|Tostan Must Help End Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting In Ghana|
|Wednesday, 13 February 2013 11:15|
By G.D. Zaney
Can it be true that 100 to 140 million women around the world have undergone the ritual of genital mutilation and that three million girls are at risk every year? The answer is ‘yes, it is true,’ unimaginable though.
Available information indicates that Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) ― the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes — is performed on girls in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, meaning that the practice occurs across cultures, religions, and continents, notwithstanding the fact that no religion mandates this procedure.
According to Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US Secretary of State, even the United States is fighting this practice by, for example, working with practitioners in the health and legal community to educate groups about the negative impacts of FGM/C.
In Ghana, the practice was made illegal in 1994, with a prison term of at least three years for non-compliance. Yet FMG/C is still common in the northern part of the country.
As at December 2002, the estimated prevalence rate of FGM/C in Ghana was 30 per cent, with the practising communities being Kusasi, Fafra, Kasena and Grushie in the Upper East region; the Wala, Sisala, Dagaaba and Lobi in the Upper West region; and the Mamprusi, Bassari and Lobi in the Northern region.
There is variation in the age at which FGM/C may be carried out from community to community, but the indications are that FGM/C is performed on infants (a few days old), children between six and ten years, in adolescence and occasionally in adulthood.
FGM/C is a centuries-old tradition and social norm enforced by community expectations around marriageability. It is designed to reduce the woman's sex drive and remove her temptation to have sex before marriage. By having a daughter cut, the family ensures that she will be a desirable marriage prospect.
FGM/C is, therefore, essentially a rite of passage but one with severe health implications, for example, of pain and complications in childbirth, often resulting in infant and/or maternal mortality. FGM/C is a worrying human rights issue of immense public health concern.
Irrespective of where they are born or what culture they are raised in, all women and girls deserve the opportunity to realize their potential—and it is the responsibility of every government to protect its citizens from human rights abuses and facilitate the realisation of that potential by ensuring stronger and healthier futures for girls and young women.
Over the years, concerted efforts have been made to address the canker. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and women’s rights groups have used various methods including workshops and public education campaigns to discourage the practice in communities which embrace it while various laws have also been passed to outlaw the practice as a violation of human rights.
Indeed, there is no doubt that these efforts have produced some results, as some 8,000 communities across Africa are known to have abandoned the practice. Upper Egypt and Senegal, available information indicates, provide examples of success stories of abandonment of the practice, thanks to the Office of Global Women’s Issues, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US development agency, and the Government of the USA which have been supporting a variety of programs through the efforts of various offices at the State Department dealing with refugees and human rights issues.
According to the Government of Senegal’s Action Plan for Total Abandonment of FGC by 2015, 340 new communities in Senegal will need to implement Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP)—a programme identified as the preferred approach for the abandonment of FGM/C in that country.
Tostan is an NGO headquartered in Dakar, Senegal which works primarily in rural and remote areas, delivering non-formal, empowering education on health and hygiene, child welfare, human rights and democracy, the environment, literacy, and economic development. Tostan is currently implementing its program in Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, and The Gambia.
The implementation of Tostan’s three-year human rights-based program began in 1991 in 2,451 communities in Senegal; and in 1997, the first public declaration for the abandonment of FGM/C took place in Malicounda Bambara, a village in western Senegal.
More than 5,500 communities in Senegal (through direct participation in the Tostan program and through 'organized diffusion' and 'social mobilization' activities) have, since, publicly declared their abandonment of the practice including the first regional public declaration in the country which took place on the January 20, 2013 in Ziguinchor, Senegal, where 427 communities had abandoned the practice.
Even though FGM/C had been banned in Senegal in 1999, marked success has been recorded at the grassroots level only in recent years due to the implementation of human rights-based non formal education, with public abandonment declarations being key in measuring success and acting as pledges in front of intra-marrying communities and social networks to abandon the practice.
The recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for Senegal, which show the key statistics for population, health, and nutrition as well as the latest figures and trends on FGM in that country, indicate that 60% of women (aged 15-49) who have been cut, are reported not to have had their daughters (aged 0 to 9) cut—a significant reduction which supports the changes in behaviour and attitude regarding FGM/C as evidenced in the increasing number of communities who are declaring abandonment of the practice.
“Female genital cutting is ending — the time to become part of this movement is now. In the last two decades, this extraordinary and respectful model that allows communities to learn, abandon a harmful practice, then pass on their knowledge, is sweeping across West Africa. Knowing that only 340 communities need to take up the CEP for FGC to end in Senegal gives us renewed vigour to support this incredible grassroots movement. If we all support this momentum, FGC really could end in the next generation,” Julia Lalla-Maharajh, CEO & Founder, Orchid Project — a UK-based NGO with a vision of a world free from female genital cutting— has noted.
Public abandonment of FGM/C occurs when communities and their social networks hold a declaration ceremony in which they publicly abandon the practice before representatives from all the participating communities, and promote a unified vision for positive change. The public declarations—which occur after communities have implemented Tostan’s CEP or have been reached through ‘organized diffusion’ or ‘social mobilization’ methods—are attended by religious and community leaders, health workers, government officials, journalists and NGO representatives.
So far over 6,000 communities from Djibouti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia and The Gambia have joined the women of Malicounda Bambara in abandoning both FGM/C and child/forced marriage.
One most important lesson from these success stories is that girls and young women need access to basic information in order to make key decisions about their health, their families, and their communities.
Another lesson is that village headmen ought to understand that FGM/C is a harmful practice in order to be able to resist the practice in their communities. In other words, there is the need for a commitment on the part of community leaders who recognize that this is a practice that should not be countenanced.
It is becoming clear that there are many cultural traditions that used to exist in many parts of the world that are no longer acceptable. FGM/C is, no doubt, one of such cultural traditions with no medical advantages and cannot be treated as a private matter.
FGM/C is a human rights violation—pure and simple— and the rights of young girls to be free from both physical and mental violence must, therefore, be asserted and protected.
During the commemoration of the ninth annual International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C in Dakar, Senegal on February 6, 2013, Tostan announced estimates for what will be needed for Senegal to become the first country to nationally abandon FGC.
Indeed, Kenya has just passed an outright national ban on FGC, becoming the 18th African country to do so while last year, the African Union called on the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution banning it.
So far, Ghana’s name is conspicuously absent from among African countries in which progress is being made in ending the practice—and the question is: ‘why has Tostan not considered Ghana an area worthy of its attention?’
Sexism is as degrading as racism. It is like slavery which must come to an end and in the words of Julia Lalla-Maharajh, it is time for Ghana to become part of this movement to end FGM/C now. Tostan’s presence in Ghana is urgently required. Women’s rights groups must make overtures to Tostan or endeavour to learn about the organisation’s community empowerment programme for replication in Ghana.
●The writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.