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Senegal: first-ever regional declaration to abandon female genital cutting and early and forced marriages

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
Women and girls in Kedougou (Senegal) hold up a sign to celebrate on February 21, Senegal's 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.

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
Mami Camara is 17 and lives in the Kedougou region in the village of Fadiga (Senegal). She is happy her region is abandoning female genital cutting and early and forced marriages, because they pose health threats to young girls, she said.

Years of efforts realized
The declaration was the culmination of years of work put in by community members, Tostan, UNICEF and others. They worked together to educate the local population about human rights and key health components.

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.

Declaration Day
Hundreds of men, women and children from villages in Kedougou and even outside the region turned up at the city’s main stadium to celebrate the public declaration.

“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

 

 

 
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