Promoting Health and Positive Practices
What’s at Stake
Harmful practices join a range of challenges that put health and hygiene of communities at risk, particularly for women and girls.
The health of children and adults is at risk in communities because of limited access to health resources and basic health care, low vaccination rates, and limited awareness about disease prevention and hygiene practices such as hand washing to prevent the spread of germs and illness. What’s more, women and girls can face particular challenge in accessing basic health services such as pre- and post-natal consultations.
In many of the communities where Tostan works, child marriage and female genital cutting (FGC) are common practices. A girl who is not cut can be ostracized from her community and may not be able to marry. However, there is a lack of awareness of the negative impact on girls’ and women’s physical and emotional health, including significantly higher risks during pregnancy and childbirth.
What We’re Doing
Our empowering education programs support partner communities to understand health risks and to make health, hygiene, and disease prevention a priority in their communities.
During our Community Empowerment Program, participants learn about their right to health and their right to be free from all forms of violence, about hygiene, and how common diseases such as diarrhea and malaria are spread and prevented. Very often the program is the first opportunity they have had to learn about these topics in local languages. They also discuss the health risks of harmful practices such as FGC and child marriage.
Our program encourages community members to share the knowledge they gain about health and human rights with their social networks, and helps communities to coordinate with local actors in the health system.
The program also helps communities connect with one another to discuss vital health topics and potential solutions.
Communities are leading a range of efforts for improved health and partnering with available resources and thousands of communities declaring abandonment of traditional practices that are harmful to good health.
Communities often launch specific initiatives to improve child and maternal health in their villages. They raise awareness on the importance of vaccinations as well as take action to improve community hygiene and prevent diseases such as malaria. They also construct local health huts and coordinate with local government resources on vaccination campaigns, and they encourage pre- and post-natal visits, and other essential health practices.
They also lead major efforts to end harmful practices. Between 1991 and 2021, 5,700,000 people living in 9,517 communities across eight African countries have publicly declared their intention to end FGC and child marriage following their direct or indirect engagement in our Community Empowerment Program.
As awareness has grown and a critical mass has been building, thousands of villages have joined the movement for the abandonment of FGC in Senegal. We hope to see a national-level public declaration within the next few years.
Community-led efforts in the area of maternal and child health have led to a rise in vaccination rates, an increase in attendance at prenatal and postnatal consultations, and a decline in children suffering from malnutrition.