I salute your courage, your commitment, your stubbornness and your generosity. Your presence here today is a sign of hope and it is also a hymn to the freedom we desire for the girls and women who will follow in our footsteps.
— Michaëlle Jean, Governor General, presenting the Award in Commemoration of the Person’s Case to Aoua Bocar LY-Tall | 2005
What does the status of women and girls – especially as reflected in female genital mutilation (FGM) – have to do with global warming? Or with planting North American seeds in rural Africa?
In fact, they have everything to do with one another.
In Africa, women do most of the work of keeping families alive. Imported plants may push out the native plants that for centuries have provided food and are essential to the food chain in an area. When this happens, the local food supply can almost disappear over night.
Global warming can mean less rain or devastating floods. Either way, the result is fewer crops, less food for people and animals, and more difficulty obtaining usable water. In many places clean water is not available at all, ever.
The gains women have made are everywhere fragile and threatened. In many places in Africa, women have exercised few if any rights. Life is hard and getting harder. For women, this means ever-increasing vulnerability to abuse.
Dr. Aoua Bocar LY-Tall is a sociologist, environmentalist, international human rights consultant, and watchdog for sustainable international development. A resident of Montreal, she primarily pursues her campaigns for human rights – especially the rights of women and girls – in North America and Africa.
Dr. LY-Tall works with governments and research institutes, non-governmental organizations, and numerous United Nations agencies. Among these activities, she participated in the United Nations summits in Nairobi in 1985, in Rio de Janeiro, 1992, Beijing, 1997, and New York in 2000.
She researches, writes conference and academic papers, newspaper and magazine articles, and speaks to groups all over the world. Her dedication and energy appear to be limitless.
The abolition of FGM is a prime focus of Aoua Bocar LY-Tall’s work.
what it feels like to be a girl
For many women and girls, the trip for water has become a walk of many kilometres to a well shared by several villages. Food preparation can take eight or ten hours a day for rural African women.
As conditions worsen, and the time and work required to prepare food increases, time for working to gain money, time for education, time to spend in family and community activities decreases. Women’s ability to look beyond the essentials of life decreases. And, as hunger and disease – as well as chronic war many parts of Africa – increasingly threaten their families, women become ever more vulnerable.
One indicator of that vulnerability is female genital mutilation.
Despite UN condemnation, each year 3-million women and girls endure this practice. At best, it robs them of sexual pleasure. It often leads to infection, lifelong pain, and even death.
In Canada, LY-Tall is an associate member of the Institute for Health and Society at l’Université du Québec à Montréal and a research associate at the Institute for Women’s Studies at l’Université d’Ottawa.
LY-Tall works for the full integration of women of African origin in Quebec and Canadian society.
She is expert counsel for Fem EN VIE, “a consulting, assessment and strategy development organization focused on women’s issues, sustainable environment and cultural diversity.”
In 2003, she became executive director of CI-AF Canada – a coalition of groups around North America whose goal is to end female genital mutilation. She is the founder of Femmes africaines, horizon 2015 (FAQ 2015), which is a network of African women. “Horizon 2015” refers in part to the abolition of FGM around the world by the year 2015. That FGM is now being practiced in Canada gives this deadline urgency not just in Africa, but here as well.
In December 2006, Governor General Michaëlle Jean led a Canadian delegation to Africa to increase awareness of Canadian work there. Dr. LY-Tall was a member of that delegation. At the time of writing, she is working in North Africa.
Dr. LY-Tall’s awards
1992 | Certificate of Gratitude from the Prime Minister of Canada for her part in organizing and participating in the UN Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2000 | Award of Merit for community service, presented by the Montreal YMCA Foundation
2001 | Lauréat du Mois de l’Histoire des Noirs, Montreal
2005 | Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case
By Frances Rooney | January 14, 2008