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Communities unite against female cutting in Mali

© UNICEF Mali/2010/Good
Three generations await medical consultation at the Centre de Sante de Reference, Cercle de Baroueli in Segou Region, Mali.

Bamako, Mali, 4 February, 2010 - It is estimated that 85 per cent of women in Mali have undergone some form of Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C). 77 per cent of girls undergo the harmful traditional practice before their fifth birthday.

UNICEF Mali supports social and behavioural change using innovative and participatory approaches like theatre-forum and the digital mobile cinema. Together with our partners, we bring communities together and get them talking.

Key local stakeholders, knowledgeable health workers, village elders, mothers and influential community members must all be part of the solution.

Mobile cinema for change
Cinéma Numérique Ambulant (CNA), a national NGO partner, travels from village to village in remote areas of the country.

The mobile cinema team, along with health workers, set up an outdoor screen to show entertaining and educational films, encouraging communities to talk openly about the health of children and women. Once trust has been established, FGM/C is openly discussed with the men and women of the community.

Complications stemming from FGM/C, such as maternal infection, hemorrhage and newborn asphyxia, are common and contribute to the high neonatal, child and maternal mortality rates in the country. 

According to a recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO), women who have been cut are significantly more likely than uncut women to have complications during and after childbirth.

In addition to its immediate effects, FGM/C has many harmful physical and psychological effects on women throughout life.

Many women claim that sex with their husbands is very painful. During childbirth there is more likely to be tearing; scarring, leakage, infections and fistula are all common and potentially crippling complications.

A community-led approach

Kadidja is the mobile cinema's main facilitator. She and the CNA teams provide outreach, information and support in villages throughout the country. Agents of community-led change like her see the resistance to change on a daily basis.

Kadidja says change is a long process as pressure from other women and men who fight to keep the traditional practice alive is common.

Communication for social and behaviour change alone will not bring about advances in gender equality.

As long as social norms about this harmful practice and it’s repercussions on girls and women remain unchallenged, change will continue to be slow. Men, the household decision-makers, are generally not adequately informed about the issues surrounding FGM/C.

Male villagers are therefore particularly encouraged to participate in the community discussions. This approach of community-led change is beginning to bear fruit.

In Kayes 12 villages ban female cutting
In Kayes, out of 41 villages covered by CNA from June to August 2009, 12 have declared they will ban the practice. An additional 12 villages reached by UNICEF-sponsored radio programmes in the region have also declared an end to FGM/C.

Djènèba Doumbia, from the village of Bougounissaba, talks about her decision not to have her younger daughter undergo the harmful traditional practice. 

“I tell all women not to circumcise their daughters, to leave them as they are, because we realize that the disadvantages of this practice are numerous and real. If they let the girls be, the whole family benefits. I tell all mothers not to circumcise girls.”

For many women who have participated in community-led social change, like Madame Doumbia, FGM/C is becoming a thing of the past, something they will not pass on to their daughters. “I thank Kadidja and her team because they helped me and other villagers understand many things. Many people from other villages cannot speak here as I do” she says.

Even if change will take a generation, UNICEF will continue to support CNA the mobile cinema and local NGOs in their work ending this and other harmful traditional practices on girls in Mali.

By Heidi Good



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