Senegal: first-ever regional declaration to abandon female genital cutting and early and forced marriages
Kedougou, Senegal, 21 February 2010 –Dozens of young girls danced as they sang in their local language Malinke about the importance of education. Surrounding them, their mothers, aunts and elders chanted and occasionally chimed in with their own singing.
They were all part of a celebration in the Senegalese region of Kedougou to mark the first-ever public declaration by an entire region in Senegal to abandon female genital cutting as well as early and forced marriage.
Representatives from UNICEF, the NGO Tostan as well as Senegal’s Minister of Family were all on hand to witness the historic occasion.
On the 21st of February, the 256 communities in the Kedougou region publicly said they would no longer practice female genital cutting and early and forced marriages, which can have harmful effects on young girls.
Though the practice of female genital cutting is illegal, these public declarations are seen as essential to mobilize surrounding communities to also stop the practice.
Years of efforts realized
The day before the declaration, the Governor of Kedougou spoke to a group who gathered in the region from all over the country. “The cutting of young girls, and early and forced marriage have become a plague of gangrene for our society,” he said.
“The two-hundred and fifty-six communities that have come together here today, to publicly declare this abandonment represent the 4,121 communities in Senegal that have abandoned this practice,” said the UNICEF Chief of Education at the declaration, Irene Zevounou.
Local religious leaders, including an Imam and a priest also spoke at the declaration in support of the announcement and community’s progress.
But the most important voices were those of the women and girls who were making the declaration and promising to bring a new future to the young women in Kedougou.
Seventeen-year-old Mami Camara, who lives in the village of Fadiga in Kedougou, danced and sang at the declaration.
She said she was happy that her community had decided to abandon female genital cutting, and early and forced marriage.
“These practices are not good for the health of young girls,” said Mami. “There are people who have died because of cutting or giving birth too young, so I’m glad that we have decided to say no more.”
By Ricci Shryock