Addis Ababa — Four wives of African presidents joined hundreds of women in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to call for zero tolerance to female genital mutilation.
The wives of leaders from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali and Guinea condemned the traditional practice as barbaric and called for international action against it.
Chantal Campaore, the First Lady of Burkina Faso told IRIN: "Female genital mutilation is the most widespread and deadly of all violence, victimising women and girls in Africa."
Her comments came at an international symposium at the UN conference centre in Addis Ababa, attended by government officials from African countries and women's groups.
For the first time, they are drawing up a common pan-African agenda in order to tackle the practice. According to studies, some two million girls are subjected to mutilation each year with 120 million women in 28 African countries having gone through the ordeal.
The Inter-African Committee - a charity working to ban FGM - hopes to incorporate a policy against the traditional practice into the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
Berhane Ras-Work, who heads the IAC in Ethiopia, described FGM as "gruesome and heinous".
"Africa has the highest maternal mortality rates and the root causes for this sad reality lie squarely on social attitudes and practices that go unchallenged," she said.
"We need to take up the challenge and give priority and focus on the eradication of FGM, early marriage, abduction, nutritional taboos, repeated and uncontrolled pregnancies and rape," she stressed.