On December 22, 2012, over one thousand people gathered in the village of Mabo outside of Kaffrine in Senegal to collectively declare their decision to abandon the harmful traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Together, they shared their commitment to promote and protect the rights of all community members, in particular those of women and of children.

A public declaration typically marks the culmination of Tostan’s three-year Community Empowerment Program (CEP), during which community participants learn about their human rights and responsibilities, health and hygiene, and project management in addition to gaining literacy and numeracy skills. They then reach out to their social networks to share their new knowledge and to mobilize support for their efforts. The CEP communities and neighboring communities then publicly declare their collective commitment to human rights and to the abandonment of harmful traditional practices before their community members, local government officials, and other guests.

This declaration in Mabo, however, is unique in that it is solely the result of social mobilization efforts. All of the 70 villages declaring were engaged in the movement for the abandonment of harmful traditional practices by community social mobilization teams. This declaration is a testament to the power of organized diffusion, Tostan’s approach to community outreach. It exemplifies the key role community members play in extending the impact of Tostan’s program and engaging additional communities in the promotion of human rights at the local level.

This declaration crosses regional boundaries to bring together communities from both the regions of Kaolack and Kaffrine who are linked by proximity, by intermarriage and other family ties, and by shared traditions. Diouma Diao of the Pulaar village of Segre Gata Peuhl explains, “We cannot do it alone. Our daughters will go to other villages to marry.” She continues by sharing how social mobilization teams explained the health risks associated with FGC and child marriage which spoke to her and others own experiences with the practice. Bana Sy of the Pulaar village of Keur Djibi Saloum adds, “We will do everything to protect our children from life’s risks.”

Cheikh Sakho, the imam of Mabo, opened the day with a prayer before the president of the rural community of Mabo, Dianko Sakho, gave the opening remarks on the importance of the occasion. Penda Diawara of the village of Nema followed, speaking on behalf of the participating communities and reaffirming their commitment to abandon FGC and “to wait to marry our daughters so they can be something tomorrow.” Youth from participating villages used music, dance, and theater to share their thoughts on the day, on the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage, and on the importance of girls’ education.

The official declaration was read aloud by three young women on behalf of the 70 villages present. They announced their collective decision to abandon FGC and forced/child marriage before village delegations representing all 70 villages and local and national government officials, including the Director of Family at the Ministry of Women Ndeye Soukeynou Gueye. Presented in French, Wolof, and Pulaar, it declared that:

“We the populations of 70 villages from the regions of Kaffrine and Kaolack, formally pledge, on this day the 22nd of December 2012, with full knowledge of the facts, to definitively abandon the practices of female genital cutting and forced or child marriage of the girls within our communities.”

The proclamation of the declaration was followed by closing remarks from national and local officials. Ndeye Soukeynou Gueye of the Ministry of Women applauded Tostan’s work in support of Senegal’s National Action Plan for the Full Abandonment of FGC by 2015 and recognized the organization’s process of exchanging with communities, raising awareness, and sharing knowledge on such important themes as FGC and child/forced marriage.

Dr. Pape Bira Seck of the health district of Mabo referenced the health risks associated with FGC and child/forced marriage. “It is through health that we guarantee our future,” he said, highlighting the importance of the communities’ decision to prioritize their daughters’ health and thus their future. Samba Hanne, Subprefect of the village of Mabo, closed by thanking the communities and all others in attendance for their support in taking such an important step towards the promotion of health and human rights.

National media including RTS television, RTS radio, SUJ FM (radio), and national newspapers Le Populaire and Le Soleil reported on the historic event.