Africa shows signs of winning war against female genital mutilation
Today is International Ban FGM day. This is a hopeful, and a cautionary story, about well-meaning ngos not using local voices - see the previous post on victims of rape in Congo as advocates for women - M
The change is down to a unique approach with a proper understanding of local culture, says Sister Fa, who has seen her own home town of Thionck Essyl, where she herself was "cut", abandon it altogether. Mutilation is practised in 28 African countries, where 140 million women have been subjected to the brutal practice and a further two million are at risk every year.
"We're using music because the young people are the future. They need to understand that they are not alone," Sister Fa told the Observer from Dakar, where she is on a tour called "Education Against Mutilation" .. usually the NGOs come in from outside, foreigners maybe, and they try to do a demonstration and say: 'We don't want you to do this', and the people think: 'Why should we stop? This is our culture, who are you to come here once and try to put pressure on us? But if you reach communities and keep coming back then we are finding you can change things."
African women talking to African communities about mutilation is exactly the way to change things, says Nafissatou Diop, co-ordinator for the UN project, a joint programme between the United Nations Population Fund and Unicef. Diop said 12 years of mistakes by well-meaning NGOs had been closely examined and the lessons learned.
"We understand that what some charities were looking at the supply side and targeting those people who were doing the cutting, but taking them out of the system doesn't stop the demand, nor does outsiders going into a village and setting up a demonstration with an anatomical model of a woman's body that shocks everyone in the village, telling them their daughters will die and then you go away never to come back. It does not suffice.
"We are realising that you need to sustain what you are doing, open a dialogue, non-judgmentally, put things in local context and bring them to a voluntary abandonment of FGM. When this type of intervention is driven by and within a community, it is not seen as being a 'foreign influence'."
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