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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Senegal’s First Region-Wide Declaration of FGC and Child/Forced Marriage Abandonment: Communities in Kédougou Accelerate Towards Goal of Total Abandonment by 2015

February 25, 2010
By Tostan

KÉDOUGOU, Senegal, 19 February 2010—256 villages from the region of Kédougou gathered on Sunday, February 21, to announce and celebrate their historic decision to abandon the harmful traditions of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. In this first region-wide declaration in Senegal, 108 villages publicly declared their abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage for the first time, alongside 148 additional villages that confirmed their continued commitment to the promotion of the rights and health of women and girls.

In spite of the intense heat, roughly 2,500 people travelled from through-out the region to attend the day-long celebration in the Municipal Stadium in the town of Kédougou. Amongst other government officials, religious and community leaders in attendance, the Minister of Communication and Ndeye Khady Diop, Minster of the Family, National Solidarity, Food Security, Female Entrepreneurship, Microfinance and Infancy, flew to Kédougou from Dakar especially for the ceremony. Also present were the Mayor and Governor of the Kédougou Region and the Chief District Officer from the Department of Mali, Republic of Guinea who accompanied representatives from Guinean communities abandoning these practices along with their extended family networks.

Representing the 108 declaring villages, three young girls from the youth network of the region, including Hassatou Boubane, President of the network, read the declaration of abandonment in Manding, Pulaar, and French. Youth and dance groups entertained the crowds with sketches explaining their reasons for wanting to abandon FGC, as well as dance and music.

The declaration in Kédougou followed just two days after the launch of Senegal's National Action Plan for the Abandonment of FGC 2010-2015, which was launched at a ceremony in Dakar on Friday, February 19th and represents a significant step towards the Government’s goal of complete abandonment of FGC in Senegal by 2015.

According to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), over 57% of the Pulaar, Mandinka, Djalonké, and Bassari communities in the Kédougou region practice FGC and/or child/forced marriage.

Since October 2007, 50 villages in Kédougou have participated directly in the Tostan Community Empowerment Program (CEP). An additional 211 villages in Kédougou and neighboring Guinea and Mali have been sensitized to issues of human rights, health, hygiene and the risks of FGC through outreach activities such as community-run radio programs, part of the community communication strategy that Tostan calls "organized diffusion."

Amongst the 211 villages reached, 41 of these communities are located in Guinea and 10 are in Mali. This collective and cross-border decision to abandon FGC and child/forced marriage was made possible through the organization of international community meetings in 2009.

Tostan has been engaged in the region of Kédougou since 2002, where declarations have taken place twice before in Tomborokonto and Salémata. With the support of UNICEF, the Government of Senegal, and community and religious leaders, all communities of the region of Kédougou will now join the historic movement for the abandonment of FGC and child/forced marriage started by the women of the village of Malicounda Bambara in 1997.

Since 1997, a total of 4,229 villages (84%) in Senegal that traditionally practiced FGC and child/forced marriage have publicly declared their decision to abandon these harmful practices, a number which has led to claims that Senegal will be the first country to totally abandon FGC.

The declaration was preceded by a press panel on Saturday, February 20, in Fadiga, two kilometers from the town of Kédougou. Press had the opportunity to learn about both the processes behind the historic declaration as well as other community-led successes amongst villages participating in and reached through the Tostan CEP.