The beat of celebratory drums drew a crowd of 1000 people to the public declaration in Gathiary, Senegal on March 13, 2011. Gathiary, the village hosting the declaration, is located in the department of Bakel in eastern Senegal. Because of the remote location of the public declaration, many community members worried that people would not attend. On the contrary, representatives from 89 declaring villages in Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania participated in the event.
Of the 89 communities who declared their abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage, only 30 villages participated in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which facilitates discussions surrounding human rights and health as well as numeracy, literacy and a range of different issues. The 59 additional declaring communities followed the curriculum of Tostan’s CEP through the process of organized diffusion. In this process, participants of the program visited neighboring villages to share and discuss the information they learned during the CEP with their social networks, thus enabling information to spread holistically through social networks.
One of the declaring communities, Tamé, began as an adopted village, learning information through organized diffusion, but desired to fully participate in the CEP in their own community. When Tostan’s Regional Coordinator visited Gathiary a month after the program began, women from Tamé came to see him and requested that Tostan implement the full program in their community, which they subsequently received. One year after the start of the CEP in Tamé, these same women declared their abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage. In anticipation of the declaration, the women of Tamé hosted a cultural evening of dancing and skits the night before the public declaration.
At the declaration ceremony the following day, crowds gathered in excitement as the declaration of abandonment was read in French, Mandinka, Soninké, and Pulaar. Following the reading, several community members and leaders spoke about their own experiences with FGC and child/forced marriage and why they felt the abandonment of these harmful traditional practices is best for their communities.
Djenaba Guissé, member of the Community Management Committee (CMC) in the village of Mouderi gave a particularly powerful speech. She shared with the crowd memories from her own childhood:
I was given away to be married at 12 years old. Needless to say, I was pregnant within two months. I clearly remember the [birth attendant] whom delivered my baby boy; he told me that he was going to help me push but due to my age and the fact that I was cut, this would be the only baby that I would ever have. And he was right. This happened to me. We are in the position to not let this happen to anyone else.
After participating in the CEP, Djenaba recognized that her own experience with FGC and child/forced marriage did not have to be the experience of other women and girls in her community. She recognized that these women have the right to be healthy and to have healthy, happy families. Like all others who declared their abandonment of harmful practices at the Gathiary declaration, Djenaba is a change-maker. Through the efforts and action of these individuals a lasting and positive social movement to abandon harmful practices in Africa is growing.