Under a bright and cloudless blue sky in the mountains of Guinea lies a community which on Sunday, January 26, 2014 took center stage for human rights by hosting a public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.  Tounny, in the Prefecture of Labé, also hosted 73 other communities making this commitment.

18 of these communities have recently completed Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which equips participants with knowledge and skills and leads to impacts in the areas of health, education, governance, the environment, and economic growth. Throughout the CEP, participants learn from the factual information presented, analyze and problem-solve different situations, and come to their own conclusions about the protection of human rights. As a result, one of the impacts of the program, financed by UNICEF, was that community members chose to reinforce child protection in the region. They raised awareness and shared information with many other communities in their social networks, leading to 56 ‘adopted’ communities choosing to abandon practices harmful to their daughters, sisters and neighbors. The 74 declaring communities then worked together to organize the ceremony.

Participating community members were not alone at this extraordinary event; they were joined by religious leaders, government officials and health workers who showed their commitment to the rights of women and girls and their support for abandonment of these harmful practices, and included the Director of the Department for Women and Childhood from the Government of Guinea, Madame Diaby.

Bringing an end to harmful traditional practices does not just require the approval of the communities, but of leaders who have the ability to influence the views of the population. A strong component of Tostan’s approach is ensuring the involvement of such key actors including the government, religious leaders and health service representatives.

At the declaration, local religious leader El hadj Boubacar Diallo gave a powerful speech on the consequences of the practice of female genital cutting and its lack of connection to Islam. He confirmed that, “The prophet never said to cut your daughters. If an act is harmful, it should not be done as it is a violation of one’s rights. When a woman is cut, this violates her right to health. Islam does not condone harming a person’s health.”

The atmosphere at the declaration was a swirl of dance, songs, and sketches depicting the realities of and reasons for abandoning FGC and child/forced marriage. This last Sunday, these 74 communities joined 620 other communities in Guinea who have already abandoned the practices and are dedicated to working towards an end to FGC and child/forced marriage in the country.