The practice of female genital cutting (FGC) has impacted an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide, and it continues to affect at least three million girls annually in Africa.
FGC carries many immediate and long-term health risks and is recognized internationally as a clear violation of human rights.
More than just a harmful practice, FGC is a deeply rooted social norm enforced by community expectations around marriageability. By having a daughter cut, the family ensures that she will be a desirable marriage prospect.
Compared to the health risks, the social consequences that uncut girls face are equally severe. A girl who is not cut is often ostracized by her community.
Our human rights-based Community Empowerment Program (CEP) allows community members to draw their own conclusions about FGC and lead their own movements for change.
In the CEP class sessions on human rights, participants learn about their right to health and the right to be free from all forms of violence. They also discuss the responsibilities they share to protect these rights in their community.
In sessions on health, they learn about the potential, immediate, and long-term harmful consequences of the practice and discuss ways to prevent these health problems in the future.
Rather than blaming or criticizing, we encourage dialogue around these and other practices that communities feel hinder their vision for their community’s development. Participants and Community Management Committee (CMC) members speak with friends and family as well as travel to other communities to raise awareness about what they have learned. Through this process, many communities decide to end FGC together, some without having directly participated in our classes.
Although contributing to the abandonment of FGC was not one of our original goals, it has become a rallying point for social change. So far over 7,000 communities from Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and The Gambia have publicly declared their decision to abandon both FGC and child/forced marriage.
As Tostan has always explained and as our external evaluations have shown, abandonment following our program and a public declaration for abandonment is not 100 percent. However, public declarations are critical in the process for total abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGC to becoming a thing of the past.