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Monday, December 7, 2009

158 Villages in the Department of Koungheul Join the Movement to Abandon Harmful Traditional Practices

November 20, 2009 Total Number of Communities Publicly Declaring Abandonment in Senegal Reaches 4,121 KOUNGHEUL, Senegal, 15 November 2009 - 4,121 communities have now joined the growing social movement of villages in Senegal to promote the human rights, health, and well-being of community members by committing to put an end to the harmful traditional practices of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.

On Sunday, 158 communities met in the town of Koungheul, Kaolack to publicly declare the historic decision of the whole department of Koungheul to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage. Their declaration brought the movement to abandon FGC in Senegal to a total of 4,121 villages - a figure which has led UNICEF to suggest that Senegal will be the first country to completely abandon the practice.

Organized by members of the Fulani, Mandinka, Bambara, and Kognaji ethnic groups, the 4-hour declaration event was attended by over 2,000 people. The declaration statement itself was read inFrench, Mandinka, Fulani, and Wolof by adult and adolescent female participants in the Tostan program.

Many national press and media representatives were in attendance as well as international media representatives, including a film crew from the US/Canada. A number of youth and community groups performed skits, dances and songs on the themes of FGC and child/forced marriage, marking the significance of the collective decision. Community members also organized a meal to celebrate and close the event.

Speaking at the event, the Prefet of Koungheul expressed his wish for the Tostan program to be implemented in other departments of Senegal:

the difference between Tostan villages and other villages is astronomical – there is a big difference concerning health, education, and state of the villages. I, as the Prefet, have seen it myself.

In collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Senegal, Tostan has implemented its CEP among Wolof and Mandinga communities in the department of Koungheul since 2004. It expanded the program to Fulani communities in 2007. During the 30-month program, the participating communities completed modules in democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene and health, as well as literacy, math, and management skills.

Nafissatou Ba, CEP facilitator in the village of Jam Koode explained that the classes focus on learning through dialogue around important issues among adults and adolescents. In addition to the classes, communities organized social mobilization activities to raise awareness and involve neighboring communities in their discussions. These included events organized by local community representatives, youth activities, meetings to share information on the harmful effects of FGC, and radio programs hosted by participants and facilitators on the communal radio of Koungheul.
The declaration in Kougheul, which comes just one week after a declaration of 404 communities in Bounkling in the southern region of Senegal, resonates with a report released earlier this month by theInternational Center for Research on Women. The report, titled Innovation for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality names the Tostan and community-led movement to abandon FGC in Senegal as one of the eight most creative and catalytic innovations to have promoted women's empowerment and gender equality in the past century.

When asked why they decided to hold a departmental public declaration, Maimouna Ba, CMC Coordinator in the village of Jam Koode, responded, “This declaration is our child. It is our decision and we would have held the declaration with or without Tostan’s support. We must remind everyone why we decided to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage. This is our child.”

Souleymane Mboup, Mayor of Koungheul, stressed that the departmental declaration not only confirms intentional changes in traditional practices, but also serves as a means for communicating the reasons behind the participants’ decision. “This is a cultural festival designed to reach everyone. Communication and awareness-raising [activities] are the key.”

The participating communities held a press conference to precede the eventon Saturday, November 14, in the village of Diam Codé, located 18 kilometres from Koungheul. The public declaration itself took place the following day in the center of the town of Koungheul. Over 2,000 community members, local leaders, including the Governor of Kaffrine, the Prefet of the department of Koungheul, the sub-prefets of Missirah, parliamentarians, local representatives, and religious leaders in the department attended the ceremony.

Also in attendance at the declaration was a delegation of 17 Ugandans who traveled to Senegal to learn about the Tostan program. The delegation included community leaders, members of parliament, government representatives, journalists, and NGO representatives. The Ugandans said they had never witnessed entire networks of intra-marrying communities coming together to collectively make important decisions like this. Paolina Chepar, a village leader from the region of Pokot in Eastern Uganda, noted "This program gives ownership of development to the people themselves. Tostan reaches out to the poorest, most marginalized communities and brings them together in unity and peace to organize for the future. Where trust flourishes, true development can occur."