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Senegal: years of education and outreach lead to historical event for women

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
Women in the village of Fadiga celebrate as their village publicly declares that it will abandon female genital cutting as well as early and forced marriages for young girls.

Kedougou, Senegal, 21 February 2010 – On February 21, a historic day was realized in Senegal, when an entire region publically declared that they were abandoning female genital cutting, as well as early and forced marriages for young girls.

The Kedougou region, in the Southeast corner of the country, includes 256 communities that pledged to make this positive change in the lives of young girls. But the goal was not reached overnight.

Community-lead education
The NGO Tostan, which promotes women’s health and has had a presence in Senegal for more than 30 years, first began the Community Empowerment Program in Kedougou in 2000. These programs, with support from UNICEF, focused on topics such as women’s health and human rights.

The program works to inform local populations, so that they can then choose whether or not to abandon practices such as female genital cutting and early and forced marriage.

Another essential element is that these programs educate community members in their local languages. In Kedougou, this means classes are in languages such as Malinke.

This is important to the population, especially because female genital cutting is particularly prevalent in the Malinke ethnic group in Senegal.

The first public declarations
In 2001 and 2003 there were public declarations in two Kedougou villages. This marked an essential first step, but in 2003 the program temporarily stopped.

Then, Tostan returned to the region in 2007 with a plan to expand and include 50 communities where there had previously been no classes.

Development that leads to change
The programs that were installed in 2007 were three-year-long programs that focused on human rights, democracy, conflict resolution and literacy.

Each class included 241 days of awareness education about the harmful effects of female genital cuttings, and early marriage.

They established 50 centers in Kedougou, and each class had 25-30 local women who attended. But the programs don’t just focus on abandonment of old ways.

They also encourage members to take the lead on community development, and Tostan and UNICEF help provide means to make positive community changes.

© UNICEF/Senegal/2010/Shryock
Young girls in the Senegalese village of Fadiga celebrate their community’s decision to abandon female genital cutting and early and forced marriage.

It takes a village
The power of the process also lies in the community’s ability to choose. Before Tostan set up centers, the village is asked if it wants to start one.

Then the village puts together a Community Management Committee of 17 people that work towards improving things like hygiene and business in the village.

For example, they organize village cleaning tasks and establish health centers in the village.

At the end of the process, the village may or may not decide to publically declare that it will abandon female genital cutting and early and forced marriages for young girls.

Surrounding villages are invited to the public declaration. 

This practice is known as ‘organized diffusion’ and increases the potential for change in surrounding villages. 

The future
In continuation of the growing number of villages declaring their abandonment of these practices, on February 19, the government of Senegal announced a goal of nationwide abandonment of FGC by 2015.

The National Plan for FGC Abandonment 2010-2015 will include the same elements of the successful approach used in Kedougou, including educational programming and organized diffusion.

This organized diffusion is already seeing potential with neighboring countries. Officials from Guinea and Mali attended the declaration at Kedougou and said they would share Senegal’s progress to encourage positive change in their own communities.

By Ricci Shryock



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