The Malicounda Bambara declaration on July 31, 1997.

Today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the first public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC), which took place in Malicounda Bambara, a village in western  Senegal.

For 15 years, the courage of the 35 women who stood up in front the world and decided to abandon a tradition that had been practiced for centuries has inspired others to move forward with their own social change.
Learning about their human rights and particularly their right to health through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), the women of Malicounda Bambara identified that FGC was a violation of their human rights and those of their daughters.  They spoke with their local imam who said that the practice was not a religious obligation, they did awareness-raising in neighborhoods, held meetings with their community leaders, and together they decided they no longer wanted to continue the practice.  This was the first time in West Africa that a community had so publicly stated their intention to abandon this harmful practice.

This first public declaration was not only courageous but ignited national dialogue on the subject, and by November 1997, the then-President of Senegal, Abdou Diouf, had announced his support for FGC abandonment.  It was followed by a law banning the practice in 1999.

Between 1997 and 1998, 30 villages followed the example of the women in Malicounda Bambara and publicly declared their decision to abandon FGC.  The movement was beginning to emerge in the country.

Now, 15 years later, over 5,000 communities in Senegal have abandoned FGC, and Tostan’s human rights approach has been incorporated as best practice into the Senegalese government’s comprehensive Action Plan for FGC Abandonment 2010-2015.

With further support to accelerate the movement, Senegal could be the first country in the world to completely abandon female genital cutting.

Evaluations of Tostan’s work support this, as well as the recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for Senegal, which found that 60% of women (aged 15-49) who had been cut said that they had not cut their daughters (aged 0 to 9).

FGC has been growing in international prominence as a human rights issue for the last few years, with continued support from many donors and partners, including UNICEF and AJWS who have supported the FGC abandonment movement in Senegal from the early 1990s and funded the Tostan projects that culminated in the Malicoiunda Bambara declaration.

“ Partnership has always been so important in accelerating the movement to end FGC.  Between African communities and Tostan and between Tostan and our longtime key partners such as the Senegalese Government, UNICEF, UNFPA, AJWS, and more recently Orchid Project who have been doing a fantastic job highlighting this issue internationally.  We hope to continue to work with these and other organizations for the complete abandonment of FGC in Senegal and the expansion of the abandonment movement across Africa.” 

Molly Melching

How appropriate that July 31 was designated by the African Union as Pan-African Women’s Day. This 15th anniversary is dedicated to celebrating the women of Malicounda Bambara and the communities that have chosen positive social transformation over the past years.