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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Ceremony Celebrating Change: Abandoning Female Genital Cutting in Guinea

June 24, 2011
Pathfinder International

“From now on, you are one of the great pioneers of ending female genital cutting and soon your example will be followed by other communities,” said Dr. Hawa Toure, a representative of the Minister of State of Social Affairs in Guinea.

On June 5, Dr. Toure delivered the closing speech at a female genital cutting abandonment ceremony in Bissikima, where leaders from 197 Guinean communities gathered in solidarity to declare their rejection of female genital cutting and other cultural practices harmful to the health of mothers and children. Made possible with USAID support, the ceremony was organized by community leaders who wanted to send a public message about the dangers of female genital cutting and the growing movement to end it in Guinea. In total, more than 1,000 people attended the event, including hundreds of community members, former “cutters,” national and local authorities, bilateral and multilateral institutions, and national and international NGOs.

Powerful testimony from community leaders like Mamy Diallo moved the crowd and emphasized the central theme of the ceremony.
As a former “cutter” from Sampolia village, Mamy performed genital cutting on girls for nearly 40 years. Accompanied by two other former “cutters,” Mamy pledged her total abandonment of the practice, thanking the community management committees for raising her awareness to the damaging health effects cutting can cause.

For many girls and women, female genital cutting results in severe physical, social, and psychological consequences. Despite growing recognition that the practice is harmful, it remains deeply rooted in Guinean society, with 95 percent of Guinean girls or women having experienced it.

Female genital cutting remains prevalent in many communities, in part, because it is considered a religious obligation. But this is beginning to change.

Sharing his testimony at the ceremony, Imam El Hadj Mamadou Barry explained that female genital cutting is not an Islamic Sunnah, a practice of Prophet Muhammad; and, since cutting causes serious health problems for women, it is appropriate to abandon it. He also added that Islam condemns any act of violence against women.
The ceremony ended with a public recitation by all participants of an oath to abandon female genital cutting. Written in both French and Malinké, the oath roughly translates to:

“We solemnly make the decision to permanently abandon female genital cutting—and other harmful traditional practices—to ensure and assert the rights of girls and women to good health and the preservation of their physical integrity and human dignity.”

Ultimately the event inspired and educated, representing a culmination of two years of work by Project ESPOIR, a USAID-funded, Pathfinder-led initiative to reduce and eliminate the practice of female genital cutting in Guinea. Pathfinder joined partners Tostan and Population Services International to build on previously successful female genital cutting reduction programs using Tostan’s community-centered approach to change attitudes about and the practice of female genital cutting.