The health of children and adults is at risk in communities because of limited access to health resources and care, low vaccination rates, and lack of awareness about hygiene and disease prevention.
In many of the communities where Tostan works, child/forced marriage and female genital cutting are also common practices which carry physical and emotional risk for girls and women. A girl who is not cut can be ostracized from her community and will not be able to marry. These practices greatly increase health risks during pregnancy and childbirth but communities often don’t associate these practices with harmful health consequences.
During our Community Empowerment Program, participants learn about their right to health and their right to be free from all forms of violence, about hygiene, and how diseases are spread and prevented. They also discuss the health risks of harmful practices such as female genital cutting and child/forced marriage.
Our program encourages community members to share the knowledge they gain about health and human rights with their social networks. Communities often launch specific initiatives to improve child and maternal health in their villages. They raise awareness on the importance of vaccinations as well as take action to improve community hygiene and prevent diseases such as malaria.
Over 7,000 communities across eight African countries have publicly declared their abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage following their direct or indirect engagement in our Community Empowerment Program.
Since 2005, as awareness has grown and a critical mass has been building, thousands of villages have joined the movement for the abandonment of FGC in Senegal. We believe we will see a national-level public declaration by 2015.
Community-led efforts in the area of maternal and child health have led to a rise in vaccination rates, an increase in attendance at prenatal and postnatal consultations, and a decline in children suffering from malnutrition.