Posted by: trudecdgecs | June 25, 2009

Combatting FGM in The Gambia by working with communities

From IRIN Africa, an interesting article about working with communities to spread messages about health and education as a way to combat FGM:

“In politics and sociology you reach a tipping point and once you’ve reached it, things change,” says Min-whee Kang of the UN Children’s Fund. “This is what we’re aiming at to stop female genital mutilation and cutting in The Gambia.”


Twenty-four community represenatives in Gambia’s Upper River Region on 12 June signed a public declaration abandoning female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C), in the presence of government officials, village chiefs, women’s groups and international development agencies. They were the first of 80 villages in the region – all of them from the Mandinka or Fula ethnic groups – where West African NGO Tostan, supported by UNICEF, are working to eliminate FGM/C.

“We are using an ‘organized diffusion model’: we start with just a few villages, targeting everyone – girls, women, men, chiefs, Imams [religious leaders], and as the word spreads, they spread the message to other villages,” UNICEF’s Gambia head, Kang told IRIN. “It’s a people-to-people approach.”


“We must be sensitive. From many women’s perspective it is out of genuine care for their daughters’ social status and ability to marry that they perpetuate the practice.”

Working in Upper River Region, where half of the adults are illiterate, and most have not undergone formal schooling, Tostan instead incorporates FGM/C messages into a wider education programme addressing human rights, democracy and citizenship, nutrition, and health issues.

“We do not talk directly about FGM/C…We discuss how girls are pulled out of school to undergo child marriages; we talk about participation in society; we look at some of the health problems women may face when delivering babies,” said Bakary Tamba, Tostan’s Programme Coordinator. “Then we address FGM/C through this.”

The hope is that once participants starting making links between FGM/C and some of these social issues, they will pass on their learning to other families, villagers and religious leaders, and eventually on to other villages, Tamba said.

Threatening Islam is not the point, he stressed: “These discussions do not have to mean they are letting down the Islamic religion.” Indeed some NGOs encourage villagers to retain a female initiation ceremony – just without the cutting.

For more about Tostan, the NGO working on this project, see their website here.


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