For several months in 2008, the rural, southern Senegalese community of Diégoune became the setting for what could have been a controversial film. Titled “Walking the Path of Unity” (or “L’Appel de Diégoune” in French), it gives voice to the key players involved in the movement to end female genital cutting (FGC) in the area.
From the rice fields, to a soccer pitch, to the local mosque, men and women explain with pride what events led to their collective decision to abandon the deeply entrenched practice of FGC.
During the fiiming, Diégoune community members were in front of the camera, but also behind it—they both wrote and directed the film themselves, in collaboration with Tostan, and Belgium-based organization, Respect for Change.
Recently, we followed up with a few of the community members who were featured in the film and are still living in Diégoune.
Kardiata Bodia was the Tostan facilitator living in the community at the time. In the film, she bravely tells the camera: “Looking back on my experience, I realize that I lost something that makes a woman who is not married desire a man.” She goes on to say that now, the community knows that this practice is harmful, and has decided to abandon it “so that [they] will be in good health.”
In our follow-up with Kardiata, who keeps close ties with Diégoune, she told us that she remembers how much she enjoyed making the film, and how “confident and full of emotion” she was, given that she had never been involved in such a project before. She also credits the film with opening doors to conversations with other communities about the harmful effects of FGC.
With the support of Tostan and Cinema Numérique Ambulant, in 2009 “Walking the Path of Unity” was screened in communities throughout the region of Casamance in Southern Senegal. A team of four people—including a Diégoune community member who introduced the film at each screening—showed the film in a different village every evening and in the end, reached over 70 villages in the region.
“Many communities wanted to participate in the dialogue [around FGC],” Kardiata said. “The film helped raise a lot of awareness about abandoning FGC.”
When asked what has since changed for her and her community since 2009, she said that despite resistance in certain areas, they are committed more than ever to seeing an end to the practice of FGC. “We have become knowledgeable and confident individuals, convinced that we can continue the work to end this practice,” she said. Her dreams for the future of her community and her country? Zero instances of cutting by 2020, and better health for future generations.
The film also includes an interview with Doctor Pierre Sambou, who explains the many physical and medical consequences of FGC, such as difficulty during child birth. All these years later, he told us that watching the film for the first time, he felt like a “true servant of the community” in helping to bring to light an issue needing discussion. “I feel a future generation has been served by breaking the taboo surrounding FGC,” he said, “and I am convinced that the practice will be successfully abandoned throughout the country.”
Arouna Sane was another community member featured in the film. As he fixes his motorcycle, he solemnly tells the camera that his wife was cut, but he wishes that she hadn’t been. He adds that he doesn’t want his daughters, or future generations of girls, to ever be cut.
Today, as a Social Mobilization Agent, Arouna says he is committed to raising awareness about the consequences of FGC and other issues related to human rights. He recalls being inspired in the process of creating the film, particularly by Dr. Sambou and by Kardiata’s brave step in sharing her own story. He says his dream is to ensure widespread awareness of the harms of FGC by 2017.
The community of Diégoune was instrumental in mobilizing a total of 90 communities to join them in declaring their abandonment of FGC, and “Walking the Path of Unity” was an integral part of those efforts. It is inspiring to see that their work continues almost a decade later, underscoring that these communities have the patience, endurance and vision required to break with tradition, and make lasting positive change come into being.
Written by: Joya Taft-Dick, Senior Communications Officer