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Tant qu’on a la santé

Yvonne Preiswerk
Mary-Josée Burnier

Violence against women as a traditional practice

Berhane Ras-Work

Texte intégral

1Violence against women is a universal reality which cuts across cultural, religious, economic and geographical boundaries. Various forms of traditional beliefs are upheld by the human society as social ethics for controlling the sexuality and status of women. As a result, women are subjected to violence across their life cycle.

2In Africa, violence begins with gender bias at birth with ceremonies which attach lesser value to girls and continues through feeding practices. If we traced the life of the average African woman from Ethiopia up to Gambia it would read as follows:

  • born from a malnourished mother

  • lesser value attached to her birth

  • fed less than her brother

  • assume household chores as early as three years old

  • less play time than her brother

  • mutilated as of 7 days up to age of marriage

  • married early

  • marriage as the only social security

  • widowed: a threat as a social stigma

  • rape, battering, polygamy, threatening her life

  • old age and menopause presenting rejection.

3The most visible forms of violence recognized as violation of human rights are female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage and nutritional taboos.

Early childhood marriage

  • 1 WHO offset publication no. 90, 1985 Women, Health and Development.

4In many African and Asian countries, early childhood marriage exists, whereby young girls as young as 8 years old are given away to husbands and become pregnant at early puberty. So young mothers have not had the time to finish their own physical growth and as a result there is competition in nutrition between the fetus and the young mother, leading to nutritional deficiency for the mother and the baby. According to WHO, over 50% of the first births in many developing countries are from women aged less than 19.1

Reasons for early marriage

Protecting the virginity of the girl for the honour of the family

5In order to ensure that girls are virgins for the first husband, parents prefer to marry their daughters at an early age. Virginity brings higher dowry for the parents and pride to both families.

Family reasons

6If the girl is wooed by her first cousin, usually considered the rightful person, it is difficult to refuse him for fear of causing family division. This is particularly true in Africa among the Peuls or Foulas.

Economic reasons

7In addition to the dowry, families feel that giving a daughter away for marriage reduces the family expenses “one mouth less to feed”.

Enlarging kinship relations

8Peasant families strive to enhance their status by marrying their daughters to families of higher economic and social status. The competition to secure a family higher in status is quite high among families of low income.

Early school drop out

9Early school drop-outs are also married away to protect them from excesses and permissiveness.

Consequences of early marriage

10In many countries in Africa such early marriages are largely followed by divorces because neither the girl nor the boy had been able to choose their spouse. A young girl who is subjected to forced initial sexual relationship may become frigid.

11The most serious complications for young mothers is obstructed labour, which occurs when the baby’s head is too big for the orifice of the young mother. Obstructed labour provokes vesico-vaginal fistulas leading to incontinence with the ensuing social rejection. The following story of a 13-year-old mother in Ethiopia reveals the sad reality:

12“At first, she was keen to confide in us only about her preoccupation during her labour. It was striking that her thoughts were going back to her period of pregnancy. For instance, her initial embarrassment about being in the condition within less than a year of her marriage and how, because she often felt tired, she would cut down on the food she consumed: ‘I would not eat because that would have meant grinding more flour and cooking more food I used to feel so tired most of time, therefore we did not have flour in the house. My mother used to encourage me to borrow from neighbours. I did not see how I would repay, so I did not borrow.’

13“She took a long time before she finally talked about the uterine ruptures and other damages she had suffered. To address the issue at all, she had to be prompted. She explained: ‘My labour went on for three days. Everybody began to say that I should be taken to Qoyya [the closest town with a hospital]; those in Qoyya were not able to get me to release water. They recommended that I should be taken to Bitchena [hospital]. Those in Bitchena told me to put my legs here and there and, bringing something like a bowl, relieved me of three containers of urine… then… I did not see the metal. I am not sure if it was metallic, but they would insert it into me and did whatever. On bringing it out, they would utter… it [the baby] escaped us… and whenever it came up here [pointing to the area of her stomach] they tried in turn. There were two of them. They kept saying it has escaped. And there was the handsome one [male doctor] who kept saying: Courage! The woman with him [assistant], she was very agitated and said: They have given this baby in marriage before her time.

