However Long The Night traces the story of how it came to be that so many communities, across West Africa, have engaged in a social movement for human rights, and nothing short of dignity for all. On this date, 17 years ago—February 14, 1998—ten villages joined together to declare their collective abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC). It was the first public declaration of its kind, involving multiple communities.
Now in 2015, just shy of 7,300 communities across Africa have declared an end to FGC, and continue to work tirelessly to share the knowledge they have acquired, and the decisions they have made.
When Molly was little, her mother, Ann, would sometimes read her and her sister, Diane, stories about Albert Schweitzer, a German physician who had founded a hospital in West Africa and went on to win the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize. Driving into the village of Diabougou on February 14, 1998, Molly was reminded of these stories, of their descriptions of African villages that seemed to Molly—a girl of eight—to be too remote and magical to actually exist. But now here it was—Diabougou.
The village had been chosen, at Demba [Diawara]’s suggestion, as the location for the meeting of the ten villages he had visited…The Bambaras of Diabougou were known for their dancing, and when Molly stepped from her car into the cool morning air, she was greeted by the sound of drumming and scores of women dressed in colorful boubous and head scarves. The sounds and the sight took her breath away.
Hundreds of people were present, joined by villagers from Keur Simbara, Malicounda Bambara, and Nguerigne Bambara. Dozens of girls danced among the group, each dressed in her finest clothes and with her hair plaited in intricate patterns…The participants of the Tostan classes in Malicounda Bambara and Nguerigne Bambara had been invited as special guests, and Molly took a seat in one of the chairs under the tree to wait for Maimouna [Traore], Kerthio [Diawara], Oureye [Sall], and the others to arrive. In minutes she was pulled from her chair and into the circle of dancers. She loved dancing among the African women, loved the way Africans seemed to dance not just with their bodies, but with their souls. She moved fluidly and effortlessly beside them, her boubou catching the wind. Eventually, the village chief raised his hand to ask for silence. The music stopped, and all eyes followed him to where the women of the Malicounda Bambara Tostan class, joined by Oureye, proudly strode into the square. The village chief walked to greet them.
“You are pioneers who have lit the way for us,” he said. “You are the ones responsible for all of us being here today. We stand to honor you. And with that, the hundreds of people gathered in the cool February morning stood and applauded.
The day was long. One by one, people spoke about their experiences with the tradition, some bravely sharing the problems they’d witnessed because of it. Several hours into the meeting, Molly decided to leave Diabougou to allow the villagers some time to talk among themselves.
Later that night, under the gauzy veil of a mosquito net in a hotel room forty minutes away, Molly was unable to sleep…If these ten villages did decide to collectively and publicly abandon this tradition, if this was the way to end the practice of female genital cutting and spare thousands of girls years of needless pain and a lifetime of potential problems, then what would now be required of her?…Taking the movement further would mean reaching out to hundreds, if not thousands, of social networks across Senegal and maybe even into other countries where FGC was practiced.
She gave up on the idea that she would get any sleep and dressed quickly, before driving back to the village and making her way among the unlit streets…to find out what the representatives of the thirteen villages had decided.
“We’ve made a decision,” Demba said, handing her the text someone had written in Wolof. “This will explain it all.”
[After the text was translated into French, and journalists, UNICEF staff and local and national government representatives began to arrive, Demba’s niece was chosen to read the statement aloud to those who had gathered.]
“We, the fifty representatives of more than eight thousand people residing in thirteen villages declare our firm commitment to end the practice we call ‘the tradition’ in our community,” she began, “and our firm commitment to spread our knowledge and the spirit of our decision to our respective villages and to other communities still practicing. We would like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation and gratitude to the women of Malicounda Bambara, Nguerigne Bambara, and Keur Simbara who, under difficult circumstances, led the way and indicated the path to follow for the government and other communities who are committed to assuring that girl children and women will no longer be subjected to the dangers of cutting. Our meeting here in Diabougou today is the result of the determination of these courageous women.”
Photo of Medina Yoro Foulah, taken at an FGC Declaration on November 24, 2013.