BAMAKO, Feb 22 (Reuters) More than 90 percent of Malian women have suffered genital mutilation, a European parliamentarian told a conference calling for an end to the potentially fatal practice.
Mali, which signed the Maputo Protocol last year calling for states to ban and punish female genital mutilation, plans to outlaw the custom.
''Here in Mali, despite a long fight, mutilation affects more than 90 percent of women,'' Emma Bonina, a member of the European parliament and founder of the No Peace Without Justice non-governmental organisation, told the 200-strong conference yesterday.
''The government and the parliament are leaning towards putting into practice the Maputo protocol and a law banning excision.'' Mali, a Muslim nation in Africa's arid Sahel belt, is one of the world's poorest nations with more than 90 percent of the population living on less than 2 dollar a day.
One presentation at the two-day conference cited a 2001 survey, which showed that 75 percent of Malian women said they were in favour of excision.
''A law without awareness campaigns on the ground ... would present weaknesses which would dangerously undermine the fight,'' said Diallo M'bodji Sene, Mali's minister for the promotion of women, children and families.
The UN children's agency UNICEF said last year an estimated three million girls and women are mutilated or cut each year on the African continent, in a custom traditionally believed to bestow status and honour.
However it can disfigure, cause psychological damage and sometimes kill.
The practice, also known as female circumcision, usually involves cutting off the clitoris and other parts of the female genitalia. There are degrees of severity and many of the practitioners are untrained and use crude instruments.
REUTERS PDS RAI0536