This story is a chapter from our Breakthrough Generation campaign, celebrating Tostan’s 25 years on the path of human dignity. Over the course of several months, we will share 25 stories of leadership and transformation, all of which drive the change we have seen in the last 25 years. We will reflect on how far we have come—celebrating all those who have been a part of this movement–while also looking ahead, to the next 25 years. Join us.
When Ami Drame was a young woman, she decided she would enter the family trade. She would follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, who had already carefully trained the young Ami, just before she passed away. In taking up this vocation, Ami felt she would carry on her grandmother’s legacy. In fact, Ami had a dream in which an older woman approached her on the side of a river. The older woman handed her a knife and various mystical herbs. This made it all too clear to Ami: she would take the family knife, once held by her grandmother, and she would become a traditional cutter: carrying out the tradition of biriya, or female genital cutting.
Ami was born in Senegal, but spent most of her life in Sangardo, Guinea, a community of about 1000 people. Her father had moved there from Albadariah, and it was there that Ami herself married and settled down.
At the time, Ami explains that the tradition of female genital cutting, or FGC, was important because a girl who was not cut would be marginalized by her community. Any mother would want to protect her daughter from that, and ensure she could be married and have a family of her own.
A tradition that has been passed down, not just from a single grandmother, but across communities for millenia, is not an easy thing to give up. And yet, that is exactly what Ami decided to do.
In 2013, 20 communities in Guinea completed Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program (CEP). During this three-year program, participants learned all about human rights and responsibilities, including the right to health, and the right to live a life free from violence. They also learned about the negative consequences of practices such as FGC and child or forced marriage.
Having completed the CEP—which also led to the collective decision to abandon these kinds of harmful practices—those 20 communities then shared their new knowledge with 51 neighboring communities. As a result, a total of 65 communities made the decision to organize a public declaration to abandon FGC and child marriage in Sangardo on June 14, 2015.
When asked why she decided to abandon such a long-standing tradition, Ami said, “I personally made the decision because I had seen the effects it had on girls. I had seen girls spend an entire day unconscious after being cut.”
She explained that the benefits of abandonment were already visible: fewer complications during childbirth, healthy young girls, and happier families as a whole.
On the day of the declaration in her own Sangardo, Ami led a group of women in the performance of a powerful skit. This skit demonstrated the mystical side of a cutting ceremony, with the singing of songs, the making of offerings and prayers, and the showing of the knife—a knife which could be used to cut many girls during one ceremony. After elaborating on the negative effects the cutting has on young girls, the skit ended with all the women ceremoniously renouncing the practice.
When asked what would come next for her, now that she had given up the practice, Ami replied that she is now working to inform and raise awareness among other women. She explained that she uses her existing networks to reach out to others, and then maintains an open dialogue with them. She also encourages women to talk to their daughters, and share the information about health and human rights with them. Ami always reminds mothers that an uncut girl can be a wife, have children and be healthy.
As for what’s next for her community, Ami and the other ex-cutters will work on alternative income-generating projects. She added that above all, they want to ensure their children receive an education:
“An educated child is informed; they will persevere, and be active in the betterment of their communities, and their countries.”
Want to learn more about the Breakthrough Generation and how you can get involved? Click here.
Interview by Mouctar Oulare, National Coordinator, Tostan Guinea
Written by Joya Taft-Dick, Senior Communications Officer, Tostan DC