This week, our founder and executive director Molly Melching is in Rome, Italy, taking part in an international conference organized by the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Program on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (UNJP). The UNJP was established in 2008 with the aim of accelerating the movement to abandon female genital cutting (FGC). The UNJP currently focuses on 15 African countries, including all of the eight countries where Tostan works, and will expand to two more countries next year. Many of the principles on which our program is built are reflected in the work of the Joint Program – for example, the importance of engaging men and boys as well as women and involving traditional religious leaders, and the need for collective action to change the social norms that lie behind the practice – and the UNJP’s approach involves action at all levels, from communities to legislators, to diaspora communities across the world.

This week’s conference brings together representatives of national governments, NGOs and UN agencies in order to further strengthen political commitment, plan strategies for the future, and promote national action supporting the movement to end FGC. As the UNJP is set to continue into a second phase, running from 2014-2017, the conference provides an opportunity for all concerned to build on lessons learned during Phase One, including the results discussed in the UNICEF report produced earlier this year as well as building on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 67/146 adopted on December 20, 2012 calling for “Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations”.

As well as taking part in panel discussions, Molly Melching addressed the conference during the opening day on Tuesday. Introducing a session on scaling up the abandonment movement, Molly spoke about the need for human rights and education-based programs that allow community members to make their own decisions based on reliable information that they did not previously have access to. She reinforced the requests made by community members over the years to talk about the practice of FGC without using language of blame or shame, as this approach can lead to further anger and aggression.

The conference and the UNJP’s mission show the range of actors that have a role to play in accelerating the abandonment movement. Molly’s speech emphasized the need for all actors to work together in support of the grassroots community-led movement – she illustrated this point with a common African proverb: “If ten are digging a hole, while ten others are filling in the hole, there will be lots of dust and activity, but no hole”.