For over two decades, a human rights movement among rural communities in West Africa has been slowly and quietly building. That movement just hit its stride and is rapidly approaching critical mass.

In December of 2016, over 300 communities in four different West African countries will come together to publicly declare abandonment of long-standing harmful traditional practices, including the millenia-old practice of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. This is the first time so many declarations are happening simultaneously across multiple countries, underscoring growing impact across a region. The world must pay attention to this widespread change occurring as local leadership for world peace and community security demonstrates a way forward in West Africa and beyond.

Public declarations are an opportunity for multiple communities to come together at a host community site and make a public statement supporting the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage; the public and collective nature ensures that no one will be ostracized for deciding not to engage in the practice moving forward. These declarations often include speeches from local authorities, representatives from the government and community partners, skits and dances performed by community members, and typically the reading of a written declaration.

These public declarations for human rights will occur in December. Each is an opportunity to showcase peaceful solutions to seemingly intractable social problems through empowering local leaders. These declarations will bring the total number of communities who have declared abandonment of harmful traditional practices to over 8,000. This means that well over 3 million people in eight different countries will now live in a community that has declared an end to these practices–and has taken a stand for every individual’s human rights.

Guinea, December 27-28
Guinea-Bissau, December 6, 13 and 20
Mali, December 21
Mauritania, December 20
Guinea: Incredible strides being made in this post- ebola country where of the 108 communities who will be represented at the declaration, less than half directly participated in the Tostan program; the rest joined the movement as a result of outreach and dialogue initiated by the participating communities themselves.

Mali: In the words of one community leader in Mali: “Youth played a leading role in the process, as did women. The youth leader…knew how to provide the words and ideas we needed to convince leaders to join the social movement already underway. Oumou Coulibaly, president of the women’s group, and Mariam Diarra, an influential member of the community…and the village Imam’s wife, was able to tactfully bring awareness efforts to her husband…[And] Imam Oumar Traoré, renowned for his faith, greatly contributed to convincing the village chief to abandon as well.” All of these powerful voices will be present at the declaration in December.

Each community participating in the declarations has written or is now writing a letter to local government authorities to confirm their commitment to abandon these practices.

And yet, these public declarations are only part of a broader, untold story currently unfolding across a region too often associated with hardship or conflict. This is a story of societal transformation and community resilience; one in which the movement to abandon traditions such as FGC is just one factor in a sea change around the way women and girls are treated in traditionally very conservative areas. Increased access to education for girls is one major outcome: with the pledge to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage, girls are likely to stay in school for longer.

Tostan–a non-profit based in Dakar, Senegal and currently operating in six countries–offers a holistic, human rights-based educational program that has been building this kind of local capacity to address complex, sensitive and intersecting problems at the grassroots for 25 years. In that time, we have seen results in many issue areas, including but not limited to:

Women’s empowerment: over 20,000 women have been selected into community leadership positions and a growing number into elected office–some even running for mayor;
Peace and security: 1,500 local conflicts resolved, often with women and youth leading the process and contributing to the solution;
Governance: more than 100,000 people have learned about democracy and how to make decision-making equitable;
Education: over 40,000 people, mostly women, have improved their reading skills thanks to our innovative training on mobile phones–and others.
Tostan has learned what is possible when we unlock the greatest resource available to communities everywhere: the creativity and solutions formed by people themselves. As a result of a collective, community-led approach to development, community members envision and create pathways out of hardship, building better futures for themselves and their children.

For more information, please contact:

Joya Taft-Dick, Interim Communications Director, Tostan

Email: / Phone (US): 802 299 8473

For more about Tostan, please visit:

Last year alone, Tostan was awarded the Jury Special Prize in Individual Philanthropy from the BNP Paribas Foundation, as well as the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights. Tostan has also received the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize (2007), the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Price (2007), the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship (2010), and Sweden’s Anna Lindh Human Rights Award (2005). Tostan was featured in 2009’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, by Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and in 2012, 2013 and 2016 was named one of the Top 100 Best NGOs by The Global Journal.

Tostan’s work has been positively evaluated or cited as best practice by many organizations and academics including but not limited to: the International Center for Research on Women, Stanford University, The Government of Senegal, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Population Council, the Center for Global Development and others.