  • 2 Inter-African Committee: Interim Report on a Study on Early Childhood Marriage in Ethiopia, June 19 (...)

14The 13-year-old eventually gave birth to a still-born baby girl.”2


15In rural areas, young divorced mothers have no other livelihood except to migrate to the urban centers for prostitution or to be employed as domestic servants. This is observed in many Asian and African cities. The status of divorced women is very low because of their lack of economic support from the husband. In many societies in Africa and Asia, women have no right to share the family property in case of divorce. They leave with a few of their personal belongings without any means of social security. The parents consider divorced daughters an added economic burden so most are reduced to destitution or prostitution.

Gender difference in nutrition

  • 3 WHO 1985 offset publication no. 90, Women, Health and Development, p. 4.

16In families where food is scarce, the most nutritious food is preserved for boys. A WHO report of 19853 shows preferential feeding practices and gender bias in nutrition. Food taboos exist in many countries to prevent women from eating essential food items such as meat, fish and eggs, particularly during pregnancy and lactation. The following table, taken from a report of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, shows the prevailing food taboos to the detriment of the health of. women and girl children.



Eggs, chicken

Frequent stools in babies

Fish: Eel

Ptyalism and mucus in babies

Electric fish


Benni seed

Too much vernix on baby


Cord round the baby


Retained placenta; In the male child, a large phallus

Intestines of animals

Abnormal skin pigmentation (discoloration)

Brain of animals

Purulent otitis media

Garden eggs


17Malnutrition including aneamia among women is a serious health problem, especially among those who have too many pregnancies too closely spaced.

Female genital mutilation

18Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice which involves the cutting away part or the whole of the female genital organs. The origin of the practice is eclipsed by the passage of time and more in-depth study is needed to define its origin. It is believed to have existed worldwide at one time in history for various reasons, all related to a woman’s sexuality.

19At present, the practice exists largely in Africa, affecting at least 28 countries, and also in Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain. With immigrants from these countries reaching Europe, Canada, USA and Australia, the practice can be found in these regions among some immigrant populations.

20To date, types of identified and documented genital mutilations are: sunna, clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, defibulation, re-infibulation, the Gishiri cut and Angurya cut.

21The long and short term consequences of these operations have been identified as serious risks to the health and well-being of young girls and mothers. Several documents have presented evidence of these dangers.

What are the consequences of female genital mutilation ?

Immediate complications

  • Haemorrhage: This occurs mainly when the clitoris is completely removed and the blood vessels of the clitoris (the vein and also the dorsal deep artery of the clitoris) rupture: the haemorrhage may lead to serious collapse or death.

  • Acute infections: These are related to the operating equipment used (traditional knife, razor blade, a piece of glass, etc.). The two most serious and common infections are tetanus and general septicaemia, and nowadays the risk of AIDS is also present.

  • Bleeding of adjacent organs: Sexual mutilations are often performed without anaesthesia. Consequently, the young girl suffers much pain and agitation. This may lead to clumsy operations which may sometimes cause bleeding of the urethral meatus, if not the uterus, with its complications such as urine retention, bleeding of the vagina and even of the posterior perineum.

  • Violent pain: The lack of anaesthesia is very often the cause of some atrocious pain, particularly in major excision operations, that may result in very serious shock, especially since the young girl is already in a state of anguish brought on by an atmosphere of ritual celebration.

Later complications

  • Obstetric complications: They are the most frequent and spectacular, resulting from vicious scars in the clitoral zone after excision. These scares open up during childbirth and cause the anterior perineum to tear, leading to haemorrhage which is often difficult to stop.

  • Psychological complications: The ordeal of FGM leaves an indelible mark in the life and mind of the woman who has undergone it. This is sometimes the cause of anxiety, melancholy, a state of depression.

