The Afro-Arab Expert Consultation on Legal Tools FOR THE PREVENTION OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION

Under the Auspices of H. E. MRS. SUZANNE MUBARAK - Cairo, 21-23 June 2003

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a deeply entrenched cultural tradition practiced by various ethnic groups in more than 28 countries on the African continent. The practice is also found among populations in countries on the Arabian peninsula, in the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia.
Over the last thirty years, African women, local associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and national and international institutions have been active in campaigns to expose the practice of FGM as a serious violation of the human rights of women and girls and have worked toward eliminating it. However, despite the implementation in many countries of projects aimed at preventing the traditional practice -- as well as the enactment of laws forbidding it in some countries – there is a need for better coordination of initiatives, the sharing of lessons learned, and the involvement of all social actors, from the international to the community level, to strengthen the message within these traditional societies to reject FGM.
With the recent increase in emigration of African populations, African immigrants have imported the practice of FGM to Europe and other Western countries. Serious attention to the enactment of preventative measures against FGM in Western countries can no longer be postponed. To this end, AIDOS (Italian Association for Women in Development), NPWJ (No Peace Without Justice) and TAMWA (Tanzanian Media Women’s Association) have obtained the financial support of the European Union and other donors to execute an international “STOP FGM” Campaign. Seven other NGOs from Mali, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are also taking part.
The “STOP FGM” Campaign is aimed at increasing the awareness of the public, especially in African and Arab countries, regarding the human rights issues involved in the practice of female genital mutilation, and its negative impacts on women and girls. The Campaign is also aimed at fostering and strengthening the involvement of civil society and governments in an effort to eradicate the practice, particularly through political action and the adoption of increasingly effective legal measures.
A key moment in the “STOP FGM” Campaign was the Afro-Arab Expert Consultation on Legal Tools for the Prevention of Female Genital Mutilation held in Cairo (Egypt) from June 21 to 23, 2003.
The aim of the Expert Consultation was to define both legal content and strategies for more effective legislation to prevent female genital mutilation. It was organized in collaboration with the Egyptian Society for the Prevention of Harmful Practices (ESPHP), and sponsored by Egypt’s National Commission for Childhood and Maternity (NCCM) under the auspices of Egypt’s First Lady, Her Excellency Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak.
Mrs. Mubarak addressed her opening remarks to about one hundred participants from 28 African and Arab countries where FGM is practiced. Additional participants included international jurists and experts, representatives of the United Nations, and representatives from myriad African organizations fighting traditional practices that are harmful to women, boys and girls.
Presentations were made by Mohammed Sayed Tantawy, the Sheik of Al Azhar and Egypt’s’ highest Islamic authority, and Bishop Moussa, a representative for H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Coptic Church. Each, respectively, made the point that the practice of female genital mutilation is neither called for by, nor has it any basis in, Islam or Christianity.
Technical consultation at the Expert Conference was provided by CRR, the Center for Reproductive Rights (USA), and RAINBO, Research Action and Information for the Bodily Integrity of Women, (UK). The technical consultants presented a comparison of the various laws and political initiatives enacted for the elimination of FGM, based on documents prepared specifically for the Expert Conference. The documents included a paper by Laura Katzive of CRR, Using Legislation to Promote Women’s Rights: Considerations in Drafting and Implementing Legislation to Prevent FGM, and a paper by Nahid Toubia of RAINBO, Legislation as a Tool for Behavioral Change, which assessed possible impacts of legislative initiatives and cited examples from a number of countries where legislation has already been implemented.
Following this discussion, three African country case studies were presented: in Kenya, lawyer Ken W. Wafula saved a number of minors from FGM utilizing protection orders provided for in civil law; in Mali, non-governmental organizations are fighting to defeat resistance in Parliament to a bill against FGM; and, from Burkina Faso, an assessment of the first years of enforcement of a 1996 law against FGM.
Finally, since the migration of FGM to Western countries is of increasing concern, Fareda Banda, a researcher at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, was invited to discuss how legislation can be used to prevent FGM in Europe. Her paper, Legal Tools for the Prevention of FGM: a Perspective from Europe, compares the opposite approaches of France and Great Britain, analyzes the European Resolution Against FGM, and examines the possibility of granting women and girls who leave their countries to escape FGM political asylum. AIDOS contributed to the discussion by presenting a document by Tamar Pitch, The Right Law: Legal Treatment of Female Genital Mutilation, in which the objectives, effects, and limits of exclusively penal legal action are analyzed.
Following the presentations, discussions took place in two large working groups. One group, chaired by Nahid Toubia (RAINBO) and Kathy Hall-Martinez (CRR), discussed “Opportunities and Objectives of the Law as an Instrument for Promoting Social Change”. The other group, led by Laura Katzive (CRR) and Mona El-Tobgui (ESPHP), discussed “Elements of the Legal Approach to FGM”. In addition to the international experts, discussion participants included a large group of activists, jurists, and university teachers, as well as officials from a number of Egyptian ministries. To facilitate discussion, a list of questions was prepared based on the papers. At the end of the discussion sessions, each group prepared a final document. A select committee of organizers, technical consultants and representatives of the NCCM then prepared a draft final resolution, which was approved in the plenary session on June 23.
“The Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation” encourages all governments to pass legislation aimed at the progressive elimination of FGM, and includes 17 recommendations to ensure that those laws become instruments of real prevention.
The discussion groups concluded that law can be an important and useful tool for women who want to protect their daughters from FGM, and can aid them in combating the pressure from both family and community to engage in the practice. However, both groups acknowledged that the law alone is inadequate, that it must be part of a larger program for women’s empowerment and for the protection of their human rights as defined in the main treaties, international conventions, in the action programs of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development, and at the Beijing Conference on Women.
The participants concluded that law must be accompanied by targeted public information campaigns and measures aimed at legitimizing the law within the communities so that it is acknowledged, understood and used as an instrument for the protection of minors. The roles of the mass media, the judiciary system, the social-health system, organized civil society, and the schools were seen as essential in re-shaping the individual and social behavior at the root of female genital mutilation, and for the construction of a new social context wherein the law can be successfully applied. Finally, there was a forceful call for the investment of adequate resources, both at the national and international levels, to guarantee implementation of prevention programs that would engage many segments of society.
The Cairo Declaration for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation” was further reinforced with support from high ranking institutional representatives from the African countries attending: Mariam Lamizana, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity, Burkina Faso; Gifti Abassaiya, Minister for Women, Ethiopia; Linah Jebji Kilimo, Under- Secretary of State for Local Development, Kenya; Edna Adan Ismail, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Somaliland; Memunatu M. Koroma, Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Sierra Leone. This support was bolstered by the participation of Jaap Doek, President of the United Nation’s Children’s Committee, and Halima Warzazi, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices. Also attending were representatives of the main UN agencies involved in the issue (UNIFEM, UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNDP), and the European Commission, the Office of the Italian Development Corporation, the World Bank, and USAID.
A few days after “The Cairo Declaration for Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation” was adopted, the Maputo Summit of the African Union approved the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Protocol will become enforceable after its ratification by 15 countries, and further reinforces the international framework for the national laws to prevent FGM advanced by the Cairo Declaration, included at the beginning of these proceedings.
Finally, the Expert Conference was also the occasion to launch the International Appeal Against Female Genital Mutilation, introduced by AIDOS and NPWJ in Brussels on December 12, 2002, and already signed by numerous international figures and thousands of people around the world (found in the appendix to this volume). Additional signatures were also collected on the campaigns official web site,, the first portal on activities and actors involved in prevention of FGM.