On February 6th and 7th, Bacary Tamba, the Tostan National Coordinator of the Diaspora and Regional Coordinator of Ziguinchor presented at two panel discussions in the United States as a featured speaker. Bacary Tamba has traveled to many European countries to meet with NGO and Government representatives in his role working to mobilize African diaspora populations for positive social change, but this trip was his first to the United States.

Bacary first participated in a high-level panel discussion on February 6th in Washington DC to mark the tenth anniversary of the international day for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). Hosted by Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and head of the Office on Global Women’s Issues in the U.S. Department of State and in collaboration with USAID, the event sought to bring grassroots activists together with policy makers to promote a multi-sector approach towards ending the practice. As a featured speaker, Bacary joined Her Excellency Amina Salum Ali, Ambassador of the African Union to the U.S. and Dr. Nawal Nour, an FGC expert from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to discuss abandonment approaches to the practice.

Drawing from his long experience managing Tostan projects in the field as the Regional Coordinator of Ziguinchor and the National Coordinator of The Gambia, Bacary explained how the Tostan program is contributing to large-scale social change in Senegal. He talked through the cultural context of the practice of FGC in West Africa, describing how the practice is a social norm deeply rooted in many cultures’ marriage traditions and often a taboo to speak about publicly.

Bacary demonstrated some of the challenges faced in choosing how to approach the practice at the community level and shared how Tostan’s holistic, three year Community Empowerment Program (CEP) provides communities with information about their human rights. The Tostan facilitators never use judgmental language or shocking imagery, which could offend community members, but rather create discussions about the practice within the context of health and human rights. These discussions begin in the classroom and then spread throughout the village, the region, and the extended social network through organized diffusion. A critical mass of people is built in favor of ending the practice, which leads to large-scale public declarations for abandonment. Bacary illustrated this process using the recent example of his role in organizing Senegal’s first regional declaration in Ziguinchor, with 427 communities participating.

On February 7th, Bacary traveled to the United Nations Headquarters in New York to speak at a briefing on FGC organized by the UN Department of Public Information for NGOs. The briefing also sought to mark the international day for the abandonment of FGC and gathered civil society members to discuss how best to intensify efforts to end the practice following the passing of the UN Resolution on December 20th, 2012 promoting the abandonment of the practice.

Bacary spoke at the UN Headquarters together with Francesca Moneti, UNICEF Senior Child Protection Specialist, Zeinab Eyega, Executive Director of the diaspora organization Sauti Yetu Center for African Women and Families, and Gianluca Eramo, Head of the New York office of No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) on how to plan the next steps following the resolution.

Bacary explained to the audience that while a law against the practice can serve as encouragement for those who wish to abandon, it is critical that it be accompanied by grassroots human rights education so that communities can make the decision to abandon themselves. He said that community ownership of the decision ensures that they will work to ensure full abandonment within their community. Bacary commented on the Senegalese example where there has been a law banning the practice since 1999, but how only with human rights based education spread across social networks, has real momentum been seen in the abandonment of the practice.