No more female genital cutting: Villages in Senegal celebrate 10 years of women’s rights

Gender equalityHealthSocial issues

Notes to broadcasters

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Female genital cutting or FGC includes “a range of practices involving the complete or partial removal or alteration of the external genitalia for non-medical reasons”. This procedure may involve the use of unsterilized, makeshift or rudimentary tools. The terminology applied to this procedure has undergone a number of important evolutions. When the practice first came to be known beyond the societies in which it was traditionally carried out, it was generally referred to as “female circumcision”. This term, however, creates confusion between these two distinct practices of female and male circumcision. In the case of girls and women, FGC is a manifestation of deep-rooted gender inequality that assigns them an inferior position in society and has profound physical and social consequences. In the late 1970s, the expression “female genital mutilation” (FGM) gained growing support. The word “mutilation” not only clearly differentiates the practice from male circumcision, but also, due to its strong negative connotations, emphasizes the seriousness of the act. The use of the word “mutilation” reinforces the idea that this practice is a violation of girls’ and women’s human rights, and thereby helps promote national and international advocacy towards its abandonment. At the community level, however, the term can be problematic. Local languages generally use the less judgmental “cutting” to describe the practice; parents understandably resent the suggestion that they are “mutilating” their daughters. In this spirit, in 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur on Traditional Practices called for tact and patience regarding activities in this area and drew attention to the risk of “demonizing” certain cultures, religions and communities. As a result, the term “cutting” has increasingly come to be used to avoid alienating communities.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 100 million young girls and women have experienced some form of genital cutting. It is estimated that two million young girls undergo FGC every year. Most live in Africa or Asia. In most European and North American countries, FGC is illegal, though it is sometimes still practiced in African and Asian communities.


Good morning (afternoon, evening) and welcome to the program. Today we will be talking to Maimuna Traoré and Mariéme Traoré. These two women are from Malicounda, Senegal, and are part of a group of women who first declared that their village would no longer practice female genital cutting. The 10th Anniversary of this Malicounda Bambara Declaration took place on July 31, 2007. Malicounda Bambara is located in the Thiès area of western Senegal. Thirty-five women from the village of Malicounda came together to create this declaration on July 31, 1997. It was after these women had been trained by an organization called Tostan that they decided to stop violating the rights of their little girls and made the declaration. This training included information on the right to health, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women, the African Charter of Rights, the African Charter on the Welfare of the Child, and information on the complications that can arise from female genital cutting. (Pause) Maimuna Traoré, can you introduce yourself and tell us in your words what happened ten years ago?

My name is Maimuna Traoré. I am the coordinator of the Community Management Committee and I am also responsible for the women of Malicounda Bambara. We did not organize this declaration to reject our traditions. Rather, we participated in the Tostan education program and learned many things about the health consequences of female genital cutting. When the women of Malicounda decided to abandon this practice, I was in Mali. When I returned, I heard that the women had participated in a training on human rights and health. They had learned about the complications that can occur when female genital cutting or FGC is practiced. The women had then organized a theatre performance on this topic in order to sensitize the community. When I returned, the women asked me what I thought of this issue. I told them that I supported their efforts because they are today’s mothers, and this issue concerns their daughters’ health. Therefore, if they decide with their husbands to abandon this practice because of the negative consequences associated with female genital cutting, we can only support and respect this decision.

Was it difficult to put this declaration into practice?

Actually, the decision was easy to implement because, as direct participants in the education program, we spoke to the entire Malicounda Bambara community and, after many discussions and exchanges, the decision to abandon this practice was made together. The Tostan training allowed us to make the link between the complications experienced by genitally mutilated women and girls and the practice of female genital cutting. The program allowed us to work together and try to change things. At that time, female genital cutting was important for social acceptance and marriage. So the decision to abandon the practice couldn’t be done by one woman alone for fear that she would be ostracized by the community. However, after the declaration, we had a lot of problems because our ideas had been distorted by some of the journalists who reported on the event. As a result, all of the Bambara communities were against us. It is easy now to talk about abandoning the practice of FGC, but it was very difficult to get to that point.

Can you explain what has changed in the women’s lives since the decision to stop the practice of FGC?

What really changed in our lives is that FGC has definitely stopped. The proof of our declaration’s success is that thousands of communities have joined us and people now dare to speak openly about a practice that was considered taboo ten years ago. Abandoning FGC has stopped discrimination in our community. FGC was a requirement for social acceptance. It was a mark of being Bambara, and made it so that Bambara could only marry other Bambara. Today, we can see a real social change. We now see marriages between Bambara and Sereres or Wolofs in Malicounda Bambara.

Other changes in our community are linked to our participation in the Tostan education program. Before participating in this program, it was impossible for women to take part in a men’s meeting. Women had no responsibilities; they could only carry out decisions taken by men. Today, women that were extremely shy are front and centre in the community. I am the coordinator of the Malicounda Bambara Community Management Committee, which has 17 members, including men. The Tostan program has allowed the women in the Committee to debate on an equal playing field with men.

Thank you, Mrs. Maimuna. We now turn to Mariéme Traoré. Can you please give us your point of view on the same questions?

The Malicounda Bambara declaration was a big first in Senegal. Since then, our women are always referred to as being pioneers in the movement to stop FGC. We realized that FGC is a violation of the right to health. Because of the Tostan program, we have also become more self-reliant. For example, for basic things like dialling phone numbers, we had to ask for someone’s help. It was the same for reading and writing.

There have been many other changes in our community. Young girls don’t risk health problems like heavy bleeding because FGC is no longer practiced. There are also changes in social values. Even if someone still practices FGC, they do so in secrecy because they are afraid of being scolded by the community. As Maimuna mentioned, our lives have been completely changed. We, as a people, have changed. We are known throughout Senegal and throughout the world as being the first women to have dared to publicly declare the stop of FGC.

What do you think of the fact that 2300 communities have joined you in this movement to stop the practice of FGC in Senegal?

We are happy and proud to know that others have joined us. This can only strengthen our collective commitment to stop FGC and other harmful traditional practices. We are also proud to be the forerunners of this vast movement to stop FGC in Senegal and in other African countries.

Maimuna, how do you feel about being joined by 2300 other communities?

It is a source of great pride for us. I want to invite the communities who have not joined us in Senegal to unite with us in this movement to stop FGC because you cannot put a price on health, especially women’s health. By participating in the Tostan education program, we learned a lot about the right to health and hygiene, the right to education, the right to information and the right to be protected against all forms of violence. This allowed us to take a stand against any harmful health practice, especially FGC and early marriage.

Today, we are more aware of our traditions and customs. We are more Bambara than ever before! The Tostan program allowed us to be more conscious of our traditions because it allowed us to reconnect with the positive traditions and do away with the harmful ones. It is true that we have changed. We are more responsible, more in solidarity, prouder, more knowledgeable and more united.

I want to thank both of our guests for speaking with me today. (Pause) Listeners, that is the end of our program. If you want to know more about the issue of female genital cutting, here are some local organizations that are working on this issue: (Broadcaster: give names and contact numbers for local or national organizations). Goodbye for today.


Contributed by: Issa Saka, Trainer/ External Relations Officer, Tostan International.
Reviewed by: Neil Ford, Regional Chief, Programme Communication, UNICEF, Dakar, Sénégal.