A two-day conference has been convened by lawmakers from 27 African countries in Dakar to push for a UN ban on female genital mutilation as a breach of human rights.
International activists joined envoys from the United Nations and African Union in Senegal to "promote the adoption of a resolution that explicitly bans female genital mutilation as a practice that is contrary to human rights."
The cutting or removal of young girls' and women's clitoris and/or labia affects some 120 to 140 million women in 28 countries, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, according to the World Health Organisation.
Often carried out for deep-seated religious or cultural reasons, it can lead to infection, urinary tract problems, mental trauma, sterility or complications during childbirth, and in some cases fatal haemorrhaging.
In Africa, around 91 million girls aged nine and under have undergone the practice, with three million operated on each year, the UN population fund's envoy Rose Gkuba told the conference.
"Now is the time to move forwards with a specific resolution at the United Nations that can give a new boost, a new hope to activists, governments and lawmakers," Italian Senate deputy leader and campaigner Emma Bonino said.
"There is no miracle solution," she told the conference. "Only a complex strategy that needs to be implemented."
The African Union's envoy Yetunda Teriba stressed that the West had a role to play in combating genital mutilations.
"Migrants have exported the practice," she said. "Although most of the victims are in Africa, the problem is growing in Europe among migrant and refugee communities."
But Senegal's parliament speaker Mamadou Seck said the key to fighting genital mutilation was "education and persuasion, to convince but not coerce."
Senegal is one of 19 African countries that have banned the practice and its Families Minister Ndeye Khady Diop said a nationwide campaign between 2000 and 2005 managed to reduce the number of mutilations by over 70 percent.
Dakar is preparing to launch a second campaign that hopes to eradicate the practice completely by 2015, she said.