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Guinea Bissau: the Government, in partnership with UNICEF and UNFPA, launches a joint programme for the abandonment of female genital mutilation through TOSTAN community-led strategy

Bissau, 9th June 2008 – The Government of Guinea Bissau, supported by UNICEF and UNFPA, launched today a joint programme for the abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) in the country.

UNICEF and UNFPA will work jointly with the Government, the Senegal-based NGO Tostan, local NGOs and communities to promote the abandonment of FMG/C in the project areas by 2012.

From the Government side, the Programme will be implemented through the Ministry of Social Solidarity, Family and Poverty Reduction.


In Guinea Bissau, Female Genital Mutilation continues to be widely practiced. According to the Multiple Indicators Survey (MICS) 2006, 44.5% of women aged 15-49 are excised. Recently, there have been reports that also young infants undergo this harmful traditional practice.

In addition to being a violation of human, women and children’s rights, FGM has extremely serious consequences on the physical and psychological health of girls and women, and contributes to maternal and neo-natal mortality. The abandonment of this practice is a priority, if Guinea-Bissau has to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

Past efforts to promote abandonment of the practice have not given the expected results. It is for this reason that past strategies have been reviewed, and a new approach will be utilized by this Joint Programme: an approach based on the empowerment of the communities with the information, skills and tools needed to make informed decision. This strategy, spearheaded by the NGO Tostan in Senegal, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina and Mauritania, has shown extremely positive results, with the community-based abandonment of the practice of FGM/C already achieved in thousands of communities during the last decade.

TOSTAN takes a respectful approach to facilitating the change of socials norms – an approach that allows community members to be informed on human rights, discuss community needs and problems and acquire leadership skills. The community goes through problem solving approaches and reflection, and eventually this process leads to collective abandonment of the practice.  This is a crucial aspect in changing this type of social norms: abandonment of the practice cannot occur individually, as it would affect the marriageability of the individual girls. On the contrary, once the practice is abandoned through a collective decision and a joyful public ceremony, it is abandoned by all the inter-marriage groups, and it is seen by the communities themselves as an aspect of their own development.


The Guinea Bissau Launching of this programme was led by the Minister of Social Solidarity, Alfredo da Silva, and was attended by representative of the Government, international and national NGOs, UN agencies and the media.

Giving her presentation on the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme, Ms. Margaret Thuo, Technical Adviser with UNFPA in New York, noted that hundreds of thousands of girl children and adolescents have been subjected to FGM/C in Guinea-Bissau. Facilitating transformation of harmful social norms and encouraging mass abandonment of the FGM/C practice should be key strategies. This requires dialogue among communities regarding the harm this practice causes to a large segment of its population. Communities themselves must take a collective decision to stop this practice. “UNFPA and UNICEF call upon medical doctors, midwives and other service providers in Guinea-Bissau to join the network of advocates to accelerate the abandonment process”, Ms. Thuo said. “The Media in Guinea-Bissau must make FGM/C one of its most critical agendas. The Religious leaders’ network in Guinea Bissau can explain to the public that FGM/C is not supported by religion, and invite communities to abandon it. Men and boys need to join in the public debate and dialogue, as they are involved in the continuation of this practice”.

The Resident Coordinator of the United Nations System in Guinea-Bissau, Ms. Giuseppina Mazza, congratulated the Minister of Social Solidarity, Family and Poverty Reduction for his effort to advocate with the National Parliament on the adoption of a law on FGM/C. “FGM/C affects the rights of girls and is delaying the achievement of MDGs. We need to have FGM/C abandoned in Guinea Bissau in order to begin to see reduction of maternal and child morbidity and mortality”, Ms. Mazza stressed. While concluding her remarks, the Resident Coordinator called upon UNFPA and UNICEF to support capacity building of civil society organizations and NGOs in order to address FGM/C at community level through culturally sensitive approaches.

UNICEF Country Representative, Silvia Luciani, called on all the presents - officials, religious leaders, NGO and the civil society in general - to take responsibility concerning Female Genital Mutilation. “Female genital mutilation is not only a problem of women and children, she said. All of us need to be engaged to fight against this harmful practice.”  She invited Government members and partners to put the wellbeing of children first, above all other interests.

The Representative of the Islamic Community, Imam Tcherno Embalo, emphasized the need to address the communities with respect and engage them in a dialogue. “For 15 years we tried to sensitize people on the need to stop FGM/C, but this has not worked. We need to design appropriate strategies.  Islam is against FGM/C, but we have to give people the opportunity to learn”, he said. 

While officially launching the Programme, the Minister of Social Solidarity, Family and Poverty Eradication, Mr. Alfredo Antonio Silva, observed that the launching of this joint programme is a result of the very good relationship existing between the Ministry and UN System partners. He said that FGM/C is a harmful practice that causes psychological and physical harm, and a violation of Human Rights. “We will ensure adoption of the law, and that every citizen in Guinea Bissau respects it. This law will be in coherence with International Conventions and Government policies. We have signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as the African Charter. Our strategy will be implemented in line with these International Conventions and in National Unity. UNFPA and UNICEF have come together to work with our Government, which is represented, by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, Family and Poverty Reduction. Together we have to address the 44.5% prevalence of FGM/C in Guinea Bissau. We must reduce this prevalence. Abandonment of FGM/C is a condition for achieving MDGs, including reduction of maternal and child morbidity and mortality. We have to act now”, the Minister concluded.

For further information, please contact:

Karyna Silva Gomes, UNICEF Bissau, tel: +245 6716224



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