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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Office of International Women's Issues > Electronic Resources > Other Reports > Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC): Individual Country Reports

Burkina Faso: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC)

Released by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues

The form of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female genital cutting (FGC) practiced in Burkina Faso is Type II (commonly referred to as excision). It is deeply rooted in culture and cuts across class, religion and ethnic groups. It is performed throughout the country, in all but a few of the provinces.

According to a 1999 Demographic and Health Survey of 6,445 women nationally, 71.6 percent of the women of Burkina Faso, regardless of class and religion, and often regardless of region or ethnic group, have undergone this procedure.

It is common among all of the nation’s 45 provinces, but is particularly widespread in 14 of them. Among more than 50 distinct ethnic groups, only a few such as the Bella do not practice it. Also not practicing it are members of particular castes and secret societies (such as some of the Mossi mask societies in the Koundougou province). Type II or excision is performed on women in the provinces of Mouhoun, Yatenga, Zoundweogo, Naouri, Tapoa, Ganzourgoou, Houet, Kenedougou, Comoe and Kadiogo that includes the capital of Ouagadougou. In Ouagadougou some families, however, are beginning to abandon the practice.

In some cases, even if a particular ethnic group does not practice FGM/FGC in one province, members from the same ethnic group in a different province may. For example, the Gourounsi ethnic group in Boulkiemde province does not practice it while the group in Houet province does.

Attitudes and Beliefs:
According to sociocultural beliefs, originally this practice had a single goal of assuring the fidelity of women. It is often connected with a rite of passage to adulthood and linked to cultural and/or religious beliefs. For example, young girls from the majority Mossi were traditionally secluded during the cutting and taught about their future duties as young women and mothers. The end of the girls’ seclusion was marked by a village-wide celebration with drinking and dancing.

The rationale for the practice includes aesthetic and sanitary factors. Some people believe an infant will die if it touches the clitoris of its unexcised mother during childbirth. Some believe it enhances a woman’s childbearing capacity. Some of the more urban women in Burkina Faso, however, believe that this practice is a way to continue the domination of women; that it is to make sure a woman is more docile and less likely to run after other men.

Type II:
Type II is the excision (removal) of the clitoris together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). The age at which a person undergoes this practice depends on a woman’s region and ethnic group.

Members of the Mossi excise their daughters at around age seven. Other ethnic groups wait until a woman is to be married or about to have her first child. Some submit their babies to this practice at birth.

Typically older women perform the procedure, earning about US$2-3 per patient. It is generally performed without the use of anesthesia. Excisors in urban areas are often paid in cash, while those in rural areas are paid with grain or other agricultural goods. If the procedure goes without complications, the excisor can also expect gifts such as chickens or guinea fowl, soap and expensive fabric. If complications follow, they are often attributed to failed pre-operation sacrifices made to the ancestors rather than a failure on the part of the excisor.

Complications can include, for example, keloids, hemorrhaging, anemia, damage to tissue around the vagina and rectum, incontinence and even death.

Outreach Activities:
A radio campaign first raised the issue of FGM/FGC in 1975, demanding that the practice cease. In 1985, a recommendation was made during "National Week for Women" to abolish it. The people of Burkina Faso began to discuss this formerly taboo subject. Since then there have been numerous campaigns, seminars, etc. aimed at informing the populace about the harmful effects and eradicating the practice. Much emphasis has been placed on the improvement of health care and education, participation of women in society and economic and social improvement of the position of women and children.

The government of Burkina Faso continues to wage a serious campaign against this widespread practice. The campaign, based on informing the people of Burkina Faso about health problems posed by excising a woman, is led by a National Committee to Fight Against the Practice of Excision (CNLPE) with Burkina’s First Lady as the honorary chairperson. The First Lady actively supports the campaign.

The National Committee was set up by a Presidential decree in 1990. Included in the Committee are members of the Burkina Faso Women’s Union, the Burkina Faso Midwives’ Association, the Nurses’ Association and the Burkina Faso Movement for Human and People’s Rights. Traditional village leaders have pledged their support to the Committee.

Members of the National Committee state that people are beginning to resist this practice but that traditional beliefs are so powerful that many girls and women are either obliged to or want to undergo the procedure. In one case, for example, a six-year old girl came to her mother asking to have the procedure so she would be like her friends. Her mother refused her request.

The National Committee operates under the administration of the Ministry for Social Action and the Family, but maintains autonomy in its activities. It is composed of three main bodies: a National Committee, a Permanent Secretariat and a Provincial Committee and one subsidiary group of resource people.

The National Committee oversees all actions against FGM/FGC at a countrywide level. It mobilizes resources and different sectors, promotes research, collects and publishes relevant data about this practice and monitors and evaluates activities. It has lobbied and succeeded in getting the government to identify it as a public health priority, include a "symbolic" budget line in some of the provincial administrative budgets for its eradication, facilitate fund raising by holding round-table gatherings with potential donors and adopt the National Committee’s reports and documents as official government texts.

The core of the National Committee’s work has been conducting five-day training sessions for National Committee and Provincial Committee members and three-day awareness campaigns among the general population. These sessions are very detailed and include films and videos on the practice, history and consequences. Specific training sessions have been developed and targeted to a variety of different professions: traditional leaders, Islamic associations, churches and pastors, women’s associations, health professionals, birth attendants, police, teachers, youth and press/media. Posters, pamphlets, brochures and stickers are handed out. One colorful sticker depicts a young girl shielding her pubic area with widespread hands. A feature-length movie made by a Burkina cinematographer called "My Daughter Will Not Undergo Excision" is shown. It ends with the death of a young girl following the operation.

