Within the past two weeks, 159 communities throughout the Fouta and Kolda regions of Senegal declared their collective decision to abandon the harmful traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. By publicly declaring their abandonment of these practices as a group, these communities established a mass of people that can encourage a movement for positive social change in the area.
In the Kolda region, the public declaration occurred in the village of Niaming on May 29th. Over 600 people, including representatives from the New York Times and several Senegalese news stations, gathered in 113° heat to celebrate the decision of the communities to abandon harmful practices. An impressive 119 communities committed to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage. Thirty of these communities were direct participants in Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP), a 30-month, human rights-based education program. The remaining 89 communities learned about human rights and other topics discussed in the CEP through the Tostan’s proven approach to outreach, a process called organized diffusion.
The Niaming declaration ceremony included traditional song and dance performances, dramatic skits, and inspiring speeches by community leaders and CEP participants. One participant, MaÏmouna Diallo, described how her family was influenced by the human rights and health education she received:
When I first took part in Tostan’s CEP, I approached my mother about my concern that she was going to cut my older brother’s little daughters. I shared with her the information I had learned in the Tostan classes… Nowadays she also participates in Tostan’s CEP and so my brother’s daughters will not undergo FGC.
The Niaming ceremony culminated with the reading of the declaration in Pular and French.
Shortly after the declaration in Niaming, on June 5th, 40 communities in the department of Ranérou in the Fouta region declared their abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage. Seven hundred people participated in the events celebrating the communities’ decision to protect the rights of women and girls.
At the declaration, Tostan Regional Volunteer Jonah Meyers spoke with Rouguiatou Bâ, a member of the Community Management Committee (CMC) in Ranérou, about her thoughts on the CEP and the public declaration taking place that day. After thanking Tostan for sharing knowledge with the participants through the CEP, she expressed her gratitude for the persistent effort of the communities to build brighter futures for themselves. She said, « We must…thank ourselves, for spreading that knowledge, making the decision to abandon harmful traditional practices, and organizing the declaration! »
Many speakers recognized the significance of the declaration as the first of its kind in Senegal’s Ranérou department, in the very traditional and conservative Fouta region. Following many inspirational speeches and performances, the declaration was read in Pular and French.
The declarations in Niaming and Ranérou mark significant steps in the growing movement to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage in Senegal. Their decision to abandon harmful practices will have a lasting, positive effect on their families, communities, and moves Senegal one step closer to the government’s goal of complete FGC abandonment by 2015.