The government of Senegal officially ended the practice of female genital mutilation on Wednesday, thanks to years of struggle by women’s rights activists, educators, doctors, and politicians. Violators of the new ban will face a maximum prison term of 5 years.
Last February, Senegal President Abdou Diouf called for an end to female genital mutilation, and asked government officials to formulate a law banning the practice. One month later, fourteen individual Senegal villages banned the practice after many local women took a course which described the health risks caused by female genital mutilation.
UNICEF director Carol Bellamy commented that the ban “reflects the resolve of African women to end a cruel and unacceptable practice which violates the right of all girls to free, safe and healthy lives.”
Female genital mutilation is an often crude operation in which the genitalia of pre-pubescent girls is cut off. Health professionals testify that it limits normal bodily functions, robs girls of sexual pleasure, causes horrible scarring, and can lead to infections and long-term health complications, especially when unsterile health instruments are used.
Supporters of the practice argue that it is necessary to guarantee women’s sexual chastity and faithfulness to their husbands. There is no doubt that the practice achieves this goal, since the operation makes sex uncomfortable at best, and extremely painful at worst.
The countries of Burkino Faso, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea and Togo also outlaw female genital mutilation, or its euphemism, “female circumcision.”