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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Senegalese Villages Abandon Female Circumcision

November 30, 2010

KOLDA, Senegal — Seven hundred villages on Sunday declared an end to female circumcision and forced marriages in the southern province of Kolda where the rate of practice is the highest in Senegal.
After a march by nearly 3,000 people from the region bearing signs and other effigies denouncing the rites, a colourful ceremony took place with traditional music, dancing and theatre.
Young girls from the region dressed in pink wraparound skirts and bright headdresses performed for the crowd "to show how important it is to the young girls that these practices be abandoned," said Molly Melching, head of the Tostan NGO.
The public denunciations come after extensive work by the government and non-governmental organisations in communities to encourage an end to the cultural or religious practice of deliberately mutilating female genitalia.
Tostan has been working in Senegalese villages for over a decade, spreading their work to countries in the region, giving education on human rights and health which allow villagers to "take their own decision" on the practice.
"The program includes men and their human rights so they understand also that this is about achieving the well-being and health and a better life for everyone in the community," Melching explained in a telephone interview from Kolda.
"It is not about fighting tradition, it is about helping people achieve the goals they have set."
Some 4,500 out of 5,000 communities have already declared an end to the practice in Senegal, which still persists despite female circumcision being declared illegal over a decade ago.
In Kolda, the rate of practicing the centuries-old practice of female genital mutilation was 94 percent, the highest in the whole country, says Melching.
"There is a very big declaration (of abandonment) of the whole department of Kolda for 700 communities. Many of these communities have already made a declaration before, but now they are all coming together with new communities" to declare an end to the practice.
Delegations from Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and other regions of Senegal attended the celebrations.
"It is a beautiful ceremony," said Melching.
According to UNICEF, the practice is a deeply entrenched social convention which millions of girls in Africa are subjected to every year, with religious beliefs cited even though it is not prescribed by any religion.
Tostan believes that with this kind of pressure it is important for entire communities to abandon the practice, to prevent stigma between villages on girls who are not cut and face becoming outcasts.
In Senegal, two types of excision are prevalent, according to a US State Department report.
These include just the removal of the clitoral hood, with or without removal of the clitoris, or the most extreme kind: excision of part or all of the external genitalia and the stitching of the vaginal opening to allow only for the flow of urine and menstrual blood.
Female genital cutting leads to severe pain, infections, shock, hemorrhage, infertility and can cause massive problems during childbirth.
In July government reported the practice stood at 28 percent. Senegal aims to eliminate the practice completely by 2015.