  • Psychiatric disturbances: Clinically, psychiatric disturbances associated with FGM have been observed to be either related to the inflicted psychological trauma or as sequel to the physical complications of the operation. It is quite obvious that the mere notion of surgical interference in highly sensitive genital organs constitutes a serious threat to the young girl and the painful operation is a source of major physical as well as psychiatric disturbances depending largely on the child’s inner defenses and the prevailing psychological environment.

  • AIDS: An alarming situation has come up with the spread of HIV/AIDS and the possible risk FGM could represent for the transmission of this virus.

22The age at which female genital mutilation is performed varies from one area to the other, from a few days old in some parts of Ethiopia, to about seven years old in Egypt and the Sudan. In West Africa, it is performed on adolescent girls of 14 to 15 years.

23The reasons for the continuation of FGM vary according to the socio-cultural context in the different countries. The major justifications are:

  • moral or religious precepts

  • virginity: bride price and family honour

  • anatomic/aesthetic reasons

  • need for social integration

  • prevent child mortality

  • ensure fertility

  • hygiene.

24The following table shows the percentage of women who have undergone FGM in Africa.

Percentage of FGM performed on total female population





Burkina Faso




Ctrl. Afr. Rep.


















Ivory Coast
















Sierra Leone










25Information collected from reports of national committees and research findings.

Progressive efforts made to eradicate female genital mutilation

International and regional levels

World Health Organization (WHO)

26The first major step taken to deal with FGM was the 1979 Khartoum Seminar on Traditional Practices, organized by the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO). Representatives from 10 countries – Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Oman, Somalia, Sudan, South Yemen – attended the meeting.

27One of the subjects discussed was FGM as a harmful traditional practice. The complications it causes were noted and recommendations were made for its progressive eradication. In general, the seminar proposed the establishment of a national commission to coordinate activities including legislation, intensification of general education and sensitization of midwives and Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs). The adoption of a clear cut policy was also recommended.

28In 1982, WHO issued a statement on its position regarding FGM (female circumcision). In this statement, female circumcision was recognized as having serious health consequences. The recommendations made at the Khartoum meeting were re-emphasized and WHO expressed its readiness to support national efforts aimed at eradicating the practice. Strong advice was expressed to health workers not to perform FGM under any conditions.

29WHO/EMRO adopted a resolution at its thirty-fifth session, stating that women’s health must be safeguarded by ensuring the elimination of harmful traditional practices.

30In September 1989, the WHO Regional Committee for Africa (AFRO) adopted unanimously a resolution recommending to concerned members to adopt appropriate policies and strategies to eliminate female circumcision. The Director was asked to provide support and to make a report, at the 40th session, on the progress of work in this area.

31In May 1992, at the WHO Technical Discussion on Women, Health and Development, the issue of FGM and other traditional practices was raised and a proposal was made stating that more courageous steps must be taken by the national and international communities to eliminate mutilating practices.

32At the Safe Motherhood Conference in Niamey, February 1989, organized by the World Bank, UNFPA, WHO and UNICEF, a call for the eradication of harmful traditional practices was included in the final declaration.

33WHO initiated and funded a research study on the influence of FGM on the choice of contraceptive methods, which was undertaken by the Inter-African Committee in Djibouti and Sierra Leone.


34UNICEF co-sponsored a Regional Seminar on Traditional Practices, held in Dakar in 1984. It provides financial, moral and technical assistance to the Inter-African Committee and its national affiliates. It gave financial support for research on traditional practices undertaken in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger and Sudan. It also finances activities such as seminars and workshops in Benin, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, etc.

35The UNICEF Executive Board paper E/ICEF/1992/L. 5 confirms the UNICEF policy regarding the genital mutilation of girl children.

UN and NGO Forum

36The Copenhagen Conference on Women’s Decade, held in 1980, brought the subject of female circumcision to the international attention. At the NGO Forum, held parallel to the Conference, concerned Western women discussed and condemned the practice as a barbaric custom. Africans regarded this interference as Western cultural imperialism and reacted to it negatively.

