BY MWAKERA MWAJEFA
Regional Inter-Ministerial meeting comprising of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia have agreed to galvanise political action to end cross border female genital mutilation (FGM) in the region.
This declaration based on Ouagadougou 2018 and the African Union Continental Initiative (Assembly/AU/DEC757(XXXII) and reaffirming the Maputo Plan of Action to advance rights and choices for women and girls was endorsed by the regional gathering on April 17th, 2019 at a Mombasa hotel.
The three-day outcome of deliberations was signed by the Youth and Gender Affairs cabinet secretary Prof Margaret Kobia (Kenya), Gender, Labour and Social Development State minister Peace Regis Mutuuzo (Uganda), Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children minister Ummy Mwalimu (Tanzania), Women and Children Affairs minister Yalem Tsegaye (Ethiopia) and Women Affairs and Human Rights Development minister Deka Haji Yusuf (Somalia).
Further to these commitments, the regional ministers agreed to eliminate FGM by strengthening regional coordination in the area of legislation and policy framework, cooperation, communication and advocacy, evidence, research and data.
They agreed to enact and harmonize national laws and policy frameworks on FGM through African Union, East African Community and Inter-Governmental Authority for Development.
The ministers pledged to support cross border cooperation by facilitating information exchange on trends and good practices, establishing Standard Operating Procedures for girls and women at risk, law enforcement, and community dialogues.
They committed to develop and implement multi-sectoral costed Plans of Action at the national level, which integrate cross border dimensions on the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation with clear outcomes, targets, budget lines and monitoring framework.
The ministers agreed to allocate sufficient human and financial resources to the implementation of FGM Plans of Action that integrate cross border dimensions and develop programmes to address emerging forms and trends of the vice practice like medicalization, changes in age and types of FGM on practice, and religious misinterpretations.
They committed also to implement the regional action plan and convene rotational annual technical and biennial ministerial meetings to assess progress and promote mutual accountability to eliminate FGM.
The ministers, through advocacy and communication programmes at the regional, national and community levels, target to mobilize religious leaders, traditional leaders, community leaders, women and girls, men and boys, and other relevant stakeholders to take collective action and accelerate the elimination of FGM.
They are concerned that mutilation (total or partial removal of female genitalia) is a violation of the human rights and dignity of women and girls, and is a form of gender based violence.
Globally, the ministers note that more than 200 million girls and women today undergo FGM including in 30 countries in Africa with Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Somalia accounting for almost a quarter of (an estimated 48.5 million) the victims.
The FGM, according to them is irreparable, irreversible abuse that poses a serious threat to the health of women and girls including their psychological, sexual and reproductive health, which can increase their vulnerability to HIV and adverse maternal and child health outcomes including death.
Recalling the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the ministers want concerned regional countries to prohibit and condemn all forms of harmful practices and take all necessary legislative and other measures to eliminate such practices.
In her closing remarks, Prof Kobia the declarations made by the member States will strengthen the regional coordination in the area of legislation, policy communication and advocacy.
“Time is now ripe for us to harmonise our laws and policies among ourselves through research for proper programming and rotational biennial ministerial and annual technical meetings,” she said.
She told her colleagues to ensure allocation of sufficient human and financial resources for the eradication of FGM was committed by their respective governments to end the vice within the region.
The CS acknowledged UNFPA, UNICEF and members’ of civil societies and Faith Based Organizations for their tremendous work and efforts to end FGM among communities that still practice the ritual.
Concerned with recent evidence of cross border dimensions of FGM manifested in both supply and demand for services, the ministers recognised the importance of regional cooperation to the end the practice.
The elimination of this harmful practice, according to them, requires collaboration and coordination at the regional, national and local levels.
“Through the leadership of national governments in partnership with United Nations agencies, African Union, Regional Economic Communities, bi-lateral non-government organizations and other stakeholders such as religious leaders, traditional leaders, community leaders, girls and boys and men women and girls, men and boys – we can eradicate this practice completely,” they said.