Bignona Departmental Public Declaration: A Milestone in Achieving Senegal’s Goal of Total Abandonment of Female Genital Cutting and Child/forced Marriage by 2015
BIGNONA, Senegal, April 25 2010– April 24, 2010 proved to be a remarkable day for the region of Ziguinchor, in south-western Senegal, as 330 villages of the Bignona department gathered to publicly announce their decision to abandon the traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. This is the fourth departmental declaration in Senegal, bringing the number of communities that have abandoned FGC to a total of 4229 since 1997. This declaration represents a significant step towards Senegal’s goal of complete abandonment of FGC by 2015, and represents a landmark in Tostan’s work in the region of Ziguinchor.
Tostan has been engaged in the region since 2001, implementing its Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a 30-month education program, in more than 80 communities. Effects of the Tostan program are apparent in the region on many levels, and direct results include a cleaner environment, higher school attendance rates, more girls enrolled in school, and births are now being recorded. The Tostan modules have also improved communication and a sense of solidarity within the communities and between villages, with members actively taking part in decisions regarding village-wide issues. Even after completing the Tostan program, communities are dedicated to perpetuating and disseminating the lessons of the program. Community Management Committees (CMCs) now collaborate with local NGOs to raise awareness about issues such as child nutrition, childhood illnesses, girls’ education, women’s and children’s rights, and many more. Information is shared not only on a local level through inter-village meetings and radio programs, but also on an international level to reach the Diaspora community. As a result, three declarations have taken places in Oulamapne, Sindian, and Diégoune since the first Tostan center opened in 2001. With the support of UNICEF, USAID, UNFPA, AECID, ADIC, the Government of Senegal, and community and religious leaders, 66 new communities now joined the movement for the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage.
The declaration was held in Tenghory, one of four districts of Bignona. Located 30 km from the regional capital, Bignona is the largest and most populated of the three departments of the Ziguinchor region. It is home to the Diola, Pulaar, and Madinka ethnics groups, with the Diola being of the majority. Over 3000 people attended the event organized by local authorities and the CMCs of the participating villages. Among other authorities who were in attendance were the Mayors of Bignona and Ziguinchor, the Governor of Ziguinchor, regional senators and deputies, the Minister of Youth, as well as religious and community leaders. Guests from Dakar and The Gambia also attended the declaration, as evidence of the Diaspora’s involvement in the decision to abandon the harmful practices.
A press panel preceding the declaration was also held in the village of Tenghory where journalists had the opportunity to learn about the past events that have occurred in the region and about the work of communities to organize the declaration before disseminating news about the event.