By Heidi Good - UNICEF
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The UNICEF-supported mobile cinema travels from village to village in remote areas of Mali, setting up an outdoor screen and showing entertaining and educational films that encourage communities to talk about children’s and women’s health.
Once trust has been established, female genital mutilation/cutting, or FGM/C, is openly discussed after the screenings. An estimated 85 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in Mali have undergone some form of FGM/C, a practice that has many harmful physical and psychological effects.
Message to mothers and daughters
Since attending the mobile cinema, Ms. Doumbia no longer supports FGM/C and does not want to pass the tradition on to the daughters of the community.
This is a huge step, since about 70 per cent of women of child-bearing age in Mali have at least one daughter who, like them, has also undergone FGM/C.
“I tell all women not to circumcise their daughters, to leave them as they are, because we realize that the disadvantages of this practice are numerous and real,” said Ms. Doumbia. “So if they let the girls be, the whole family benefits.”
Health dangers of FGM/C
The mobile cinema’s chief facilitator in Mali, a woman named Kadidja, explained the dangers of FGM/C. According to a recent study by the World Health Organization, she said, women who have been cut are significantly more likely than uncut women to have complications during and after childbirth.
Complications stemming from the practice include maternal infection, hemorrhage and newborn asphyxia. Cutting also contributes to high neonatal, child and maternal mortality rates. (Mali’s maternal death rate is among the highest in the world; 1 in every 15 women in the country dies as a result of pregnancy.)
In addition, many women say that sex with their husbands is very painful after FGM/C. Furthermore, tearing is more likely during childbirth. And scarring, leakage, infections and fistula are all common and crippling lifelong complications.
Inclusive approach gets results
Despite these well-documented dangers, agents of community-led change such as Kadidja face resistance on a daily basis in Mali and other countries. The traditional practice, though clearly harmful, is kept alive by pressure from women and men who fight to continue it.
Experts on the issue do not believe that information alone will end FGM/C; they say it is necessary to actively engage communities in discussion about banning it. The discussion must involve people at all levels, including knowledgeable health workers, village elders and leaders, and both mothers and fathers, who are often the household decision-makers.
This very approach is beginning to get results in Mali.
According to UNICEF Mali, 12 out of 41 villages covered by the mobile cinema team from June through August 2009 declared that they would ban FGM/C. An additional 12 villages reached by UNICEF-sponsored radio programmes in the region have also publically announced the end of cutting.