- Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté was awarded the 2020 Mandela Prize by the U.N. for his work fighting against harmful practices against women.
- An estimated four million girls worldwide are forced to undergo female genital mutilation each year. It has no medical benefit and can lead to suffering and death.
- Kouyaté calls for more resources, including law enforcement, to crack down on the practice.
Dr. Morissanda Kouyaté’s journey fighting for the health and dignity of women began when he witnessed the life drain out of two young girls who were brought to his clinic in his hometown of Kouroussa, in Guinea.
The 12-year old girls were twins, named Hassanatou and Housseynatou, and they bled to death at the medical facility, despite his best efforts to save them. It was 1983 and the first time Kouyaté had ever seen the deadly results of female genital mutilation.
Since then, he has waged a decades-long campaign against the practice that killed the twins and has maimed over 200 million women around the world who survived the harmful procedure but suffer lifelong complications, according to the United Nations.
The 68-year-old was awarded the Mandela Prize this year by the U.N. for his humanitarian work.
“My revolt and my fight against female genital mutilation started there because I felt the death of these two innocent girls as if I was losing my own daughters,” Kouyaté told Karma in a written interview. “It is therefore to them, Hassanatou and Housseynatou, that I first dedicate this prestigious Prize.”
Human rights activists such as Kouyaté have been able to take FGM out of the shadows as a taboo topic for discussion and bring it into the light. Young people are now organizing to protect themselves against community pressure to undergo the procedure, he says.
U.N. resolutions have been passed against the practice and national information campaigns in towns and villages have led to a decrease of the practice in countries in Africa, as well as other regions where the estimated 2000-year-old practice has been adopted to the detriment of women.
Still, about four million girls are forced to undergo FGM each year, which has no medical benefits and leads to women suffering complications during sex and childbirth.
Kouyaté says more needs to be done by law enforcement to stop the practice. He also says parents need to understand their children are not theirs.
“It should be emphasized that children in general and girls, in particular, are not the private property of their parents;” he told Karma. “They are human beings with the fullness of their rights. We must protect them all.”
Kouyaté studied medicine at the University of Conakry, Guinea, and Johns Hopkins University and Clark Atlanta University in the U.S.
He has a unique perspective on the award named after Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, who dismantled apartheid, a racist system of governance.
As a young man in the early 1970’s Kouyaté took to the streets in Guinea to protest and chant, “free Mandela and down with apartheid.” In 2014, he visited Robben Island in South Africa, where Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades.
Later, he observed Mandela walk free out of jail, “without hatred, without the spirit of revenge, without thirst for power, but…with tolerance, forgiveness, reconciliation, perseverance and above all, love for the other,” says Kouyaté who vowed to be like the man who inspired him.
Kouyaté has engaged in public service as the president of the Red Cross of Guinea and now the founder of the Inter-African Committee, which in collaboration with organizations such as the U.N and the World Bank are working to end harmful practices against women.
He says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of global cooperation and the competent leadership by women in countries such as Denmark and New Zealand that have controlled the outbreak with low fatalities.
“The greatest stupidity of humanity is the inferiorization and underestimation of women. ” Kouyaté told Karma. “The best management of the pandemic by female leaders is an obvious fact. Congratulations to all these leaders who prove every day that the world has more to gain by placing its trust in women and girls.”