NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Africa can end female genital mutilation (FGM) in 20 years, activists said on Friday as they launched a continent-wide campaign, calling the ancient ritual a form of child abuse aimed at controlling women's sexuality.
FGM, a practice involving the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, can cause hemorrhage, shock, complications in childbirth, fistula and death.
"I believe that FGM will come to an end in this generation," said Agnes Pareyio, a Maasai woman who runs a rescue center for girls in her community facing the cut.
"Unless the violence stops, we will not rest."
Some 30 million African girls are at risk of FGM over the next decade. This includes tens of thousands of girls from diaspora communities in Europe and North America who are often taken abroad to be cut.
In Kenya, 27 percent of women undergo FGM, although it reaches 98 percent in some communities, such as the Somali.
"FGM is child abuse," said Leyla Hussein, a British FGM survivor of Somali origin. "It is one of the worst forms of violence a woman or a girl will ever experience."
As FGM is traditionally performed without anesthetic, elderly women sometimes have to sit on the writhing girls, breaking their bones, said Guyo Jaldesa, an obstetrician and lecturer at the University of Nairobi.
"It is done for one simple reason: to subjugate women," he said. "It's actually a way of controlling women, their sexuality, their mentality, their behavior."
The death rate among babies born to mothers who have undergone FGM is up to 55 percent higher than that of babies born to uncut mothers, he added.
The Girl Generation campaign aims to bring about cultural and behavioral change in 10 African countries, starting with Kenya, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Kenya and Burkina Faso are active in prosecuting FGM cases, while nearly a sixth of the estimated 125 million women living with FGM are Nigerian.
Campaigners said it was important for survivors within FGM-practising communities to persuade people, particularly men, that it is wrong.
"They value a girl that is cut," said Samuel Gachagua, director of education for the Samburu Girls Foundation, which works to change attitudes among Kenya's Samburu community.
"That is what they have been taught since they were young. If we work with men … we have a really good shot of ending this in less than a generation."
The £6.5 (10.4143 US dollar) million campaign, which will run for four years, is being funded by the British government's Department for International Development.
Other focal countries include Sudan, Egypt, Somalia, Gambia, Mali and Senegal.
Reporting by Katy Migiro. Editing by Emma Batha.