Latmingué, Senegal—On February 27, 2011, 58 communities announced their abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage to a crowd of over 900 at a public declaration in Latmingué in the Kaolack region of Senegal. Forty of these villages have participated in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP), while the remaining 18 are neighboring communities who received information from the program through Tostan’s model of organized diffusion .

The CEP is Tostan’s innovative 30-month education program that focuses on human rights, health and literacy, amongst other topics. While the human rights and health implications surrounding FGC are discussed in the CEP, Tostan emphasizes that any decision to abandon FGC must come from within intermarrying communities.

The declaration in Latmingué was an energetic celebration that many felt was a defining moment for the communities.  The day started with a welcome performance given by a dance group from the neighboring city of Tambacounda and was followed by testimonials and informational speeches from Tostan participants and local leaders as well as numerous musical and dramatic performances. The reading of the declaration was slightly delayed due to power shortages but this interlude was filled with outbursts of music and colorful dance acts from audience members.

CEP participants talked about the negative consequences of child/forced marriage for both women and the wider community in discussions facilitated by Tostan.  Empowered with this knowledge, many villagers described how they had given up the practice because the communities both wanted to protect the wellbeing of their daughters and help them enjoy a better future. As Zainaba Ba of Bethie Peuhl stated, “Cutting truly no longer exists because we now have the proof that it’s harmful.”

A group of community leaders from the villages described how happy they were with Tostan’s impact on their communities and believed, “It is necessary to create [Tostan] centers in all Senegalese villages and continue awareness raising discussions so that everyone can abandon these practices.”

The participants and the locally elected Community Management Committee  members who will oversee implementation of future development projects in participating communities all had high hopes for their future based on the outstanding progress their communities had made in a short span of three-years. The declaration was read aloud in French, Pular and Wolof against a backdrop of countless village representatives holding high placards with messages of solidarity. This moment was emblematic of the day: a time for communities to gather and celebrate not just their education and empowerment, but their future.