37The actual Conference document on the revision and evaluation of progress achieved, document A/CONF. 94/9, refers to the subject of female genital mutilation in the sub-heading “Cultural practices affecting women’s health”.

38The Second UN/ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) Regional Conference on the Integration of Women, held at Lusaka (Zambia), 3-7 December 1979, condemned sexual mutilation but called on a cautious approach to the international campaign. It called upon Africans to find suitable solutions to the problem.

UN Human Rights and other Conventions. Legislation

39Human rights are based upon the principles of equality and non-discrimination. These rights are articulated in several conventions such the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. FGM violates basic human rights principles to health, life, freedom from cruel and/or degrading treatment, freedom from slavery and servile status and freedom from discrimination.

40The Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 24.3, states that “The States Parties of the present convention shall seek to take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children”.

Female genital mutilation at the UN/Human Rights Centre

41FGM was first introduced by NGOs to the Working Group on Slavery and Slavery Like Practices, in 1981.

42On 13 March 1984, the Commission on Human Rights by its resolution 1984/48 recommended the setting up of a special Working Group of experts on traditional practices and ECOSOC endorsed the recommendation by its resolution 1984/34 May 24, 1984. The members of the Working Group assigned as experts were Mrs.

43Halima Embarek Warzazi of Morocco and Mrs. Murlidhara Bandari of India. Mrs. Wassyla Tamzali of UNESCO, Mrs. Marjorie Newman-Black of UNICEF and Mr. Robert Cook of WHO were invited to join the Group and provide their expertise.

44The NGO Working Group held its first session 18-25 March 1985 in the presence of several NGOs to study the practice of FGM, the preference of the male child and traditional birthing practices. FGM was considered as a priority and it was dealt with from socio-cultural, medical and human rights aspects.

45The conclusion reached was that FGM is a complex problem which has an evolutionary aspect. The Group called on governments to adopt policies and legislative measures for its eradication. It also recommended educational measures to be undertaken and requested governments to support local efforts being made by individuals and organizations. It recommended the organization of international, regional and national meetings for exchange of information. The report of the Working Group, document E/CN. 4/1986/42, was presented to the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 42nd session.

46The Commission by its resolution E/CN. 4/1986 requested the relevant specialized agencies of the UN system and interested NGOs to provide assistance to the governments in their efforts to fight harmful traditional practices.

47For the purpose of a follow-up, Mrs. Halima Warzazi of Morocco was appointed as a rapporteur to study the situation of traditional practices and report back to the Sub-Commission at its 43rd session in August 1991.

48A Regional Seminar on Traditional Practices was organized by the UN Human Rights Centre in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) 29 April-3 May 1991. Another Regional Seminar was organized for Asia from 4 to 8 July 1994 in Sri Lanka. The recommendations made at these two seminars formed the basis for a plan of action drawn by the Special Rapporteur to be adopted by the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.

National and regional instruments

49Sudan: In 1946, the British Government then in power in the Sudan legislated against infibulation. But since the move was considered as another colonial imposition, the practice went underground and continued to be performed, thus creating a worse situation since complications such as infections, haemorrhage, etc. resulting from the infibulation could not be reported for fear of legal measures.

50Egypt: In 1959, an order by the Ministry of Health was issued prohibiting female circumcision in government hospitals and health centers. In spite of this order, the practice continued both in and outside health centers.

51In Europe, France, Great Britain and Sweden have laws prohibiting FGM. The British and Swedish legislations regarding FGM are clear about the prohibition of the practice. The French Penal Code, article 312, stipulates that a person who has committed an act of violence involving mutilation or resulting in death without the intention of doing so is liable to criminal proceedings. As a result of this law, African mothers have been prosecuted for having circumcised their daughters.

52Article 18.3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights reads: “The State shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions”.

53The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child also protects children from harmful traditional practices.

