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West African First Ladies Called for Coordinated Approaches to Combat FGM

First ladies from seven West African countries have ended their meeting in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou on ways to end female circumcision also known as female genital mutilation (FGM). The first ladies of Burkina Faso and Niger were joined earlier this week by the special representatives of the first ladies of Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo. Female genital mutilation is reportedly common in about 30 African countries despite national laws against it.

Nestorien Sangare is Executive Director of the Center for Research and Intervention on Gender and Development (CRIGED). From Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, she told VOA the three-day conference agreed to find coordinated regional approaches on both governmental and non-governmental levels to end female circumcision.

"I think the main conclusion is to gather all the actors from the countries in the West Africa region to join their initiative because FGM is a common problem. And now because of the cross-border issue, it's definitely the time for them to join forces and harmonize laws, and also to formulate a common plan of action. When it comes to speak about the cross-border issues an NGO cannot discuss in the same way with the government representative. So in every country it needs the government to take a leadership," she said.

Sangare said the first ladies called for Western donor organizations to also adopt a regional approach to the fight against FGM.

"Yes, you have the same donors who are providing resources in Burkina, Mali, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, they are the same. But they don't come with regional approaches. If we have to tackled regional issues, we need them to think about regional approaches," Sangare said.

She said female circumcision is not limited to just French speaking West African countries.

"I can tell you FGM is not about linguistic barriers. FGM is a cultural issue affecting communities who are living in our different countries with no regards to those artificial barriers that we had from the colonization era. Ghana has the same concerns about FGM, but it is only in the northern party of the country, Cote d'Ivoire has the same concern, Nigeria has the same concern. So from the English speaking countries you have Nigeria, you have Ghana, you have Sierra Leone, and you have Liberia," Sangare said.