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UN Steps Up Effort to End Female Genital Mutilation

Two U.N. agencies are trying to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Africa by launching a $44 million program that will fund efforts in various African communities. With a goal to reduce the number of cases by 40 percent in 16 African nations by 2015, the agencies this week announced a joint initiative, which comes on the heels of last week's meeting in Addis Ababa on ways to stop the procedure. From VOA's New York Bureau, Mona Ghuneim reports.

Aminata Toure says the new initiative by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) will focus on "blocks of countries" in Africa including Senegal, Guinea and Ghana, the Horn of Africa, and Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia. The chief advisor on gender and human rights at UNFPA says the agencies will work across borders to encourage communities, rather than nations, to abandon the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM).

"What we are trying to do is not to go by countries, per se, but we are looking at blocks of countries, because the practice is more ethnic-based than country based. For instance, you have the Somali group which is between Kenya and Somalia so both countries will be represented," she said.

Toure says that while both agencies have separate programs focusing on reducing FGM in Africa, and worldwide, this is the first time they have worked together on the issue. She says that the joint endeavor will help to combine strategies and strengthen efforts to eradicate the practice. While funding is important, she says, the work needs to go beyond just financing. She says that many of the African nations have laws against the practice, but they need to enforce them.

"We would like to develop strategies that will help enforcement," she added. "It goes from training law enforcement agents to working with media, working with the health sector, politicians, decision makers so they come out and speak out."

Toure says the issue needs to remain high on the international agenda. She says that while she sees a decrease worldwide of FGM, the goal to end the practice within a generation cannot be achieved unless it is a priority.

"It's very critical that we address the issue because we do know the dramatic consequences in terms of the violations of rights of women, in terms of suffering, in terms of risk," she explained. "It [the issue] has to also be mainstream within women's empowerment programs. I mean we are in the 21st Century. This should not happen anywhere."

According to the United Nations, between two million and 3 million women and girls worldwide are still subjected to female genital mutilation on an annual basis.