On May 26th, members of 92 Guinean communities gathered in the village of Baladou Wongoenin to declare their collective and public abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage through songs, dancing, skits and the reading of a declaration approved by all of the communities in local languages. Baladou Wongoenin is located in the far southern corner of Guinea near the borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia, a lush region holding some of West Africa’s best preserved rainforest – a long way in every sense from the baobab-scattered savannah of Senegal where the first villages declared their collective abandonment of these practices in 1998.

The declaration in Guinea is the most recent in a growing movement across the region to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage, with many communities empowered by new knowledge of their human rights, health and problem solving skills gained through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) collectively deciding to end these practices.

One of the CEP’s strengths in reaching so many diverse groups of people (over 6,500 communities have publicly abandoned these practices across seven countries) is its inherent adaptability to local culture. The Tostan program takes into account that every country, region, ethnic group, and village is unique, which is why classes are always taught in the communities’ local language by a facilitator recruited from the same social group as participants. These facilitators are trained to present the universal human rights concepts, hygiene and health, literacy, math, and project management sessions of the program in a way that is culturally relevant to participants, building on their existing knowledge, traditions and life experience.

For example, in many villages in southern Guinea, elder community members serve as the guardians of culture and tradition. The facilitators and Community Management Committee (CMC) members have recognized the importance of their role in the movement for abandonment, and ensure that they are involved in any dialogue and decisions being taken by the communities around human rights and health.

The success of the CEP in inspiring social change from the rainforests of Guinea to the Mauritanian desert has led Tostan to launch a new campaign – Generational Change in Three Years. This campaign will scale up the implementation of the CEP and innovative new modules by partnering with 1,000 communities across West Africa, which will in turn spread the knowledge they gain to 1,000 additional ‘adopted communities’ – helping Tostan positively impact the lives of an estimated 1.6 million people.

By partnering with 1,000 communities at once across the region, the program will benefit from Tostan’s learnings around how social change happens, how interconnected communities and groups spread new ideas widely through their social networks. This campaign will serve as a major push to build off of the growing momentum to end FGC and child/forced marriage across the region.  In addition to the declaration in Guinea, major declarations are also planned for Mali, The Gambia, and Senegal this month. 

Due to the holistic nature of Tostan’s program, the campaign will also help build a foundation for community-led development across the region by helping entire communities gain knowledge and skills permitting them to reach goals they themselves have identified for their communities across the areas of Health, Education, Governance, Environment and Economic Growth.  

Learn more about the public declarations in Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia: