In November and December 2012, Tostan participated in five workshops held by the Senegalese Directorate of the Family and Ministry of Justice as part of a Government-organized campaign to raise awareness of the law prohibiting female genital cutting (FGC) in the country passed on January 29th, 1999. These workshops were held in the capital Dakar as well as the major cities of Thies, Kaolack, Kolda and Podor with members of local government and police in each region.
The workshops were organized to help local authorities better understand the law, as well as FGC itself through learning about the health consequences, the religious dimension, and social norm theory behind the practice.
Several Tostan representatives presented at the workshops – Founder and Executive Director Molly Melching in Dakar, Khalidou Sy, the National Coordinator of Tostan Senegal, presented in the northern city of Podor, and Oumou Diop, a program expert who works with social mobilization and communications efforts in Tostan Senegal, presented in the three other cities.
The Tostan representatives’ role at the workshops was to explain the social norm theory of FGC, giving participants a better understanding of how the practice is rooted in social traditions.. They talked through the different types of norms that exist, and how they influence decision-making – how legal norms influence people by instilling a fear of legal sanction for some decisions; moral norms guide people to make decisions based on what they believe to be ‘right,’ and social norms carry the threat of social rejection if an individual makes decisions different from those of the group.
FGC is a social norm, making it difficult for an individual to decide to abandon the practice on their own, even if it means violating the law. Tostan’s approach to promoting the abandonment of the practice is grounded in nonformal education based on human rights. Through learning about the rights of all members of society as well as the health consequences of FGC in the holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP), participants use this new information to consider how the practice relates to peace and wellbeing in their community. Many participants then agree that the practice does not increase the wellbeing of their community. These individuals are further empowered in their decision to abandon the practice through social mobilization efforts which provide members of inter-connected social networks the chance to dialogue on the issue, eventually leading to public declarations, where many villages will stand together to simultaneously abandon the practice. While abandonment at public declarations is not 100 percent, they are critical in the process for total abandonment and necessary for building critical mass, eventually leading FGC to becoming a thing of the past.
While presenting Tostan’s approach at the workshops, the Tostan representatives made general recommendations for others looking to promote the abandonment of FGC. Any efforts should consider the social nature of the practice, anchor social change within fundamental human rights supported by national legislation, and seek to involve all the key influencers in the decision to abandon the practice, including intermarrying communities, local leaders and the wider social network which includes the diaspora.