Mali: Rights Groups Sue Govt for Not Enacting Anti-FGM Laws

Female Genital Mutilation is performed on women and girls by some ethnic groups in Africa (file photo).

In 2019, a 37-year-old mother became the first person in the UK to be convicted of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The Ugandan woman allegedly mutilated her three-year-old daughter at their family home in East London in 2017. She was jailed for 11 years and a further two years for indecent images and extreme pornography.

In January last year, a 37-year-old man and his 27-year-old wife in Ireland were jailed for five-and-a-half years and four years and nine months respectively, for aiding their daughter to undergo FGM.

The couple had in November 2019, pleaded not guilty to procuring an act of FGM on September 16, 2016. Their conviction was the first of its kind in the Republic of Ireland. FGM was criminalised in the country in 2012 and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment.

Back home here in Kenya, a woman from Nkurunga village in Kathangacini location Tharaka North Sub-county was last week arrested for allegedly facilitating circumcision of her 14-year-old daughter. Nyumba Kumi Initiative members alerted local administration who facilitated her arrest.

Justice for the victims in Ireland and UK, and the arrest of the mother from Kenya became possible due to laws that criminalise FGM in these countries.

However, the same cannot be said for millions of girls and women in Mali who have undergone or are on the verge of undergoing the cut.

Currently, there is no legislation that addresses FGM in the West-African nation, leaving women and girls without recourse or protection from this human rights violation.

Criminalise the practice

Leading women's rights organisations have now jointly filed a case at the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) Court of Justice in Abuja, Nigeria, to challenge Mali's failure to prohibit FGM. The organisations cite Mali's lack of a legal and policy framework to criminalise the practice as the reason for the suit.

The case, which was filed by Equality Now, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) in conjunction with two other organisations seeks to hold the Mali government to account on its failure to protect Malian girls and women from FGM.

Speaking in Nairobi on Monday, Faiza Mohamed, director of Equality Now Africa office, said that FGM was a grave and systemic violation of girls' and women's rights in Mali.

She noted that at least 89 per cent of girls and women in the country aged between 15 and 49 have been subjected to FGM, with 73 per cent of them undergoing the cut before their 15th birthday, according to the country's 2018 Demographic Health Survey.

"We have made calls to Mali for the past 18 years urging it to honour its national, regional, and international obligations to protect girls and women from this harmful practice. However, this remains to be done and we can no longer sit still as thousands of girls and women in Mali continue being subjected to FGM," said Ms Mohamed.

In June last year, the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) reported that the failure by the Malian government to criminalise FGM had put to risk the lives and wellbeing of millions of girls and women in the country.

The Cedaw report further revealed that Mali had the highest prevalence rate of FGM among girls aged 0-14 years old in West Africa.

Avoid prosecution

Of similar concern was the transnational nature of the practice with the report noting that girls in neighbouring countries that have laws prohibiting FGM are taken to Mali where they undergo the cut to avoid prosecution in their respective countries.

The committee urged Mali to take extra measures to collaborate with other countries in the sub-region to eliminate cross border FGM. Despite the pleas, the country is yet to put in place any law to criminalise the cultural practice that continues to make thousands of girls undergo the cut.

The country, however, ratified Cedaw and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa ("The Maputo Protocol"). This obligates it to end FGM by enacting the requisite and supportive national legislations.

IHRDA Executive Director Gaye Sowe, exuded confidence that the case has the potential to establish another landmark in women and girls' rights jurisprudence in Africa.

"This case would not only prompt the Ecowas Court to make a binding pronouncement on the situation of FGM in Mali, but would also establish legal precedent and standard applicable not only in Mali and West Africa, but across Africa as a whole", he said.

Many African countries have been accused of laxity in fighting FGM. In 19 African countries, laws do not specifically address the issue of cross-border FGM. Only three countries among them Kenya, Guinea and Uganda prohibit and punish cross-border FGM.

An estimated 200 million girls and women globally, have been cut and about four million girls are at risk of being forced to undergo the rite every year.

Practiced in at least 27 African countries and parts of Asia and the Middle East, FGM is often seen as necessary for social acceptance and improving a woman's marriage prospects.

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