Roundtable on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Dakar, Senegal
April 2, 1998


Let me start by thanking all of you who are here this morning. And I want to thank, first of all, the minister and I particularly want to thank the minister for her work on this issue and many others. And I want the minister to convey to the president what an example he is for not just Senegal and Africa but the entire world with the stand he has taken.

I also want to thank our representative from Mali. We know that the issue of FGM in Mali is a very serious one, and I want to thank you for bringing to our attention the statistics and the work that you are doing in Mali. And I know that you will have the support and solidarity of women, not only in Senegal and Africa, but around the world, for your work. I want to thank our moderator for her excellent job and honor the work that she has done. And I want to thank Molly Melching for the work that TOSTAN and that she personally has done on this issue and so many others.

But mostly, I want to thank the great women and men who are here today. The work that you have done in Malicounda is an example that will stand as a model for all time and all people. I hope you understand how important your work is not only to your families and your girls but to girls all over Senegal, Mali, Africa – everywhere where custom and tradition in any way poses a danger to girls’ health.

And in your skit I saw how difficult this has been. It was not easy for women and men to come together to stand against and speak out against a very ancient custom. And as we saw in the skit, even sometimes mothers who did not want their girls to be circumcised felt like they had to because of this ancient custom. And as we heard, the circumcisers often themselves felt they had to continue the custom because it made them a living. So you had many obstacles to face when you began your struggle to bring to everyone’s attention all of the difficulties, the pain, the hemorrhaging, the suffering, even the deaths associated with female circumcision.

This is not only a very wonderful example of what you have done on this issue. This is an example of how democracy works; how women’s voices, combined with some very brave men’s voices, can be heard. It is also an example, as we heard, of how you can make it clear to people that there is no religious basis for this custom, that the Koran does not say anything about this, and that Islam does not support this. And I appreciate very much the message to that effect.

The courage and commitment of the women, the men, and the religious leaders of Malicounda has served now as an example to bring together thousands and thousands of other Senegalese. So you have started a great movement. And I hope that this movement, along with the very strong statement of the president and the work of the minister, will end FGM in Senegal. And that Senegal will then be an example, because of your leadership, to Mali, to Egypt, to every other country and every other family and every other village because they can say, “If the people of Malicounda can do it, we can do it.” And our girls are healthier, they are happier, and the men and the women are working together, and we should be able to do this as well.

I have written about what you have accomplished. I have written about it in a newspaper column that will go all over the world because I want the world to know about the men and the women and the religious leaders of Malicounda and what you have done for your girls. You have changed history. You have done something so very important, and I am honored – honored – to be with you. I feel a great sense of pride and honor as I look at you because I know that you have accomplished – more than anything else – you have created a new future for the girls and the boys.

Because, after all, the girls become the mothers, and the mothers must give birth to healthy children and be able to raise those children for the village to continue, and you have made that much more possible than it used to be. So I thank you. I thank you for your work. I thank you for your leadership. And I thank you for making this long journey early in the morning with your babies to come here to be with all of us. And I want the rest of us to applaud the people of Malicounda.

I am just very proud to be with these extremely brave and courageous leaders of change.