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Ten Years after First Declaration, Villagers Call for Pan-African Abandonment of FGC
MALICOUNDA BAMBARA, Senegal, August 5, 2007 – Ten years ago, pioneering women from the village of Malicounda Bambara, Senegal, led their village to become the first to publicly abandon female genital cutting (FGC). Since then, nearly half the villages that once practiced FGC in Senegal have made the same choice. At a ceremony in Malicounda Bambara on August 5, villagers from across the country gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the first declaration and launch a nationwide campaign to bring a complete end to the practice.
Malicounda Bambara abandoned FGC in 1997, before Senegal outlawed it in January, 1999. The women who spearheaded the effort had learned about the health risks and human rights violations that FGC poses through a comprehensive basic education program in national languages offered by Tostan, a Senegal-based NGO. With support from Tostan, the village’s initiative has inspired 2,336 villages in Senegal, 298 in Guinea, and 23 in Burkina Faso to follow their lead over the past decade.
The grassroots movement to end FGC attests both to the power of African civil society and to the importance of women and communities leading their own development efforts.
“I applaud and stand behind you, the women of Malicounda Bambara, for your bravery and leadership,” said Ann Veneman, executive director of UNICEF. “This is your celebration, but it is also an international day of joy for all who believe that progress comes through promoting human rights and education.”
Original activists such as Maïmouna Traoré led the call for the total abandonment of FGC in Senegal and for a significant reduction in other African countries by 2015. Representatives from communities that have also abandoned the practice will discuss plans to engage thousands of villages from all regions of Senegal and from West and East African countries that practice FGC in the campaign.
Tostan is supporting villagers’outreach activities and bringing its innovative Community Empowerment Program to over 2,000 more communities in other African countries within the next five years.
“We are really at a turning point,” says Molly Melching, Tostan’s founder and executive director. “Almost half of the 5,000 communities that practiced FGC in Senegal have now abandoned it. The end is in sight. What Tostan and the international community must do is support villages in making this practice a thing of the past.”
Female genital cutting (sometimes referred to as “female genital mutilation” or “female circumcision”) is the complete or partial cutting of the external female genitalia for nonmedical reasons. In some extreme cases, the genital area is sewn up or sealed leaving only a tiny hole for urine and menstrual blood to exit the body.
FGC is practiced in 28 countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 130 million women worldwide have undergone the procedure, which is usually performed by older women using crude and unsterilized tools. Immediate complications resulting from FGC include severe pain, infections, and shock and hemorrhage that can lead to death. The use of a single unsterilized instrument in cutting many girls may facilitate the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Longer-term consequences include infertility and a dramatically elevated risk of labor complications such as hemorrhage, infection, maternal death, and stillbirth or brain damage for the baby.
Despite the risks, FGC persists throughout parts of Africa and Asia for a variety of sociocultural reasons, most related to ensuring societal acceptance and marriage. Consequently, collective agreements within intramarrying groups are essential to the abandonment of FGC.
Tostan is a US 501(c)(3) nongovernmental organization dedicated to educating and empowering Africans who have had little or no access to formal schooling. Based in the West African country of Senegal, Tostan works primarily in rural regions to provide basic education and increase community engagement in projects related to health and hygiene, child welfare, human rights and democracy, the environment, and economic development. Tostan is currently implementing its program in Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Somalia, and Mauritania. For more information on Tostan, visit