On Sunday, February 24, a crowd of over 1,000 people gathered for the public declaration in Fafacourou, a community in the Kolda region of Senegal. At the declaration, 128 communities publicly announced their decision to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Despite the heat, representatives from declaring villages as well as other parts of Senegal and The Gambia came to show their solidarity with the movement to abandon these harmful practices.
Chairs filled up quickly beneath tents bearing signs with statements such as “Let’s Protect the Physical Integrity of our Girls” and “Fafacourou and its Surrounding Communities Have Turned Their Backs on Female Genital Cutting and Child Marriage”. Women, men, and children crowded in behind the packed rows of seats to be able to witness this historic event for the Kolda region of southern Senegal.
The day involved performances by musicians, skits by youth, as well as speeches from various dignitaries. After words of welcome and prayer from the imam and the village chief in Fafacourou, spectators were treated to a variety of songs from a group of traditional Pulaar musicians. Later on, a group of youth from Fafacourou gave an entertaining and powerful reenactment of a community intervening in a father’s attempt to force his young daughter into marriage. After a second skit showing a village chief confronting a mother who was attempting to have her daughter cut, the children performed a song about human rights and the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage.
Maroum Diao, a former practitioner of FGC herself, shared her story of how she learned about the dangers of FGC and why she decided to discontinue this practice. When Tostan began working in her village of Saré Bouré in 2011, hemorrhages and other injuries caused by FGC were believed to have been the mystical result of rivalries between different cutters. Through Tostan’s awareness-raising activities, Diao and the other residents of Saré Bouré learned that it was FGC that caused these injuries, and Diao has since abandoned the traditional practice.
Before the day’s festivities came to an end, the declaration attendants heard Tostan’s National Coordinator of Senegal, Khalidou Sy, speak on the significance of this event. In thanking the various village members and partners, he acknowledged their “determination to reach a single goal: health and the respect of human rights.”
Photographs by Allyson Fritz and Meagan Byrne, Tostan.