(February 2010) It is estimated that 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been affected by female genital mutilation, or FGM. The practice, involving partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects.

The Honorable Amina Salum Ali is the Permanent Representative of the African Union to the United States. Born and raised on the island of Zanzibar and educated in India, Ambassador Ali has held various ministerial positions in the Tanzanian government, including Minister of Finance and Minister of the Treasury, as well as Member of Parliament.

As the African Union’s first woman ambassador, Ambassador Ali is committed to promoting women’s and children’s rights. Her first introduction to FGM was as a member of parliament in Tanzania when a local organization presented a heart-wrenching video of FGM. The dismissive reaction of the other members of Parliament to the mutilations shocked Ambassador Ali and she challenged them, saying “this could be your daughter or my daughter.” Since then, she has vowed to work for an end to this practice through laws and education. In this interview, Ali describes what the African Union has done to combat FGM, what is needed to eliminate the practice beyond legal instruments, the social context of the practice, and how she feels about the future for Africa’s women.