In his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, published on March 25, former United States President Jimmy Carter shares high praise for Tostan and our founder Molly Melching’s work in empowering thousands of communities in Africa. Throughout the book he addresses many women’s rights issues around the world, but argues that female genital cutting (FGC) is “one of the most serious and least understood examples of abuse of girls” continuing today. Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP) equips participants with an understanding of basic human rights through nonformal education techniques. In addressing the effectiveness of Tostan’s work in Senegal, President Carter makes it clear that he believes that empowering women and girls through education on basic literacy, numeracy, and human rights plays an important role in many communities deciding to abandon the practice of FGC.

Previously, Tostan has worked closely with The Carter Center, an NGO that is committed to growing human rights and the alleviation of human suffering around the world, founded by President Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. In recent years, Tostan has been an active participant in The Carter Center’s Human Rights Defenders Policy Forums. Both Tostan Founder Molly Melching and Bacary Tamba, Tostan National Coordinator of the Diaspora and Regional Coordinator of Ziguinchor, Senegal participated in last year’s forum, titled “Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity,” over June 27-29 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The CEP’s impact reaches beyond our partner communities through a process of organized diffusion, and local social mobilization agents play an important role in spreading lessons from Tostan discussions. Often, local religious leaders are extremely effective partners in sharing information about harmful practices such as FGC and child/forced marriage, or effective early childhood development techniques. As such, Tostan actively collaborates with religious leaders to promote positive social change in our partner communities. Most recently on March 10-12, Tostan participated in a sub-regional meeting in Dakar with partner organizations, religious leaders, and government representatives to discuss issues of child protection. Previously, on December 2, 2013, a similar advocacy meeting was held to discuss the harsh living conditions and forced begging that some children are subjected to when they study at daaras (religious schools). 45 local religious leaders attended the advocacy meeting, which demonstrated their commitment to improving conditions and respecting children’s rights.

Tostan facilitates positive social change through empowering communities to actively address their challenges. By partnering with local religious leaders, who occupy positions of significant respect within their communities, Tostan gains powerful allies when discussing longstanding traditions that harm men, women, and children. These partnerships, including all community members and a variety of community leaders, are key to the success of the Tostan model. As President Carter shares in his book, “The resistance to outside interference and the need for local people to make their own decisions have been most vividly demonstrated in Senegal by the work of Tostan, founded by Molly Melching.”