Berhane Ras-Work

Presented at the Fourth International Symposium on Sexual Mutilations,
University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, August 9-11, 1996.

The practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and the campaign to end it have to be perceived within the prevailing patriarchal system, highly characterized by various forms of violence used as means to control the sexuality and fertility of women. Bride burning, wife battering, female infanticide, early marriage and female genital mutilation, traditionally accepted and condoned, are manifestations of gender specific violence.

Female genital mutilation is an extreme form of violence injurious to millions of women. The World Health Organization estimates that in Africa alone 100 million women and girl children are affected by this practice.

Female genital mutilation is a practice which involves the cutting off of parts or the whole of the female genital organs. The practice exists in at least 26 countries in Africa in addition to Malaysia, Yemen and Bahrain. This presentation will include a discussion of the different types of female genital mutilation, the ages at which it is performed, the documented consequences, the reasons for its continuation, and what activities the Inter-African Committee currently undertakes to educate about these harmful traditional practices.

In 1995, the Inter-African Committee received the UN Population Award for its outstanding contribution to the awareness of population questions and to their solutions.

[The complete paper is published in Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy, New York: Plenum Press, 1997 (ISBN 0-306-45589-7).

Berhane Ras-Work earned a B.A. in Education and an M.A. in International Relations at the Institut Universitaire de Developpement, Geneva, Switzerland. She is currently the President of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (IAC), the programme coordinator of the Ethiopian Women's Welfare Association in Addis Ababa, an advisor to the Ethiopian Ambassador to Geneva, and the coordinator of the non government organization (NGO) Working Group on Traditional Practices in Geneva. In 1995, she received the United Nations 1995 Population Award for her work.

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