54The Abuja Declaration. The UN Economic Commission for Africa organized a conference in Abuja (Nigeria) in November 1989 to review the “Role of Women in Africa in the 1990s”. Among other issues, traditional practices such as early marriage and pregnancy, female circumcision, nutritional taboos, etc. were discussed and proposals for action were made. The proposal calls for research, training, dissemination of information and legislation to eradicate harmful traditional practices. The setting-up of regional and sub-regional structures was also recommended for the follow-up.

Statements of leaders and policy makers

55President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya supported the preservation of culture as a defense for one’s identity against colonial aggression. In his book “Facing Mount Kenya” he supports the initiation ritual of circumcision. But later, in 1990, his successor President Arap Moi issued a ban on the practice, stating that such customs do not belong to modem times.

  • 4 UN Document E/CN. 4/1986/42

56President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso also denounced the practice of FGM on 20 December 1983, stating: “It also shows an attempt to confer an inferior status on women by branding them with this mark which diminishes them and is a constant reminder to them that they are only women, inferior to men, that they do not even have any rights over their own bodies or to fulfillment, either bodily or personal.”4

  • 5 UN Document E/CN. 4/1986/42

57President Abdou Diouf of Senegal stated: “These practices, however, raise a problem today because our societies are in a process of major transformation and are coming up against new sociocultural dynamic forces in which such practices have no place or appear to be relics of the past: What is therefore needed are measures to quicken their demise.”5

  • 6 UN Document E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/1991/48

58At the UN seminar in 1991, the First Lady of Burkina Faso, Madame Chantal Compaoré, said: “We in Africa still have some backward and unacceptable customs and traditions. One of the objectives of the August Revolution in Burkina Faso was to combat all the social and cultural impediments which are holding the country back. The practice of female circumcision is the most pernicious impediment to the psychological and physical flowering of women and children.”6

59The International Conference on Assistance to African Children, held in November 1992 in Dakar (Senegal), treated the issue of FGM as a threat to African children. The final document adopted as the “Consensus of Dakar”, paragraph 28, reads: “Furthermore, we commit ourselves to ensure the protection of the female child from all forms of harmful traditional practices and in particular to the elimination of such practices as female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriages”.

60Recently, FGM has gained prominence in various international conferences.

61The World Conference on Human Rights, held in June 1993 in Vienna, condemned gender based violence and accepted the principle that women’s rights are human rights and as such they should be respected fully, regardless of cultural diversity or economic disparity. The indivisibility and non selectivity of the principles of human rights prohibits the violation of human rights on the basis of culture or religion.

62The International Conference on Population and Development and its programme of action condemns the practices of FGM and early marriage along with other harmful traditional practices and several measures are proposed to governments and NGOs to work toward their elimination.

63The World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995, reaffirmed the call for the elimination of violence against women, including female genital mutilation.

64The Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, witnessed the international awareness about violence against women in general and FGM in particular. Several statements by high level officials, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and delegates called for the elimination of FGM as a gender based violence.

Concrete actions to stop the practice

65The anti-FGM campaign was initiated by committed and convinced individuals who considered the practice of FGM as a health hazard and violation of the human rights of women.

66Gradually, as more and more public awareness developed, organizations were formed with the aim of eradicating FGM. In 1977, the NGO Working Group on Traditional Practices was set up in Geneva with a membership of international organizations enjoying consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. The Coordinator of the Group and a representative were assigned to undertake missions to several African countries for studying the extent of the problem and for dialoguing with nationals on the best approach to adopt in handling the problem. The various visits and meetings resulted in building collaborative efforts. The Working Group initiated educational activities in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Mali and Sudan and fundraised for such local initiatives.

67A vital role of the Group has been lobbying at the various relevant meetings such as the World Health Assembly, the UNICEF Board meetings, the sessions of the Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on the Status of Women, etc. Members of the Group made statements, submitted communiqués and appealed to governments to take action. Briefing sessions with African delegates were held during the WHO Assembly in 1983 and 1984 at the request of members of the Working Group. Members of the Group took an active part during the two sessions of the UN Working Group on Traditional Practices held in 1986. They advocated the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on traditional practices and, at present, they work closely together with this Special Rapporteur, Mrs. Halima Embarek Warzazi.

