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CAIRO CONFERENCE, June 21-23, 2003


Opening Ceremony

June 21, 2003

Speech by Hon Emma Bonino

First Lady Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Activists, It is an emotion to be here in some way and I am sure that I am not the only one feeling such an emotion. I think I know most of you sitting here and coming from so far away. I know that you have great expectations from this conference. I know that people from AIDOS, NPWJ, have been working hard with Moushira and her staff because we really care, you really care. The moment has come, I think, to evaluate and say some clear and simple things based on what I have been hearing this morning. Basically we are talking of human rights. We are talking about women's rights that are also human rights. There is no division between them. We are all human beings. Certainly we are different. Good. Very good. But that does not mean that one is inferior to the other. Secondly, we have to say, as we heard this morning, that religion, be it the coran or the coptic religion has nothing to do with this practice. Please, say it over and over again. Say it anytime you can. Please say it out of respect for the religion and for the religious people. Say it again! Anytime you can! In our battle for women’s rights all over and in the past time, in my country, here, everywhere, we have been certainly fighting against something which is a fierce enemy, which is tradition. When we challenge something and say “why not?” the answer has been many times...that it is because of tradition, without any further explanation. And sometimes even with a misinterpretation of the religion. Since it is you who fear about the correct application and interpretation of your religion, I think that you are the ones who should be repeating it over and over again. FGM has nothing to do with religion! We will hear later that FGM has nothing to do with health. It is exactly the contrary. Doctors and experts present here will explain and say again that it is not good for the health, that it is not good for anything. Therefore it is cruel and useless. If you combine both cruelty and uselessness, yes, then the time has come to say as you say here in Egypt…. Khalas… Khalas! I think that you can say it here because thanks to the commitment of long-time activists in the past 20 years, recent activists, and the involvement of personalities, silence has finally been broken. However as many delegations will tell you during the conference, it is not yet the case in every country. In many countries that I happen to know, it is still difficult to go public on Female Genital Mutilation. Some activists are still suffering from harassments and death threats. Therefore, this conference, your works, are totally a support and an encouragement to other activists in other parts of the world, who still do not have your support, your words, your commitment. Finally, and I do not want to be too long, I think we realize that throughout the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Arab peninsula, from certain regions of the Far East to the expatriate communities in Europe, United States, Canada, Australia, etc, in fact all in all, women are reacting against their being genitally but sometimes also socially, civilly and politically mutilated. When you say it is not enough to tackle Female Genital Mutilation, you are correct. It has to do with generally speaking what we call empowerment of women or women human rights. On that I think human rights and women human rights do not have borders. It is mainly your fight, but I think it is important that all women from all over the world and from different institutions support your fight. You are in the frontline. We cannot substitute you, and we do not want to and we can not. But yet what women from everywhere in the world can provide is solidarity, concrete support and a way to go forward. It can provide the support of a more comprehensive effort, aiming at empowerment and giving civil rights to women, which are, by the way, 50% of the population, or more than that worldwide. What we really want is the responsibility to build our future based on equal footing and equal level, with the same equal burden of responsibility and also freedom. Freedom is fascinating but it is also a fantastic burden because you have to choose. Over the last few years I had the chance to meet hundreds of individuals, groups, and places where this practice exists. These people made a fight against Female Genital Mutilation a priority in their lives. Most of them are here and their courage, expertise, dedication and resolve are encouraging. But also we must not leave them to fight their battles alone. We should simply say that since it is a universal crime or a universal violation of universal rights, all of us have a responsibility. In this conference we want to take stock and to analyse where the law works, where it did not work and far what reason, with the help of the Inter-African Committee and other organisations from RAINBO, and in particular, the Centre for Reproductive Rights. I think that the basic paper has been distributed and it shows an analysis of the existing legislation in the 28 countries. This is important in order to really say that legislation is needed. Maybe it is enough but we cannot wait, I think. In a complex situation, before starting to find a solution to every problem, you need a thread to pull. When they tell me, or us "Yes, but first you have to solve education, poverty, etc", all these mean a little bit of an alibi for me. It goes too far. Let’s start in a comprehensive manner alright, but let’s start. Let’s agree why it is important to have a law. It is important because in every society, every citizen needs to know what is allowed and what is forbidden. It is important for relations between institutions and people; between men and women; between citizens and institutions. So thanks to the conference work and preparations we will spend these three days discussing these issues. You broke the silence; others will be encouraged to break the silence. It is a sensitive issue as you said, but I know that the courage and the determination of the people here, yourself and others will help to go forward. What we need are clear words, a clear message. Activists are in the field doing their jobs, but from you, we need a clear message for everybody. So thanks to the organisers and thanks to all of you who have been attending. I would not say that it is a start at the end of 20 years of activities of many people that I see here, but what we do hope is that it could be a new start, in which we really will be all determined. Everybody has his own responsibility to change because I think that our children, our daughters deserve this kind of attention and this kind of commitment. Thanks for coming. Thanks to everybody.

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