fathers, mothers, children and former excisers – in turn told of their experiences as a consequence of the practice which were often very hard or even tragic. In addition to the showing of an awareness raising film, a forum-stage play highlighted the ins and outs of FGM/C practices, consolidating the awareness raising efforts of the communities visited.
This activity was organised within the scope of AWEPA’s programme called “The role of parliamentarians in the abandonment of FGM/C”.
Photo: MPs discuss the approach chosen for awareness raising in the villages