When several hundred students and adults marched down Kolda’s main street on December 19, 2013 with signs and chanting in unison, the message they were sending could not have been clearer. The marchers packed the main road through town, making their way past shops and vendors to the Kolda prefecture. At the head of the procession was a group of girls holding a banner that read “Promoting the Abandonment of FGC is an Act of Citizenship.”

At 8am that morning, students from various schools in Kolda, Senegal had begun to gather outside of the Umbrella Support Unit (USU) office. The NGO USU was the driving force behind the organization of the day’s social mobilization march. In the days before the event, USU invited members of other groups and NGOs in the region to collaborate with them in planning the event.  The invitation of these other agencies was a significant gesture, highlighting the importance of uniting the efforts of the many organizations working on their own projects in Kolda.

Together, these organizations drafted a memorandum urging administrative, academic, religious, community, judicial and academic authorities to actively promote the total abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). On the day of the march, when the marchers arrived at their final destination, the memorandum was presented to the Prefect of Kolda.

By 10:30am the march was underway. White t-shirts with the words “The City of Kolda Mobilizes Against FGC” were sprinkled throughout the crowd, and girls carried signs in French and Pulaar that read, “Let’s Save the Physical Integrity of Women”, and “The Girls From CEM Hilele Say No to FGC”. Police re-directed traffic so that the marchers had a clear path through town, and from the back of a pick-up truck a woman with a microphone led the chants that were quickly taken up by the marchers. 

The vast majority of those marching were youth. “This march is for the fight against the practice of FGC,” said Maimouna Diallo, a 17-year old marcher from the school Nafoore in Kolda. “It is to make people understand the consequences.” Twelve year-old Hama Kassé said they were marching because “FGC is not good,” and his friend Fallou added that FGC “can cause problems when having children.”

The Kolda region has one of the highest rates of FGC in Senegal. The Pulaar ethnic group is one that has historically engaged in the practice of FGC, and Kolda has a high concentration of Pulaar communities. In an effort to change the social norms that perpetuate the harmful traditional practice of FGC, many actors in the region are engaged in the movement for the promotion of its abandonment.

Through Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program as well as its social mobilization and awareness-raising activities, education about the harmful consequences of the practice is provided to communities.  The Orchid Project, which recently renewed its partnership with Tostan for another year, funds monthly social mobilization missions as well many other activities in Kolda specifically focused on increasing awareness about FGC. The Senegalese NGO Action Guney conducts awareness-raising about violence committed against children, and Kolda NGO FODDE does the same for other topics as well. OFAD Nafoore, an organization in Kolda that leads awareness-raising on violence against women, recently organized a workshop on FGC, inviting members of different area organizations to participate

Though their mission statements may differ, all these organizations are working to promote the abandonment of the practice.  The initiative of USU and the collaboration of many different schools and NGOs made last Thursday’s lively march possible, reaffirming for the community of Kolda that the movement to abandon FGC is continuing to gain momentum in the region.  As one of the Pulaar signs carried by a young marcher put it, “To Abandon FGC is to Respect Human Rights”.