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Abandoning female genital cutting and early marriage in Senegal

© UNICEF Senegal/2007/Bakker
Young girls from the Peul ethnic group dressed up for a ceremony to abandon female genital cutting.

By Nisha Bakker

KOUMBIDIA, Senegal, 22 January 2007 – The people of 34 Senegalese villages gathered this month for a public ceremony announcing the abandonment of two traditions they have practiced for centuries: female genital cutting (FGC) and early marriage.

“With this historic decision, we join the national movement of Senegalese villages that started to abandon excision and early marriage in 1998,” announced villager Khadiatou Camara to thousands who attended the ceremony.

This brings the total proportion of villages that have abandoned FGC and early marriage to almost 40 per cent of the 5,000 communities that originally practiced these customs in the country.

Empowering women

Over the past two years, 10 of the 34 villages have participated in the UNICEF-supported empowerment programme run by the international non-governmental organization Tostan. The programme teaches practical skills, such as managing money through micro-credit loans and solving community health problems by building latrines and health posts. It also educates villagers  especially women about democracy and human rights.

© UNICEF Senegal/2007/Bakker
Ndoungdou Macane, a traditional cutter, has abandoned the custom of female genital cutting and now speaks out against it.

Empowered by their new knowledge, Ms. Camara and other village women started to openly discuss the harmful effects of FGC and early marriage on their daughters.

Ndoungdou Mancane is a traditional cutter whose profession gave her an important position in the community. Now she speaks out against the practice. “We never realized what harm we were doing to our daughters by cutting them. We did not know about the negative consequences,” she said. “Now that we have taken part in the classes and learned about our health and our rights, we want to abandon this practice.”

It takes a community of villages

Because marriages are usually arranged between young people from the same or neighbouring villages, it was necessary to involve many area villages – as well as the village chiefs and imams – in the FGC – abandonment effort. The villages that participated in the empowerment programme shared their knowledge with surrounding communities through meetings and discussion groups.

FGC and early marriage abandonment are only two of the significant outcomes of UNICEF partner Tostan’s community-based approach to development.

The implementation of this approach in hundreds of villages across Senegal has led to increased vaccination rates, improved nutrition for women and children, systematic birth registration and increased school enrolment of girls. In addition, Tostan’s work has improved women’s economic conditions and increased their decision-making role in family and community affairs.



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