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Malians rally to repudiate female genital mutilations

BAMAKO, Mali — When Dicko Ongoiba was a little girl, female genital cutting was such a tradition that no one in her community even discussed it. The 40-year-old did not even realize she had been circumcised until she was 10 and saw her younger sisters undergoing the same procedure.

Ongoiba subjected her first six daughters to what is sometimes referred to as female circumcision. But she has learned more about ramifications, including more difficult child births, and now she wants to spare her youngest daughters.

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‘‘It will not be easy, as we risk being rejected by the society,” Ongoiba said. “But what really scares me is that even if I don’t agree with circumcision, other women in the community might come and put them through it.’’

On Thursday, the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Genital Mutilation, Ongoiba joined hundreds of residents of a town outside Mali’s capital for a public declaration swearing off female genital cutting, which affects 89 percent of Mali’s women and girls.

It was the second public declaration organized in Mali by the nongovernmental organization Tostan, which has worked with 7,000 communities in eight African countries to denounce the practice.

Female circumcision involves removing some or all of a girl’s external genitals, usually without anesthesia. In addition to the loss of sexual pleasure, women undergoing the procedure face more difficult childbirths, urinary incontinence, and other complications.

By enlisting entire communities, public declarations help reduce pressure that might otherwise discourage mothers who do not want to see their daughters circumcised, said Tostan founder Molly Melching.

Abou Amel Camara, Tostan’s national coordinator, said that in recent years the prevalence of female genital cutting had diminished in Mali, but very slowly. In some regions, the prevalence is as high as 98 percent, he said.

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