On April 11th, at a meeting bringing together 14 interconnected and interdependent communities in Mali, women stood up and openly expressed their desire to abandon female genital cutting (FGC).

These 14 communities, all participating in class sessions organized by Tostan as part of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), met in Yirimadio, a community just on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Bamako.

Yirimadio is located across the river from downtown Bamako, between one of the country’s major highways and a rocky mesa.The community is extremely diverse, counting among its inhabitants many families which have migrated to the city from rural areas. Many of these families come from the Bambara, Fulani, Dogon, and Senufo ethnicities, all of which traditionally practice FGC.

Tostan has been working with these communities to organize class sessions since 2009, when it launched the CEP in the country for the first time. The community of Yirimadio came together to provide the facilitator of the classes with a place to stay as well as a place to hold the sessions, and elect a 17-member Community Management Council (CMC) of local women and men to organize development and awareness-raising activities.

Through the CEP, class participants in Yirimadio and the surrounding communities were led through participative, culturally relevant discussions on human rights and democracy in the Kobi 1 module. These discussions helped everyone realize that, whatever their gender, age or ethnicity, they possessed human rights and responsibilities, as did all other members of the community. Participants were encouraged to share these ideas with their friends, neighbors, and nearby communities through awareness-raising activities organized by the CMC.

Once participants gained an understanding of their fundamental rights, they began to learn about health and hygiene – how to prevent diseases, when to seek treatment, and, for the first time, openly discussed the health consequences of FGC. Participants then gained concrete skills they could use to promote their new knowledge about human rights, health, education, environmental protection and the other themes in the CEP with literacy, math, and project management training. With these skills and the continuation of CMC-led social mobilization efforts, a critical mass begins to build of people wanting to change aspects of their lives that are not helpful to their overall well-being, such as FGC, and continue to promote traditions of their community which are positive.

Over 250 people, the majority of whom were women, gathered in Yirimadio. The theme of the day’s discussions was the right to health. Various aspects of health were presented through speeches, skits, songs and poems, and many of these presentations related to FGC and child/forced marriage. The tipping point for social change on this issue appeared near, and one woman asked in her speech what should be done to address these problems. From the crowd, a few women responded at first, “Abandon these practices!”. Inspired by their courage, more and more women from the crowd joined them, and eventually the entire crowd called out in unison, standing together for positive changes.