Recently, I had to pleasure of attending the United Nations’ Raise Your Voice To End Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Benefit Concert, featuring UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angelique Kidjo. Noted by Forbes as one of the most powerful celebrities in Africa, the Grammy-Award winning artist has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. Kidjo is a native of Benin and the founder of the Batonga Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based charity which funds and empowers education for young African women.
The concert the was presented by the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations in cooperation with the Department of Public Information, UNFPA, and UNICEF. Female genital mutilation refers to all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 100-140 million women and girls around the world have experienced the procedure, including 92 million in Africa. Approximately three million girls and women each year (8,000 a day) is at risk of mutilation or cutting. According to WHO, FGM is practiced in 28 countries in Africa, in parts of the Middle East, and within some immigrant communities in North America and Europe. Italy made FGM illegal, once having an issue with FGM amongst its immigrant community, and is pushing for a resolution to be passed at the UN this year.
The concert celebrated the strides made collectively by UN programs, African communities to end FGM, and by governments to take solid legal and policy action in favor of total abandonment of the practice. According to UNFPA and UNICEF 2011 findings, approximately 2,000 African communities have abandoned female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C), bringing the total of communities renouncing the practice to 8,000 over the last few years. The primary attendees of this concert were UN country delegates, who sat on the main floor while I watched overhead in the balcony.
If you have yet to see Angelique Kidjo in concert, you must know the she is her own back-up singer and dancer. She is a true artist! Shed belted out some of my favorites such as “Malaika” and “Afrikia,” and a new favorite song, “Petit Flor,” which Kidjo’s father used to sing to her in French. Kidjo dedicated “Petit Flor,” as she said, “to all those young little girls that are being born at the very moment that we are talking, for them to bloom without care without mutilation, but in freedom, laughter, health and education.”
My favorite part of the concert was the middle, when Kidjo stopped and addressed the crowd stating her mission:
Tonight is not just a regular concert of Angelique Kidjo; it’s a concert that I want to dedicate to all the little girls and women of the world that suffer from FGM. I’m born in Africa, and raised in Africa…. and I have been going around the world, talking to people through this microphone, empowering every single human being because we individually and collectively have the power to change the world. Today I’m hear to let you know, and to tell you, that the resolution has to be passed.
Kidjo excited the pan-Africanist in me, when she spoke further of her pride in being African and the role of Africans must play in addressing dangerous cultural practices,
We Africans, we can deal with our own problems. We can find solutions to it. And I always said, everywhere I go, ‘Don’t speak for me because I’m African. I have a brain. I can use it. Thank you’. If I stand tall and defend my continent and my culture so well, it’s because growing up in Benin has showed me that being a girl, is not only being a daughter of a father or somebody else’s wife. I am a human being before all. We have the duty of preserving the next generation, and I know we can with the help of our friends…that really think the best for us and give us the freedom to do whatever we want to do. Let’s take that freedom and let’s take this opportunity to show the world that we Africans can make long-lasting decisions for ourselves. It’s about time that we play hardball and big ball with everybody else. I know we can, we surely can. And please let’s do this. I’m too proud of my continent to walk with my head down ashamed of not having an answer for this call tonight.
UNFPA-UNICEF joint programs on FGM uses a culturally sensitive human rights-based approach to promote local abandonment of the practice irrespective of religious or cultural beliefs. According to the UNFPA report, Kenya is has made a significant dropping rates of FGM in women aged 15-49 of 15.8 percent from 2003-2008. In September 2011, Kenya’s parliament passed the bill Female Genital Mutilation Bill, making it illegal to practice FGM. The bill proposes a jail sentence and fine, including a provision for a life sentence should an offender kill a woman in the act. Other African countries that stepped up against the practice of FGM include Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gambia, Senegal, Kenya, Somalia, Egypt, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.
I felt a sense of pride to usher in Women’s Month with a concert where Ms. Angelique Kidjo raised her voice to end FGM and reminded me of the continuing struggles of women worldwide. As Women’s Month progresses, let’s continue to highlight the impact of African women on women-specific issues.
Check out the entire concert on the U.N.’s website.