68During the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was the NGOs which lobbied for the inclusion of article 24.3 calling upon the States Parties to protect children from practices prejudicial to their health.

69In 1984, the Working Group in collaboration with the Government of Senegal, WHO, UNFPA and UNICEF organized a Regional Seminar in Dakar, to which twenty African countries sent representatives to examine the issues of FGM, early marriage, nutritional taboos and practices related to delivery. A unanimous agreement was reached to eradicate harmful traditional practices and to follow this decision by establishing the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children.

70The Working Group continues its campaign against FGM through advocacy and fundraising. WHO and UNICEF participate in its activities with an observer status.

Inter-African Committee

71The Inter-African Committee (IAC) is a regional body set up in 1984 with the following mandate:

  • to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates of women and children through the eradication of harmful traditional practices,

  • to promote traditional practices which are beneficial to the health of women and children,

  • to play an advocacy role, by raising the importance of taking action against harmful traditional practices at international, regional and national levels,

  • to raise funds and support local activities of national committees and other partners.

72Since its creation, IAC has set up national committees in the following 26 countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana,

73Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda.

74The main focus of activities are:

Training and Information Campaign (TIC)

75TIC training workshops are aimed at providing intensive and meaningful health education with the help of visual aids. The subjects discussed are related to FGM, early childhood marriage, human reproduction, pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding and hygiene as well as to nutritional taboos.

76The programme consists of 4 sets of training workshops, to be conducted consecutively in 5 months. After each TIC programme, 28 persons will have been trained to be able to conduct sensitization programmes on the harmful effects of FGM and other traditional practices, and a further 136 persons will have attended workshops to spread information regarding these issues.

Training of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA)

77As TBAs can play an important role in the campaign against harmful traditional practices, it is necessary to provide them with an effective training programme and to encourage them to campaign for the abolition of FGM and other such practices.

78For IAC, the aim of the TBA training is first to train head trainers for a short period and to ensure that the required information pertaining to the practice is transmitted to other TBAs working in rural areas and mothers in the communities. First, a head trainer gives a one-day training for 5 future trainers. Each will in turn train 50 TBAs in rural areas, thus creating a multiplying effect. When each TBA programme is completed, 50 TBAs will have been trained to play a key role in rural areas in the campaign against FGM and other harmful traditional practices.

Alternative Employment Opportunities (AEO)

79Practitioners or circumcisers are largely respectable individuals whose skills are indispensable to the community. Their service is paid for in cash or kind and they enjoy special social status in the community. The campaign against FGM has to include changing the attitudes of practitioners and finding them alternative sources of income for their livelihood.

80IAC runs two AEO projects for circumcisers, one in Ethiopia and another in Sierra Leone. In both projects, a selected number of women have identified income generating activities such as bakers (Ethiopia) and tie and dye (Sierra Leone), and are working in groups running their projects. Members of these groups have abandoned the practice of FGM and other harmful traditional practices. They are used as agents of change within the communities.

81Such projects have to be designed and implemented in order to convince practitioners to give up some of their old habits and practices and to provide beneficial services.


82IAC conducts research in the area of traditional practices, particularly FGM. Several research papers are produced showing the extent of the problem. These documents are valuable, particularly for designing strategies of intervention.

Production of educational materials

83IAC produces and distributes a number of educational materials to be used in the different programmes of education and information.

  • An anatomical model of the lower part of the female body with 7 removable parts showing (1) the normal state of the female genital organs; (2) result of “sunna”; (3) result of excision; (4) result of infibulation. (5) keloid; (6) normal delivery; (7) delivery of an infibulated or severely excised woman.

  • Flannelgraphs: A set of 5 folders with schematic designs to be stuck on a piece of flannel for group teaching based on a small manual contained in each folder. The series comprises A. the female genital organs, B. fertilization, C. pregnancy, D. birth, E. complications during childbirth: a consideration of female genital mutilation.

