The case of the abandonment of Female Genital Cutting within the Casamance’s Djola communities (Senegal)

In the most recent installment of the Breakthrough Generation campaign, we shared a condensed version the 2008 film Walking the Path of Unity. The following excerpt from an article written by researcher Adeline Rony (translated from the original in French) describes her firsthand experience at a community screening of the film, and her impressions of the changes in attitude and practice that took place.

Diacoye Banga is a small village of 900 inhabitants, in the region of Sindian in Casamance, Senegal. Since 2007, it had been receiving the educational program of the NGO Tostan, in the Djola language. On May 26th 2009, the village was getting ready to watch the film “Walking the Path of Unity” during a big-screen projection organized by Tostan.

Upon the team’s arrival and seeing the supplies they were taking out of the car, the excitement that hung over the village gained momentum. The women following the “Tostan school” warned the screening team that they were ready to celebrate all night because there are rarely such events in the village. From the start of the equipment installation, children were already there watching the team set up the supplies and dancing on the mats in front of the screen, which hadn’t been turned on yet. By late afternoon, delegations arrived from neighboring villages, informed about the projection by members of the village of Diacoye Banga: there were people from their adopted village (Situken), but also from Batong, a village that welcomed the screening team the day before.

Then comes the heart of the evening: the facilitators present the film “Walking the Path of Unity,” explaining why they came, how the film was shot, the theme it addresses (FGC), and so forth. The village is already well aware of this issue as they are participatants in the Tostan program, and have participated in Public Declarations for the abandonment of FGC. Yet, the anxiety of speaking publicly about a “neinei” (taboo in Djola) is felt, and the atmosphere is tense.

Then the film starts playing. Gradually, the atmosphere relaxes. The public realizes that there is nothing shocking in the film, that it is only testimonies, that it’s their Djola neighbors who are telling their story, a story that could very well be their own. At certain moments, some laughs begin to be heard, shyly. As the film progresses, the reactions are frank, most people are relaxed. The audience remains extremely attentive, and not a word is heard, if not for a few comments here and there. Some testimonies hit harder than others, which is the case for the testimony of the doctor, who explains the consequences of FGC on childbirth; or that of the Imam, who publicly says there is no connection between Islam and FGC; of the village chief, who points out that this practice is not inherently Djola, but that it was imported by the Mandinkas; or of the woman who speaks of the sufferings she has experienced during her only two childbirths.

The end of the film is greeted with silence for several seconds. A man then took the floor and expressed his satisfaction with attending the projection. He raises a question regarding a part of the movie he did not understand. Facilitators respond to his question and then launch the debate. They begin by summarizing the film, returning to the important information. The midwife of the village then starts to speak. While the facilitators had spoken of health consequences, she addresses the issue of intimate pleasure of women during intercourse, and discusses the health problems that FGC can cause. She is applauded at length because the group present is aware that she knows what she is talking about and that they can believe her. Young people then take the microphone and insist that this issue concerns them too, that it is not only about adults or elders, and that they want to know more about the consequences of this practice. The school principal also speaks to the importance of communication within the family about topics considered taboo. Other men speak to emphasize the need to get beyond taboos because women’s health is more important.

After numerous exchanges in the discussion, women ask that music be played. They want to dance to show the team their satisfaction of having participated in this evening, and thank them for having successfully addressed a subject considered taboo in their village. Music clips are then played and women get up and dance joyously. Others stay there to discuss. It’s getting late and the children have school the next day. The team begins to take down the screen and store the equipment. Meanwhile, a Tostan participant prepares tea so that we can end the evening together. People stay late, long after the team has put away the equipment, discussing the film, and drinking tea.

Adeline Rony