The village of Keur Simbara is a key reference point in the movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage in Senegal. It was one of the first villages to publicly abandon FGC (in 1998) and the Chief of Keur Simbara, Demba Diawara, has been a critical partner in Tostan’s work in this area, and in the understanding of how social change happens.

On the afternoon of January 20, 2014, Demba Diawara met up in Keur Simbara with another leading theorist of social norm change, Dr. Gerry Mackie, from the University of California, San Diego, who has also worked closely with Tostan for many years. It had been ten years since their last meeting.

The two men are known for their dedication and creative genius in the development of theories around social norms and organized diffusion. These two theories of social change are essential to Tostan’s work promoting the abandonment of FGC in Africa and crucial to learning how best to accelerate the movement to other countries.

When we arrived at the village, men, women and children came out to welcome us and traditional Bambara drums, taken out for the occasion, were played with songs about human rights and women’s rights.

Demba Diawara and Gerry Mackie were delighted to see each other again after so long. Taking the floor, Gerry Mackie said: “Ten years ago, I was here in Keur Simbara. Demba Diawara often describes Keur Simbara as a small village. However, know that it is a famous village because of the work Demba Diawara has done in promoting the abandonment of FGC. Demba Diawara is incredibly intelligent. He has changed my life; he has made it wonderful.”

Demba Diawara, who has never been to formal school, had after participation in Tostan’s program, understood the practice of FGC as a group norm and has, since committing to end the practice, walked to 348 villages to raise awareness for the abandonment. At the same time, thousands of miles away, Gerry Mackie was publishing studies on FGC as a social norm. 

Talking about Gerry Mackie, Demba Diawara said: “In Senegal and other countries people talk about my commitment to promoting the abandonment of FGC. Gerry Mackie, know that I owe you that commitment and dedication. Since I met you for the first time in London, you have not given up. All your time is spent looking for people’s wellbeing.”

In the week of the UN recognized International Day for the abandonment of female genital cutting, 6 February, we applaud both of these men for their work in advancing the movement to abandon this harmful practice.

Story by Malick Gueye, Communications Manager, Tostan Senegal