After this training, each of these groups is asked to develop strategies to fight the practice. Traditional leaders have organized seminars and awareness sessions at the canton, village and family levels. Islamic association members have created a national committee to organize awareness campaigns. Religious leaders are encouraged to speak against the practice during services and special ceremonies. Youth now develop skits, plays and radio contests to spread information about the practice to other young people. Police have established files on known excisors, including their whereabouts. The National Committee, with the help of police, has identified excisors and given them training. Police have organized community patrols and regularly talk with families in the street about the harmful effects of the practice and that it is prohibited under the law.

Finally, the National Committee has established a 24-hour SOS telephone hot line about the practice. People can use it to report cases. If the excision has not yet occurred, Committee members visit the families. If it has already occurred, the parents are served notice to report to the police, as is the excisor.

In July 1992, the National Committee launched a campaign aimed at seven communities in Ouagadougou and in the villages of Kadiogo province. Information was provided on the dangers of this practice and discussions ensued.

The National Committee has been working on the development and production of education material with the National Literacy Institute. The President of the National Committee against Excision has gone on prime-time national television to talk about the practice. So far the Committee members have put their efforts into teaching the public about the harmful health effects. Outreach workers also tell higher educated audiences that a woman who has undergone this procedure is less likely to respond to sexual stimulation.

Activities to inform the populace about this practice continued in 1997. A workshop was held on strategies to fight against this practice by Islamic organizations. Several mosques in Ouagadougou were used for this campaign. A second campaign focused on Catholic leaders in Ouagadougou parishes. Information sessions about the harmful effects of the practice were held for 25 gendarmes in Ouagadougou. The purpose was to train them to disseminate this information among their colleagues and to collect information on excisors so they could watch them for possible FGM/FGC activities. A similar workshop was held with judicial and administrative officers and lawyers to inform them about the harmful consequences of the practice and ways to enforce the law against the practice.

Excisors now are more likely to use sterile equipment. Some of the effects of the campaign, however, are not what opponents of the practice had hoped for. Parents now are more likely to have their daughters excised at birth when the operation is less likely to be noticed. Rural puberty ceremonies are more likely to be hidden and more focused on the procedure, with less attention on traditional rites and celebration.

One of the factors slowing down the progress on the anti-FGM/FGC activities has been lack of financial support. Also, Committee members are volunteers and must carry out this work in their free time. The local office of the U.S. based Population Council has done research showing the men have tremendous influence and could stop this practice.

In June 1998, the Heads of State and Government at the meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Burkina Faso endorsed the 1997 Addis Ababa Declaration on Violence Against Women which includes a call for the eradication of the practice of female genital mutilation.

The U.S. Embassy’s Democracy and Human Rights Fund in Fiscal Year 2000 supported a Burkina filmmaker to produce a documentary film on the causes and consequences of FGM/FGC.

Legal Status:
A law prohibiting FGM/FGC was enacted in 1996 and went into effect February 1997. A Presidential decree had earlier set up the National Committee against this practice and imposed fines on people guilty of excising girls and women. The law includes stricter punishment for those involved in the excision of women and girls. The law reads as follows:

-Article 380: A prison sentence of six months to three years and/or a 150,000 to 900,000 francs (US$240-1,440) fine to whomever attempts or succeeds at damaging the physical integrity of a woman’s genitalia by total ablation, excision, infibulation, desensitization or all other methods. If death follows, the prison sentence is five to ten years. Similar sentences are applicable to those who request, incite to excision or promote it either by providing money, goods, moral support or all other means.

-Article 381: Penalties will be applied to the fullest extent of the law if the guilty party belongs to the medical or para-medical corps. The judge can additionally forbid the guilty party to practice his or her profession for a maximum of five years.

-Article 382: Imposition of a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 francs (US$80-160) on all persons who knew the criminal behavior described in Article 380 was to take place and did not warn the proper authorities.

Since the adoption of this law, there have been 60 convictions of both excisors and accomplices, resulting in sentences of imprisonment or fines. Imprisonment for excisors has ranged from one to ten months. One excisor received a ten-month jail sentence for cutting two girls. Accomplices have also received prison terms. Both have received fines of from 10,000 to 50,000 francs (approximately US$16-80). In a number of cases, prison sentences were suspended.

The National Committee Against Excision believes that using law enforcement authorities is a crucial element for an effective campaign against this practice in Burkina Faso, because the tradition and rites attached to it are so pervasive. The practice has survived other campaigns. Missionaries began the fight against it early in the century and officials of Burkina Faso began work on the issue in the 1970s. There is still a strong demand for it.

The Ministry for Social Action and the Family, when notified of an excision taking place, has taken the people responsible to the police. The National Committee Against Excision is also becoming increasingly interested in seeing that legal action is taken against those involved. Empowered by the 1990 Presidential decree, Committee members asked police to detain excisors found to have performed this procedure for 72 hours and to impose fines of about US$5 per patient. The revisions to the Penal Code, however, have made these punishments much stronger. One of the results of the law has been to detain both parents who have had their daughter(s) excised.

Prepared by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State, June 2001

Released on June 1, 2001

FGM/FGC Country Reports Front Page

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