On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the remote village of Velingara Ferlo, 121 communities from the department of Ranerou in Northern Senegal publicly declared to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Of these 121 communities, only 20 participated in the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) financed by Radio Sweden, while the other 101 villages were adopted through the process of organized diffusion. The declaration was read in Pulaar and French by two community members, Khadidiatou Diallo and Aminata Sow.

Guests at the declaration included community members, representatives from our partner organizations UNICEF and UNFPA, and the Governor of Matam. The organization of the declaration was challenging, but certainly a collective effort. Coumba Camara—the Community Management Committee (CMC) coordinator of Velingara Ferlo and spokesperson for the declaring communities—noted that had it not been for the support and participation of the village imam, community members and children, the declaration would not have been possible.

Several speeches given during the celebrations highlighted continued efforts to reinforce community-led social mobilization in a bid to reach more resistant communities throughout the Matam region. Coumba stated, “We will not stop at this declaration; we will continue social mobilization efforts in Ranerou.”

In the lead up to the declaration, a group of adolescents from Velingara Ferlo met around the department to raise awareness about human rights. The same group was also present at the declaration but it was their representative, Fatou Aidara, who spoke passionately on the need to raise awareness among parents from different communities, “because FGC is practiced on us [young girls] across Senegal.” She added that it was also for those young women to become “exemplary and responsible models for other youth in their communities.”

Following the speech, the group performed songs, poems and a sketch on FGC and child/forced marriage. The skit opened with a young boy playing a worried father who felt helpless because his daughter was about to be cut. Then, a cutter from outside the community comes looking for work, but community members inform her about the law against FGC and about the long-term negative effects of the practice on girls’ health, which prompts her to give up cutting.

Khalidou Sy, the National Coordinator of Tostan Senegal reminded guests and declaring communities about the Tostan approach, one that values dialogue, participation and communication. To meet the 2015 deadline for the national plan to accelerate abandonment of FGC in Senegal, he pointed out that progress had been made and that Senegal is on track to become the first country to fully abandon these harmful practices.

The event ended with musicians playing traditional Pulaar folk music in the background. Overall, the declaration was a success for social mobilization, and it presented an opportunity for change on a large scale. Ousmane Ba, the president of the Departmental Council of Ranerou noted, “Changes in mentalities and behavior take time, but we must continue the work we do.”

Check out our for photos from the event!