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Female Circumcision - A Women's Empowerment Issue - 2003-02-05

Two major conferences on women’s health are being held this week in Africa. Both are concentrating on the issue of female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation.

In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, African leaders, first ladies and international organizations are expected to declare Thursday the “World Day for Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.”

Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the African Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Conference is underway. Among those attending is Dr. Nahid Toubia, founder of the group, RAINBO, which stands for “Research Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women.”

From Johannesburg, Dr. Toubia spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the prevalence of female circumcision. She says in some countries, “very little” cutting is done, while in others there is much more, “increasing the risk of bleeding and infection.” However, she says concentrating only on the health aspects can actually make it more difficult to end the practice because female circumcision is a part of the culture and can bring women a certain status or privileges.

Dr. Toubia says a better approach is to help women to empower themselves through training, education and employment. She says when that approach is taken, women are more likely to reject the practice themselves because it is no longer needed to establish their place in the community. She says simply telling women that female circumcision/female genital mutilation is dangerous often won’t change their minds.