On a hot and dusty morning on January 20, 2013 in Ziguinchor, a region of southern Senegal, the capital of the region (also Ziguinchor) was waking up to a grand event being organized in the center of the city.
Rows and rows of chairs, a stage for dignitaries, a platform for speeches, banners and sound tests all to prepare for the public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage by 427 communities.
The first ever regional public declaration in Senegal was to take place that day. The declaration had been planned for months and was a result of social mobilization and awareness-raising activities about human rights and the sharing of the teachings of Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) by communities who had implemented the program in the region among themselves and with neighboring villages.
Since April 2001, when communities first began implementing the Tostan program in the region, there have been a number of zonal and district declarations in Oulampame, Sindian Diegoune, Bignona Goudomp, and Niaguis. All of these declarations played a key role towards the regional abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage and support the Senegalese Government’s Action Plan for Total FGC Abandonment by 2015.
The first ever regional declaration was organized by Tostan Senegal in collaboration with the communities and local authorities, including the Governor, prefects, sub-prefects of the region, the Mayor of the municipality, Presidents of Regional Councils and village chiefs, as well as CBOs working on women’s and youth issues, and in partnership with Communidad de Madrid, Johnson & Johnson, Orchid Project, UNICEF and UNFPA.
On the day of the declaration, after many months of inter-village meetings and awareness-raising caravans, the communities began with a peaceful march towards the square. Women, men, and children walked and danced down the streets of the city to the swaying rhythms of Senegalese beats. When everyone reached the square, there was more dancing and celebrating. The government delegation soon arrived and walked around the entire square together with Tostan Senegal, Tostan International, Tostan The Gambia, and all the regions involved in the regional declaration, greeting everyone.
The formal part of the proceedings began with the Imam giving a blessing to all those present and afterwards, the Representative of the Regional Council, Wandy Diem, stressed the importance of the day and how vital the regional declaration was in building the momentum towards total abandonment of FGC in Senegal by 2015.
A youth theatre group wearing bright green performed a sketch about child/forced marriage and FGC. They spoke in Wolof, Jola, and French; the square was the quietest it had been all morning while the audience watched and listened. It was a dramatic production that talked about how a 13 year old child should not be married and how FGC is not connected in any way to religion. At the end they bid ‘adieu’ to FGC.
Speeches followed by the Chief of Community Development in Ziguinchor, Pape Diallo and by the social mobilization team who were integral to educating and raising awareness of human rights with communities. They urged the need for girls’ education.
Finally, after some energetic dancing, skits, and theatre specific to the region, the moment had arrived; the public declaration for the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage was announced in Wolof, Jola, Mandinka, and French, representing all 427 communities.
Khalidou Sy, the National Coordinator of Tostan Senegal said: “Today is an important day for the reinforcement of human rights in Senegal. We must insist on the positive side of culture. Everyone should work together to make Senegal a better place: the youth, communities, the imams, the media, partners, everyone.” Khalidou thanked all the communities involved and congratulated them and the regional authorities for building on the momentum to end FGC and child/forced marriage in the region.
UNICEF was represented at the event by Jean Lieby, Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF Senegal, who thanked the Government of Senegal for their commitment to support social change, and the dynamic region and communities. “Tostan is working with UNICEF, the Government of Senegal and many others to promote social change in a sustainable way. They are leading this huge and important work, which is not an easy task, and we thank them. We are proud to be working with Tostan at all levels – with community members, villages, and local government.”
The day ended with a rousing speech from the Governor of the Region of Ziguinchor, Cheikh Tidiane Dien, who said: “Today we are lucky to be witnesses of history. This is vital for future generations and has given us a basis for new behaviors to protect children and women and their physical and moral integrity. All the administrative and religious authorities and the media need to work and follow up what has happened today. Thank you also to the Gambian delegation for their attendance today, because we need a global, cross-border approach to ending FGC and child/forced marriage.”
View photos from this regional declaration.