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African Parliamentarians Convene for Historic Conference on Ending Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Conference aims to mobilize national parliaments in effort to end one of the most widespread and systematic violations of girls’ and women’s’ human rights

DAKAR, 4 December 2005 – Parliamentarians from across Africa have convened in Dakar, Senegal for a landmark conference to learn about female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and discuss what they can do to help end the dangerous and violent practice.

The organizers of the conference – the National Assembly of Senegal and the African Parliamentary Union (APU), in cooperation with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UNICEF – say national parliaments in Africa have a particularly crucial role to play in the fight against FGM/C and that greater collective action among them should be a common and urgent priority.           

According to a report just released by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, more than 3 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East are subjected to genital mutilation and cutting every year. FGM/C is a violation of their fundamental human rights and affects far more girls and women than was previously known.
But while progress towards abandoning the practice has been painfully slow, experts are optimistic that, with adequate support from a broad range of partners, including national parliaments, FGM/C can be eliminated within a single generation.

“Africa’s lawmakers have enormous power to help end female genital mutilation/cutting”, said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.  It is essential that they take action to prohibit this harmful practice and other forms of gender violence”.

More than 100 parliamentarians from 20 countries are attending the regional conference entitled Violence against women, abandoning female genital mutilation: The role of parliaments. The two-day event will provide parliamentarians with an opportunity to exchange views and experiences and to better understand the role they should play in ending FGM/C. They will also interact with other key stakeholders including religious and traditional leaders, representatives of the media and non-governmental organizations, community leaders, legal experts and others.

Presentations, discussions and debates will focus on the specific actions by parliaments at the community, national and international levels that are needed most urgently and that will have the greatest impact.

IPU President Pier Ferdinando Casini, who is also the Speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, called the meeting a historic opportunity and said the conference will help significantly to strengthen the capacity of African parliaments to hold their governments accountable and influence attitudes at the community level. With a clearer understanding of the situation and the challenges, we can expect more cooperation, action and commitment from Africa’s parliamentarians that, hopefully, will lead to real and lasting change for millions of girls and women who have suffered too long in silence from the violence of FGM/C. 

Imam Cheikh Hassan Cisse, President of the Network of African Islamic Associations, will play a key role in the conference as will other religious and traditional leaders. Because of their influence, credibility and grounding in communities, faith leaders are playing a vital part in the fight against FGM/C. Participants will hear about successful initiatives of faith leaders who have openly confronted the issue and played a decisive role in stimulating valuable public debate leading to abandonment of FGM/C.

The conference is expected to adopt a final Declaration that will be the basis for follow-up action with African national parliaments, the international community and others in the months ahead. 

About the IPU
The IPU was established in 1889 and brings together Members of Parliament from over 140 states. It contributes to the defense and promotion of human rights and has a long-standing commitment to the protection of children.

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 157 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, access to clean water and sanitation, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, businesses, foundations and individuals.

For further information:
Minouche Alavo, UNICEF Regional Office, Dakar, (+221) 869 5858, halavo@unicef.org
Liza Barrie, UNICEF Headquarters, New York (+1) 646 207 5178, lbarrie@unicef.org
Luisa Ballin, IPU Geneva, (+41) 79 649 7145, lb@mail.ipu.org





21 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Sarah Crowe reports on a Senegalese community’s decision to end the practice of female genital mutilation and cutting.

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