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Abandoning FGM and child marriage in Senegal

Abandoning FGM and child marriage in Senegal

This week, Britain has pledged 35 million pounds towards the campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) within a generation.

This follows a resolution outlawing FGM adopted in December by the United Nations (UN) general assembly. The initiative for this resolution came from the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices, which has been working to end FGM for two years.

FGM is commonly carried out on girls up to the age of 15. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 100 million girls have undergone FGM in Africa, where around 3 million are at risk each year. The practice leaves girls open to the dangers of infection and severe bleeding, as well as infertility and a higher risk of complications during childbirth.

But though FGM is still widespread throughout Africa and the challenge to end it is a huge one, considerable progress has already been made. Over 20 African countries have declared FGM illegal. And in many more, there are growing campaigns to end the practice among traditional communities.

Senegal shows what can be achieved within the space of a generation. The country banned FGM in 1999, though just making it illegal is never enough. Much hard work has since taken place to effectively eliminate the practice across most areas.

For example, local not-for-profit organisations like Tostan, have been active in helping communities abandon FGM. The organisation, headquartered in Dakar, runs an award-winning Community Empowerment Program. This provides a three-year, non-formal programme to villages, which centres around education on human rights. The programme facilitates discussions within communities and provides training sessions in local languages which encourage social change at a grass roots level. It helps to explain the dangers of FGM and child marriage for girls.

Because of its success, the Tostan programme has been expanded into ten other African countries and is credited with encouraging over 6,000 villages to abandon FGM and child marriage. The organisation could therefore be chosen as one of many local initiatives to benefit from the new funds offered by Britain’s Department of International Development (DfID). But before money is spent on a wide scale, a portion will be used to research which methods work best to change cultural attitudes.

Speaking to the Guardian, one expert in the field said the DfID money was “the single largest international commitment to the issue” and helped lay down an “important marker in the movement to end FGC within a generation”.

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