Religious leaders in Mali have committed to establishing a network to ban FGM and to raising the issue with imams, as a result of a meeting held by The Girl Generation. Aiming to open up dialogue on FGM and to clarify the position of Islam and Christianity on the issue, the dialogue provided an opportunity discuss how religious leaders can be more effective and committed on ending the practice.
We caught up with Mariam Diallo, The Girl Generation’s Programme Officer in Mali, to find out more about what happened.
Tell us a bit about FGM in Mali. What is the scale and scope of the issue?
89% of girls and women in Mali have undergone FGM and it is practiced equally in rural and urban areas. Rates of FGM are highest in the western and southern regions of Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro and Bamako, and lowest in the north eastern regions of Kidal and Gao. FGM is a harmful practice which has been passed down from generation to generation and is not really questioned or critiqued. 73% of girls and women in Mali who have heard about FGM think that the practice should continue. Reasons given for practicing FGM include: social recognition, hygiene, more pleasure for the man, better marriage opportunities, ensuring virginity and belief that it is a religious requirement.
FGM is a harmful practice which has been passed down from generation to generation and is not really questioned or critiqued. 73% of girls and women in Mali who have heard about FGM think that the practice should continue.
FGM is practised by religious and non-religious Malians. The country has a large Muslim majority, who have an FGM prevalence rate of 89%. 84% of Christians, 86% of Animists and 88% of non-religious Malians practice FGM (though these last two groups are minorities).
What is the status of the movement to end FGM in Mali?
So far, there is no law banning FGM in Mali, but the draft of the law is still ongoing. We have a lot of work to do!
The movement has many passionate individuals and organisations, but it is still emerging. We’ve had some challenges. In the 90s, the first woman in Mali who raised her voice against FGM did not do it diplomatically. She was very rude and aggressive towards religious leaders and people practicing at large. This is why up to now ending FGM campaign has been seen as coming from outside of Mali, from Western countries. The approach of activists was not about explaining the side effects, or giving information about the practice but instead just said “This is bad. Stop it!” For many Malians, FGM is part our culture and identity, and they believe that banning it is going against our tradition. They have the feeling it is the West that is against it because it is not their tradition.
As a movement we have to work hard to build dialogue with those that sustain the practice of FGM, and show a reasonable and respectful approach. The Girl Generation’s Do No Harm guide provides a new view on how to do this, and we have begun sharing this powerful resource with the movement here.
Why is it important to engage with religious leaders on the issue of FGM?
Religious obligation is commonly used as a reason behind the practice of FGM – and in a Muslim majority country such as Mali, this means it is really important to engage with religious leaders to reinforce to them that there is no support for this in the Qur'an. There are many different interpretations of the status of FGM in the Muslim religion but on further examination it is clear that there is no hadith or text which enforces it.
There are many different interpretations of the status of FGM in the Muslim religion but on further examination it is clear that there is no hadith or text which enforces it.
It is important to stop the confusion about practicing FGM as an Islamic command and the belief that if you don’t practice you are not considered as Muslim.
According to scholars there is no word about FGM in the Qur'an. It is not an obligation nor an Islamic command. In Islam, it is very clear that FGM was not promoted by the Prophet. The Prophet said to Um Atilla who “w’t cut it” but this hadith is not reliable and this woman was not mentioned elsewhere. None of the four daughters of the prophet have had FGM and it is obvious that the Prophet pointed out the practice is harmful.
Catholic Church representatives were also present at the meeting and according to them, FGM is forbidden in their holy books, but this does not stop individuals using their faith to justify the practice.
What were the highlights of the meeting?
Many of the participants were shocked to learn more about the reality of FGM, as well as the truth about the lack of religious texts in support of the practice. They were eager to take action to stand up against the practice in Mali – and to use their positions as religious authorities to influence this.
Inspired by the stories of imams in Burkino Faso, they committed to organising a political debate and inviting religious leaders to share Islamic point of view. They also proposed engaging with the IMAMA (The Association of Imams), who decide what to say or not during Friday prayers, to encourage them to allow a preach on the FGM. There is precedent on this as the IMAMA spoke out on HIV some years ago.
They also proposed engaging with the IMAMA (The Association of Imams), who decide what to say or not during Friday prayers, to encourage them to allow a preach on the FGM. There is precedent on this as the IMAMA spoke out on HIV some years ago.
There was also a great energy about working together to be more effective, planning activities together and supporting a more positive discussion on the issue of FGM.
What else was discussed?
The meeting brought together religious leaders to discuss FGM with those already campaigning on the issue. We profiled the work of various NGOs working towards the end of FGM to show that change is possible, and spent a lot of time talking about the reality of FGM in women’s lives. We introduced and discussed The Girl Generation’s Do No Harm principle, and saw a really positive response to the idea that you can communicate positively and constructively about ending FGM.
We introduced and discussed The Girl Generation’s Do No Harm principle, and saw a really positive response to the idea that you can communicate positively and constructively about ending FGM.
We were privileged to have Mrs Josephine Keita, a former Director of the National Program to End FGM (PNLE), and a renowned pioneer of the end FGM movement in Mali. As a Catholic, but also a medical doctor, Josephine was able to talk about the harmful side effects of FGM, complications of the practice and resulting infections such as HIV, Hepatitis, Tetanus and Fistula.
Her own story really got the attention of the room – as a young intern in hospital in 1973 she witnessed firsthand the difficulty of a woman who had had FGM in giving birth. She recounts watching midwives push the belly to expulse the newborn, but the woman died due to an extreme loss of blood. That day she decided to fight FGM.
Now she is 65 and has spent 40 years working to end FGM.