The following is a translated summary of the article, “Brakna / Haïmdatt : Tostan organise une pré-déclaration d’abandon de l’excision” by Abdoulaye Dia and Mohamedou Abou Diop in CRIDEM magazine. Read the full article in French on the CRIDEM website.

On August 25th, 2013 Tostan organized the first of three intervillage meetings in southern Mauritania to support communities as they move towards a large public declaration of their abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage in September. This meeting brought members of 60 communities to the village of Haïmdatt, just across the river from Senegal, in the Brakna region of the country.

Intervillage meetings give members of communities linked by culture, trade, marriage, and history the opportunity to discuss important issues and to arrive at collective decisions. Momentum for a public declaration to abandon harmful practices has been gathering in this area of Mauritania since these communities either participated in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP) directly, or were reached through organized diffusion.

Mamadou Baba Aw, the Coordinator of Tostan’s activities in Mauritania, attributed this result to the years spent working in the area. He contextualized the event as “the fruit of a long process begun in 2007,” when Tostan first partnered with communities in the country, which have since “understood the need to make changes and see things differently in order to improve the health of their daughters.”

The meeting started with a welcoming speech from the hosting village’s chief, along with a traditional reading of the Koran. Partner organizations of Tostan in Mauritania, such as the Mauritanian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), Nissa Banque, a women’s micro-credit organization, and the Women’s Association of Mbagne, a nearby town, were represented at the meeting, along with members of the Government through the Ministry of Social Action for Children and the Family (MASEF).

Participants gathered to listen to Yaya Ibra Thiam, Coordinator of the village Community Management Committee, speak about how his village had changed through education. “Today,” he said to the crowd, “we have the tools we need to work on essential issues such as health, hygiene, democracy, and problem solving.”

Following his speech, participants from the village performed a play illustrating the risks of FGC, and took part in an in-depth discussion of the potential health consequences of the practice. After these presentations, all participants gathered into groups to discuss the upcoming declaration and how it will affect life in their communities.