  • Simple viewers with a set of slides, to be shown in connection with the flannelgraphs. The slides are made from realistic designs which demonstrate (1) infibulation; (2) keloid; (3) incision at delivery, (4) delivery by pulling out the child; (5) child injured at birth.

  • Multi-media training modules and materials are targeted to reach four major groups: a) women in influential positions and those participating in activities of women’s organizations; b) secondary school students and youth groups, both male and female; c) teachers, religious and community leaders; d) paramedical staff. The modules include transparencies, slides, cassettes and stories with pictures.

  • The IAC video (Beliefs and Misbeliefs) (43 min.) explains the dangers of FGM and shows the activities of IAC in Africa. A French versions is also available.

  • The IAC Newsletter is published twice a year in English and French and distributed widely.

  • The IAC Information Leaflet is available in English and French.

84IAC organizes international and regional conferences to examine the problem, to elaborate new strategies and to work out activity plans. Such a conference was held from 11 to 15 April 1994 for the purpose of evaluating a decade of IAC activities. Representatives of 24 countries participated and the First Ladies of Burkina Faso, Ghana and Guinea graced the conference with their presence. The full report of this conference is available.

IAC/UNHCR joint project

85A joint project between the IAC national committee in Ethiopia (NCTPE) and the UNHCR among refugees and indigenous Somali displaced persons in the Jijiga refugee camp is in progress since 1993.

86The Somalis are known for practising the worst form of FGM – infibulation – and the purpose of this project should be seen in the light of one more effort to minimize and ultimately eradicate this harmful traditional practice. In addition, the project foresees the promotion of beneficial traditional practices such as breast-feeding and improved child care.

87The strategy used is sensitization of the socially influent target groups by means of short term training and seminars. The beneficiaries of the project are traditional birth attendants and opinion leaders in addition to the refugee/returnee communities in the different camps within the Jijiga area. It is estimated that some 200 opinion leaders in nine of the camps could be reached in this process. In addition, a seminar on the hazards of FGM was held for NGO representatives working in the camps and from which an estimated 14 participants benefited.


88The advocacy IAC plays together with other partner NGOs is showing gradual progress.

89At the UN level, the appointment of a special rapporteur on traditional practices is an outcome of this lobbying. The fact that IAC has official relationship with the UN, OAU and WHO gives it the possibility to make its voice heard on behalf of African women and children who are the victims of prejudicial treatment.

90At national level, the national committees in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria have succeeded in impacting policy changes by including articles which prohibit harmful traditional practices. This is a welcome sign.

91The Inter-African Committee and its national committees are making efforts to free women and children from socially sanctioned violence such as female genital mutilation. These efforts alone could not have produced results if it were not for the collaboration of other organizations and concerned individuals.


92Despite the widespread violence against women, particularly in relation to culture and misinterpretations of religion, women themselves have to be empowered through information and education to protect their human rights. In this domain, the following proposals are made:

  • educate women through various means to valorize themselves and to develop self esteem;

  • explain and clarify misconceptions about religion;

  • disseminate information about the functions of the female body and project positive images about the reproductive role of women;

  • educate the community about the contribution of women towards the development of the community and the nation;

  • valorize the image of the girl child through education, including religious teachings;

  • adopt legislation which will allow women to inherit property, including land, in order to allow them to be economically self-sufficient;

  • adopt measures to abolish practices such as female genital mutilation;

  • conduct research to collect gender desegregated date;

  • concerned organizations, international, national and government institutions should coordinate their efforts to integrate activities related to abolishing violence against women in their plans and programmes of work.


1 WHO offset publication no. 90, 1985 Women, Health and Development.

2 Inter-African Committee: Interim Report on a Study on Early Childhood Marriage in Ethiopia, June 1993, excerpt.

3 WHO 1985 offset publication no. 90, Women, Health and Development, p. 4.

4 UN Document E/CN. 4/1986/42

5 UN Document E/CN. 4/1986/42

6 UN Document E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/1991/48


Présidente du Comité Inter-africain sur les pratiques traditionnelles ayant un effet sur la santé des femmes et des enfants (IAC), Genève.


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