BAMAKO, Mali — In the primarily Francophone and Anglophone region of West Africa, Mali is said to have one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation, with about 91 percent of girls and women having undergone the circumcision — a rate that has not only stayed stubbornly high but may also be inching upward. Younger females are also being subject to the procedure — cutting of their genitalia — starting at infancy.
The political impetus to ban the practice is severely lacking, say experts in Mali and elsewhere. The only country in West Africa that may claim higher prevalence rates, studies suggest, is Guinea, while Sierra Leone and Gambia closely compete with Mali in percentages. The practice is common in Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Liberia as well.
A new report on Mali produced by a private charity in Britain, called 28 Too Many, said that the prevalence of female genital mutilation, or FGM, has not decreased in the last 20 years and that the estimated rate among women and girls, aged 15 to 49, was 91.4 percent in 2013.
The report noted that the 2013 survey did not include northern Mali, which is politically rocky, so it concluded that the rate has not changed much in the last decade. The charity took its name from its original attention on the 28 countries in Africa where certain communities practice FGM, although it is now widely known that the practice occurs in parts of the Middle East and Asia as well. (In Egypt, which bans the practice, the father of a girl who died from the procedure was on trial recently as was the doctor who did the surgery; both were acquitted.)
One main obstacle in getting Mali to abandon the practice is the lack of legislation prohibiting excision, as it is called in French-speaking African countries. Gambia and Sierra Leone have no legal bans against the practice, either, said Louise Robertson, the communications manager for 28 Too Many, based in London.
The low priority on passing such a law in Mali, despite past motions, reflects the lingering side effects of the political turmoil that struck the country in 2012 and continues today, making government attempts and commitments by nonprofit groups to improve conditions for women a huge struggle.