On September 25th 2013, the Mauritanian town of Aleg, capital of the Brakna region in the South-West of the West African country, was host to representatives of 201 communities, gathered to take part in a public declaration confirming their commitment to the abandonment of the harmful practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Of these communities, 60 have taken part directly in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), through which the participants deepened their understanding of human rights and the consequences of these harmful practices for girls and women, and the community as a whole. With this new perspective, and after much deliberation with everyone living in their respective villages, the communities themselves came to the decision to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage. They then began working to spread the word to other communities within their social network. The remaining 141 communities who declared their abandonment of harmful practices on Wednesday had never taken part in the Tostan program directly, but made their decision based on what they learned through this process of social mobilization and information spreading.

As well as contributions from community members, Tostan staff, and local and national government, religious leaders from both Pulaar and Hassaniya communities spoke at the event, giving their support to the abandonment of a practice which is often mistakenly seen as a requirement of Islam. Their remarks were followed by a statement from women who formerly had the role of cutting the local girls – a well-respected position in society – before deciding to give up this role as they gained understanding of the connection between the practice and the suffering that many girls and women experience as a result. One woman, the leader of her village’s Community Management Committee (CMC), described how after learning about their human rights, “women are empowered with knowledge of their right to physical integrity,” prompting many of them to seek a way to abandon the practice.

This is the second public declaration to have taken place in Mauritania since Tostan first partnered with communities in the country in 2007. 78 communities bravely held the first Mauritanian declaration of abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage in 2010, and since then, momentum behind the movement has not stopped growing. At this week’s declaration, the result of the work of social mobilization agents and other community members dedicated to spreading the message of human rights, it is clear that there is a large-scale positive change taking place across the region.

The abandonment of female genital cutting and child/forced marriage is just one of the many impacts seen by communities participating in our program and others with whom they have shared what they have learned.

Read today’s blog post to find out more about how Mauritanian communities are overcoming desertification and contributing to Millennium Development Goal 7: Ensuring a Sustainable Environment.