An adaptation of this post originally appeared on Orchid Project’s blog and is reproduced with Orchid Project’s permission. To view the original post on the Orchid blog, click here.

In partnership with Tostan, Orchid Project supports social mobilization teams in the Kolda, Sédhiou, Matam, and Podor departments of Senegal where our holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP) is also being implemented. For over a year now, these teams have visited many communities, raising awareness about human rights, as well as the consequences of harmful practices like female genital cutting (FGC), early pregnancy, and child/forced marriage.

During the first year of the Orchid Project/Tostan partnership, only one social mobilization team traveled around the huge area of northern Senegal called the Fouta (where the Kolda, Sédhiou, Matam, and Podor departments are located). Since last November, a second team led by Amadou Tidiane Sow was added to the first and now they cover the entire Matam and Podor departments. Following this change, the Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, and Learning (MERL) Department at Tostan decided to send a team of two people to monitor the activities being implemented and evaluate the process of organized diffusion.

The MERL team, together with the Tostan regional coordination staff in the Fouta, visited Golléré to attend a sharing workshop about FGC with community leaders. The dialogues were very successful; participants discussed Tostan’s human rights-based approach and social norms. Groups then discussed FGC specifically and possible activities to raise awareness of the harmful effects of this practice in communities that have not abandoned it yet. 

Despite the challenges in this conservative region, Mariam Ba Sada, Rural Councilor in the village of Baamwaamy, remains optimistic. She said: “Everything evolves. There is no reason why the practice should persist because we know it is not recommended by Islam and is very harmful to women. Outdated ideas disappear, and this one will disappear. I am confident.

Some women shared their own experiences with FGC and its consequences, especially during childbirth. Indeed, one thing that can be learned from the participants’ testimonies is that significant progress has been made in the Fouta. A few years ago, the subject of FGC was still extremely taboo to discuss. Today, people are slowly becoming more comfortable talking about the practices and are leading efforts to abandon it.

After this workshop, the MERL team traveled to the village of Diamel Diolbé with Amadou Tidiane Sow and Ibrahima Boly, Assistant to the Fouta Regional Coordinator. Although the two villages are only five km apart, the trip takes time. Travelers must go through a range of dunes dotted with thorny bushes, then cross an arm of the Senegal River by pirogue before arriving in Diamel Diolbé.

Despite the work in the fields and the strong wind laden with dust, over 30 community members, mostly women, came to welcome the team. Discussions revealed that the community knows the harmful consequences of practices such as FGC because they participated in Tostan’s CEP in 2004 and the recent visit by the social mobilization team. Since their participation in the CEP, women regularly go door-to-door to raise awareness about childhood immunization, pre- and postnatal consultations, children’s enrolment in school, etc. The community also stated that they are ready to participate in a public declaration for the abandonment of FGC in the region.

According to the MERL team, the next day was very different. The leaders of the two villages we visited stated they support FGC and confirmed that it is still practiced in their villages, a few weeks after the babies’ birth. Village leaders explained that the local marabout (religious leader) recommends perpetuating this tradition.

​These examples show that outreach and information sharing is still needed in the region, especially for religious leaders and local authorities. In fact, the Fouta region of Senegal still has many villages reluctant to abandon the practice.

These challenges do not discourage social mobilization teams. On the contrary, they will continue to travel hundreds of kilometers every month to talk about human rights in communities, meet local authorities, and organize intervillage meetings, and the MERL team encourages them to maintain their efforts.

Story by Céline Gendre, Assistant to the Regional Coordinator in Matam, Tostan