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    What is the Inter-Parliamentary Union doing?

FIRST STAGE: Organisation of a discussion panel

At the initiative of its Meeting of Women Parliamentarians, the Inter-Parliamentary Union organised, a panel discussion on the topic "Violence against women: Female genital mutilation" during its 106th Conference (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, September 2001).

Held on Wednesday, 12 September 2001 and opened by the President of the Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the purpose of the session was to present these traditional practices, which affect millions of girls and women in over thirty countries, and to make parliamentarians aware of the importance of eliminating them without defending cultures and individuals.

Campaign to stop excision in Burkina Faso
The session, which was well attended by both men and women MPs, provided an opportunity for a lively exchange of views. The discussions were moderated by the President of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, Mr. M. Traoré.

The programme included various leading figures from Burkina Faso, African women MPs and the President of the Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians.

The discussions highlighted the importance of legislating in this field. Nevertheless, they showed that it was not enough to abolish these ancestral practices by law and to punish those who perform or request them, but that there is a need to support and accompany the law by a series of measures including, on a priority basis, awareness-building and education as well as the adoption of adequate budgets and the retraining of female excision practitioners. Society as a whole – and particularly opinion leaders such as parliamentarians, traditional leaders and religious leaders as well as doctors and health personnel – must mobilise to protect girls from such practices, which violate women's dignity, do lasting harm to their physical and moral integrity and badly affect relations between men and women. It is precisely these leaders who can help people understand that the various justifications for excision and other forms of genital mutilation are groundless. It is also they who can warn against the serious threats that these practices pose to physical health and emotional well-being.

At the close of the panel, a consensus emerged for action at the national, sub-regional and international levels. With regard to those recommendations that directly concern parliaments and the IPU, the following were especially noteworthy:

In National Parliaments

  • Adopt legislation aiming at preventing, combating and punishing female genital mutilation, and foreseeing awareness building campaigns and educational programmes

  • Allocate necessary budgetary resources for support programmes, institutions and NGOs aiming at fighting female genital mutilation

  • Closely oversee the action of the Executive branch regarding this issue.
Within the framework of the Inter-Parliamentary Union
  • Put in place a think tank comprising men and women MPs from those countries where these traditional practices are still entrenched, as well as from countries of emigration for nationals of these countries, in order to exchange information on legislation, programmes and good practices to be promoted in response to this complex phenomenon. The work of this think tank could be coordinated within the African Group.

  • Invite the Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to ask member parliaments to forward the texts of any laws adopted on this subject and to make these texts available to those concerned, particularly through the think tank in question.

  • Invite the Inter-Parliamentary Union to help develop a database on the question.

SECOND STAGE: Gathering of information and development of the current section of the IPU Web site

The result of this work can be found here.

THIRD STAGE: Establishment of a parliamentary think-tank for the eradication of FGM

On the occasion of the 107th Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (Marrakech, Morocco, March 2002), the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the African Parliamentary Union invited parliamentarians from those countries where these traditional practices are still entrenched, as well as from countries of emigration for nationals of these countries to a brainstorming session organised as a follow-up to the Panel held in Ouagadougou in September 2001.

Mrs. R. Kadaga, Vice-President of the Parliament of Uganda, moderated the session, which was attended by a large number of men and women parliamentarians, who exchanged information on legislation, programmes and good practices to be promoted in response to this complex phenomenon and on the ways to reinforce cooperation between their respective countries.

The debate was launched by three panellists, Ms. Ethiopia Beyene, MP (Ethiopia), Ms. Marion Roe, MP (United Kingdom), and Mr. Elias Bare Shill, MP (Kenya) and by the Secretary General of the Union of African Parliaments, Mr. Ibrahima Fall. The debate highlighted the growing awareness of harmful effects of FGM and the increasing attention paid to it by both male and female MPs. It showed that since the Panel in Ouagadougou, some steps have been taken with a view to eradicating FGM. For example, a bill was passed in the House of Representatives in Nigeria (awaiting Senate approval), the Children's Act was enacted in Kenya in 2001, there was a debate in Parliament in Burkina Faso which resulted in the Parliament granting additional resources to the National Committee on FGM, awareness-building campaigns began in Ethiopia, a parliamentary network in the ECOWAS region was started, and the West African Women's Association "WAWA" for the promotion of women and children's rights was set up.

The following main points emerged from the debates:

Main challenges

  • Immigrant communities are closely knit and cases of FGM are only detected during visits to hospital. Children are sworn to silence and are completely defenceless.

  • A the national/local level, most children are brought up in a communal system where both their parents and other relatives bring pressure upon the girl-child to undergo FGM, failing which she could be severely ostracised and face the threat of remaining unmarried.

  • Governments have a tendency to leave the matter to the community concerned, on the grounds that the decision is a tribal/cultural one.

  • At the international level, immigrant communities have devised strategies for circumventing the law by sending their daughters back to their country of origin or to countries where FGM is not yet eradicated or repressed, ostensibly for holidays, but in reality to undergo FGM.


  • Declare FGM a national scourge and organize public campaigns to sensitise, educate and mobilise people against FGM.

  • Commit substantial funds to the campaign.

  • Organize national campaigns in partnership with NGOs, both local and international.

  • Legislate in all countries concerned in order to eradicate FGM and punish its practitioners and promoters.

  • Mobilise the media in the fight against FGM in the countries where immigrant communities reside, in particular by advertising, in the languages of the populations concerned, the government’s initiatives and laws and the activities of the NGOs.

  • Work towards a possible convention on the eradication of FGM.

  • Organize to that effect a parliamentary conference on parliamentary action to eradicate FGM, which participants urged should be convened jointly by the IPU and the APU. A group formed by the following parliamentarians was established to coordinate preparations for that event, which should bring together MPs, religious and traditional leaders, NGOs and former practitioners of FGM: Ms. Karin Andersen (Norway), Mr. Elias Bare Shill (Kenya), Mr. Abdou Fall (Senegal), Ms. Rebecca Kadaga (Uganda), Ms. Gwadabe Khairat Abdul-Razaq (Nigeria) and Ms. Marion Roe (United Kingdom).

Key actors

  • Heads of State or Government
  • Members of parliament
  • Religious leaders
  • Human rights activists
  • Traditional and cultural leaders
  • Medical practitioners and professionals
  • Youth groups and children in the target populations

Recommended action

  • Long-term funding from governments, donors and NGOs
  • Legislation
  • Local and international partnerships

Another meeting of the parliamentary think-tank was held at the 108th Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (Santiago, Chile, April 2003).