Preparations begin in the village of Tankanto Mauondé

Equipment for the celebration makes its way to the village of Tankanto Mauondé in Kolda.

November 26—It was a long and bumpy car ride from Dakar to the southern city of Kolda, Senegal. Two Tostan volunteers – Amma Serwaah-Panin, the Program Assistant for the Jokko Initiative, a program focusing on literacy through text messages, and myself, the Assistant to Tostan’s International Communications Team – are joining a delegation of Tostan staff from all over the country in preparation for the grand event to take place November 28: a public declaration for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

Over 700 villages will come together this weekend to make an incredible commitment, one that will bring the country of Senegal one step closer to the total abandonment of a 2,000 year old practice which undermines the rights of women and girls. We will have the amazing opportunity to witness history in the making and to watch as over 2,000 women and men from rural communities raise their voices to help end harmful traditions.

men and women dance together in the village as declaration day approachesThe department-wide declaration is happening at an appropriate moment, as world leaders turn increased attention to the importance of women’s empowerment and the delicate issue of changing harmful social norms. November 25th marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and in a piece which ran in The Vancouver Sun, Hillary Clinton boldly stated that men are equally important in the effort to eliminate gender based violence. Through holistic, human-rights based education and a community-led approach, Tostan is helping to do just that: bring women and men together to change the course of history. It’s muggier here than in Dakar, the big city seems far away, but the atmosphere of excitement has already begun to seep into the Tostan office and into my little hotel room where I’m anxiously awaiting the festivities planned for tomorrow. A documentary filmmaker and I will be traveling to a nearby village with a group of journalists representing all facets of Senegalese news media. There, Tostan will hold a press conference in order to share details of the upcoming declaration. Tomorrow night will be a cultural celebration including music, dance, and cheer. I will continue to post on our blog as the events unfold!

Story and photos by Sydney Skov, Tostan Volunteer in Dakar, Senegal