Oppression Of Women In Africa "Cripples" Parts Of The Continent, Obama Tells Leaders

The White House is ramping up its efforts to combat gender discrimination in Africa and assist young leaders from the continent. Speaking to the 500 African fellows on Monday, President Obama announced that gender discrimination will be a focus of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, an upcoming conference that will be the largest meeting ever between an American president and African heads of state. He also stressed the importance of combatting oppressive practices in Africa, specifically female genital mutilation, and Obama noted oppressive treatment of women is “crippling” certain African countries.

“One of the things we’ve got to teach Africa is how strong the women are and to empower women,” Obama said. “The most successful countries are the ones who treat women well.”

President Obama was speaking to participants in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a competitive program that sends aspiring young African leaders for six weeks of leadership training at top U.S. universities. The fellowship, which is a central piece of the president’s Young African Leaders Initiative, is open to 500 Africans between the ages of 25 and 35, and offers funding and mentoring partnerships to participants once they return home.

Obama announced Monday that the program will be renamed the Mandela Washington Fellowship after late South African leader Nelson Mandela. More importantly, the administration will aim to double the number of fellowships by 2016, from 500 to 1,000. He also announced that a Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be held in Sub-Saharan Africa next year to augment the fellowship’s efforts.

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The president singled out female genital mutilation, a brutal but tragically common form of abuse, as a particularly distressing obstacle for progress in Africa. FGM involves forcibly cutting off some or all of a girl’s genitals, usually without anesthetic and often before victims reach the age of 5. In addition to the unspeakable pain of the procedure, victims face a number of health concerns later in life, including cysts, infection, infertility and death during childbirth.

According to UNICEF, around 125 million girls and women across 29 countries, most located in Africa, have been victims of FGM. While the practice is often linked to various religions, usually Islam, it has no basis in scripture and predates both Islam and Christianity.

“I’m sorry, I don’t consider that a tradition worth hanging on to,” Obama said Monday. “I think that’s a tradition that’s barbaric and should be eliminated.”

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