Emerging from the group is the voice of a woman. She tells her story—that of a girl who was married at the age of 15 and became the mother of a baby girl by the time she was 17. One day in her absence, traditional cutters took her daughter to perform the rite of female genital cutting (FGC). Her daughter then died from hemorrhaging in the hands of the cutters. According to local custom, a mother must not see her child’s corpse, so her daughter was buried secretly, without her ever being able to see her again. This same tragedy happened a second time with her next daughter, which drove her into a deep depression causing her to repeat her young daughters’ names over and over again: Khadijah, Safiétou. Khadijah, Safiétou. This woman’s story inspired another mother to speak up about her own personal misfortunes with FGC. She commiserated that she too lost her daughter under the same circumstances.

But with this heartbreaking exchange comes hope–in the form of youth groups working to prevent stories like this from happening in their generation.

In Kolda, a region in southeastern Senegal, a group of youth came together on October 24, 2015 to discuss the tradition of FGC and how to end this harmful practice. As a deeply engrained social norm, FGC is often carried out due to societal pressure, leading to 86% of girls from the region being cut. This young group, in collaboration with a government campaign for the promotion of FGC abandonment, along with several local partners, organized a special meeting. They gathered community members aged 20-30 years old, including 35 women and 15 men, to listen to and explore the themes of an audio-documentary related to FGC. The session was broadcasted live on the local radio station Nafooré FM with the goal of raising awareness about the issue, and fostering dialogue and consensus around FGC. Another important objective was to further mobilize and engage youth in favor of a generational change for the total abandonment for FGC across Senegal.

While the audio-documentary was recorded in French, the emcee made a point to restate and summarize the themes in Pulaar—the local language—to ensure total comprehension. French is the official language of Senegal, used in formal schools and in government, but it is not commonly used in everyday conversations, especially in rural areas. Participants were more comfortable discussing ideas associated with FGC—fear, pain, social consequences—in their mother tongues.

This event was a clear example of how the training Tostan staff received from our partners at AIDOS could be used to affect change and increase the spread of information and ideas. Tools like audio-documentaries and radio shows are key elements of Tostan’s organized diffusion model. By attaining a critical mass of listeners—both within communities and in nearby communities—positive social transformation is reached more quickly and within an already-established framework.

The movement to leave FGC in the past is already picking up great speed. For example, there have been two public declarations for the abandonment of FGC and early/child marriage in two different regions—Kaolack and Goudiry—in the last several weeks. Over 200 communities participated in these declarations, which happened to take place in traditionally conservative areas.

After discussing FGC and its harmful consequences, this group of committed young people felt ready to address some of the justifications their predecessors had used. Regarding chastity, they cited the many cut girls in their communities who still become pregnant outside of marriage. In terms of religious reasoning, they turned to Imam Abdoulaye Zoubérou Bà, who declared that, “The prophet [PBU] didn’t do it [FGC] to any of his four daughters and he is our point of reference.” Imam Bà also encouraged the youths gathered that day to meet under the “conversation tree” with a mix of generations and discuss the subject politely and respectfully with their elders.

With a vision of a healthier, safer future for the girls and women of Kolda and the rest of Senegal, participants chanted “No to cutting our young girls!” and “My daughter will not be cut!” Their conviction and optimism were contagious, affecting all those present and everyone following along via radio. The youth of Kolda were proud to be part of what they hope will be a series of events as they work toward abandoning FGC for their generation and beyond.

By Ashlee Sang, with contributions from Faniang Diop, Communications Intern for Tostan Senegal