The government of Djibouti has ratified the African Union's Maputo Protocol on female genital mutilation (FGM), which requires its member states to ban the practice.
The protocol was ratified on Thursday by Djibouti’s prime minister, Dileita Mohamed Dileita, at a two-day subregional conference on FGM in the presence of representatives of the AU, No Peace without Justice (NPWJ), an Italian NGO, and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"We are confronted with a real health problem," Dileita told the conference, held in Djibouti City on 2-3 February. "It is up to us to ensure that the ratification of this protocol does not just end up like other documents."
The Maputo Protocol - adopted by the AU in the Mozambique capital in 2003 but is yet to enter into force - covers a broad range of women’s rights. Its Article 5 requires signatories to "condemn and prohibit" all forms of FGM.
Djibouti's ratification was supported by religious leaders attending the conference, who agreed to discourage FGM.
Speaking on the implementation of laws against FGM, Ismael Ibrahim, Djibouti’s justice minister, noted that articles 10 and 333 of the country’s constitution were clear about the punitive measures enforceable against those carrying out the practice.
He added that legislation and implementation were not enough, stressing that the solution was to find a way to completely eradicate FGM, whether or not punitive measures were imposed.
"FGM has come out of a declining environment," Kadra Mahmoud Haid, Djibouti's first lady and president of its National Union of Women, said at the opening of the conference. "The time has come towards renewing and working for the progress of our societies by using reasoning and convincing arguments to stop this practice."
Held under the theme "Towards a Political and Religious Consensus on FGM", the meeting aimed to help discourage FGM in Djibouti and the subregion. It also sought to build on the consensus against FGM at the highest levels of the government and within religious authorities.
According to NPWJ, who were co-sponsors of the conference along with UNICEF and the Djibouti government, 98 percent of women in Djibouti, a country of about 600,000 people, have been subjected to FGM.
More than 130 million women and girls have undergone FGM globally in countries ranging from Senegal and Mali to Yemen and Oman, according to UNICEF. It is also performed in some parts of southeast Asia, Europe, North America, and Australia.
UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, in a statement issued on Sunday, called for an end to FGM, noting that the 2002 UN special session on children, endorsed by 69 heads of states and government and 190 high level national delegations, set a goal for its elimination by 2010.