In Mali, community volunteers strive to stem the practice of female genital mutilation

Community volunteers display flipcharts they use to inform community members about harmful consequences of gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation. Photo by Adama Sanogo/MSH

I started practicing female circumcision when I was 20 years old. I learned the practice from my grandmother and mother as a way to make money. One day, after seeing the consequences of circumcision, I realized the extent to which women and girls suffered in terms of health, psychology and morale. So I am committed as a community focal point in the village of Waïlirdé and as a woman and mother to fight against this practice that is harmful to health.

My main responsibility is to share information and knowledge with members of my community.  Informing people about the consequences of female circumcision allows those who suffer to seek the help they need and help prevent future occurrences.  Additionally this can help people understand the link between current health issues and circumcision.  Above all, I work to raise everyone’s awareness of the danger of the practice to spare young girls from facing this torture.  

–Fatouma, Waïlirdé village, Mali

In the Mopti region of central Mali, about 88% of women aged 15-49 have undergone female circumcision–or female genital mutilation (FGM); almost 69% of these women were circumcised by the time they were five years old (Mali DHS, 2012-2013). As such practices are deeply rooted in the cultural, religious, economic, and social heritage of Mopti, ending them requires strong and concerted community engagement and action.

The FCI Program of MSH mobilizes leaders and communities in Mopti to advance women’s and girls’ health and rights and to end sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. With funding from the Embassy of the Netherlands in Bamako, and in partnership with the Malian non-governmental organization Conseils et Appui pour l’Education à la Base (CAEB), the FCI Program of MSH leads the Debbo Alafia Consortium of multi-sectoral, national, and international organizations to carry out social and behavior change activities and to provide essential medical and psychosocial support to women and girl survivors of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, and other harmful practices. Leveraging political and religious leaders’ significant influence on public opinion and acceptance, Debbo Alafia also strengthens political commitment and recruits champions to publicly call for the end of harmful practices and promote sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls.

UNICEF and the SGBV Humanitarian Subcluster (awarded through UNFPA) have supported the FCI Program’s work with trained community volunteers, like Fatouma, to discourage the practice of FGM by informing community members about the harmful short-term and chronic health consequences, such as excessive bleeding, infections, swelling, menstrual problems, maternal health complications, even death. These volunteers also refer SGBV survivors to free medical, psychosocial, and legal support services; providers of these services work with the FCI Program of MSH to ensure they are giving respectful, confidential, and safe care to survivors of SGBV.

Community volunteers, forming protection teams that support SGBV prevention and response, have successfully stopped circumcision ceremonies. During a Debbo Alafia meeting of partners and government officials last year, FCI Program staff received news about a circumcision ceremony in progress in the village of Koro. Debbo Alafia partners and government officials went to the ceremony site to convince the circumciser to stop and the parents to take their girls home. Although several girls had already been cut, several more were spared.

As women and girls in the North and surrounding regions remain particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and often do not seek or receive appropriate care, the FCI Program of MSH is leading a study, with support from Amplify Change, to investigate the barriers that deter SGBV survivors from accessing care. Using the findings from this study, the FCI Program of MSH will bring together local actors to develop advocacy and program strategies to reduce these barriers to care.

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