“The task is arduous, but this is not the time to give up.”
Djaliba, a matron with more than 23 years of experience, is mobilizing young male and female and discussing harmful consequences of MGF and child marriage to engage them before they become adults and begin to take decisions in their households.
Djaliba Sy Dicko is a matron with more than 23 years of experience. She has assisted hundreds of women at childbirth. The emotion in her voice is perceptible “When the women are in labour, l can easily tell the difference between victims of FGM and those who are not” Those who are lucky and have not been mutilated are few. l can count them on the tips of my fingers. Unfortunately, not one of them is willing to use their unfortunate experience to advocate for a stop to this practice.”
The region of KAYES was the first to be officially recognized in Mali. The region is a melting pot of ethnic groups from all over the country. Commune of Nioro de Sahel is among the largest in the region, and the dominant tribes in terms of population are the Peuhl, Maure, and the Soninke. The Commune de Nioro de Sahel is the epicenter for the most violations recorded against girls and women in the region. This Commune has the highest proportion of children out of school; only 9.4% of the girls stay to finish their second year of primary school. 90% of girls here have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) compared to the national average of 73%.
What is driving this practice and sending it underground?
Djaliba is also an official of the NGO APDF (Association for the Defense of women’s Rights) functioning as the Secretary General in the Nioro branch office which was set up some five years ago. Djaliba believes there is some confusion around the motives for the FGM practice and why it continues. While some men – and women - think that excision curtails promiscuity among girls and women, she looks at the issue from a health viewpoint. The consequences are harmful to women of child-bearing age. Over 74% of men and women of KAYES believe genital mutilation is a religious requirement, and this does not vary much from the national figures, 70% for women and 68% for men respectively. By promoting the practice as a requirement for religious acceptance and morality, religious leaders are also tacitly endorsing the practice.
About three quarters of the population look favorably on the practice of FGM. Changing this mentality requires a series of efforts and on all fronts. The first Vice Mayor of the Urban Commune of Nioro de Sahel is Cheicne Bateba. He admits that domestic violence, female genital mutilation and early marriage is rife among the population under his administration. Girls are often mutilated at a very young age, and they are married off before many of them attain the age of puberty “in response, we have had to set up a commission to act as soon as something of this nature is brought to our attention.” The commission has made the occasional success. “We stopped a family from marrying off their 13-year old daughter and guess what? the girl went back to school and she is now in her second year of secondary school” reports the vice mayor.
Gadiaba Kadiel is one of five of the villages that fall within the zone where APDF is working with UNICEF to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls physical and psychological abuse and particularly FGM. The activities of her NGO are centered around what she calls “working on the ingrained mentality of people.” In the past, the excision ceremonies were held publicly and with a lot of fanfare, but not any longer. Djaliba is frustrated that the women show one attitude in public but go home and quietly practice it on children, some as young as 8 days old. “I think the men are aware. Nothing can happen in their household without the knowledge of the head of the household. Many of the men just turn a blind eye.”
In addition to the mass information going out on radio stations and through community theatre forums to raise awareness, Djaliba and her team hold small group discussions in the village with the chiefs, and the male opinion leaders. On matters as culturally sensitive as FGM, when it comes to engaging the men in the community, it is prudent that the NGO falls on the expertise of male community animators like Moussa Kone to lead so they that the men can talk more freely among themselves.
A key part of the ADPF strategy is to engage young people on the issue of FGM before they become adults, and some begin to take decisions in their households. Djaliba’s activities involves mobilizing adolescents – male and female in the community and discussing the harmful consequences of the practice. In addition to the community meetings, the schools are an ideal place for identifying young allies and peer educators. The school clubs are made up of 10 pupils, five girls and five boys. They are assisted to prepare their messages and arguments before they, go out to meet with the peers.
US National Committee for UNICEF is supporting these activities through the UNICEF Mali country office. In 2020, the US NatCom partnership made it possible to prepare the grounds for community activities to take off in 5 villages in the Nioro de Sahel Circle. Djaliba summarise her dedication” this is not the time not give up, we know it is arduous but l intend to press on “