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Female Genital Mutilation in Senegal
Female genital mutilation in Senegal is still happening. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is an internationally acknowledged human rights violation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it as any procedure involving the partial or total removal or other injury to the female genital organs without proper medical cause.

Estimates have determined that internationally, there are 200 million women alive today who have undergone the procedure. FGM, while incredibly detrimental to long-term health, has been devastatingly popular for so long because of its cultural significance. Female genital mutilation in Senegal, in addition to Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has the purpose of controlling sexual behavior. This is to prepare young girls for marriage and keep girls ‘clean’ and ‘feminine.’

The Costs of Female Genital Mutilation

The practice leads to incredibly painful lifelong complications like horrific problems with childbirth, urination, menstruation and safe sex. Moreover, WHO estimated that the international monetary costs of treating health complications from FGM were $1.4 billion in 2018. Unfortunately, this figure could almost double by 2037.

Despite this prediction, Senegal has presented a fascinating case that defies international trends. Grassroots organizations and leadership from women in Senegal have demonstrated the resilience and power of localized movements and communities in effectively denouncing this practice. Because of this, the rates of female genital mutilation in Senegal have decreased in contrast to its persistent presence globally.

Senegal’s Progress in the Fight Against Female Mutilation

The action that some have taken against female genital mutilation in Senegal is especially promising given its past prominence in the national culture. In 2017, the Senegal Demographic and Health Survey found that almost 25% of 15 to 49-year-old women had undergone the procedure, as well as 14% of girls ages 0-14.

Since 2017, Senegal has made impressive strides to lower these numbers. The nation is now on track to become the first African country to fully make genital cutting a thing of the past.

Tostan is an NGO that has been working within communities in Senegal to put a stop to human rights violations like female genital mutilation and cutting. Tostan works with villages to increase literacy rates and bolster education initiatives including topics like proper healthcare, feminine hygiene, child welfare and human rights. Along with this advocacy work, Tostan encourages mothers, typically those who have undergone FGM, to speak out against the practice. Encouraged to not cut their daughters, these mothers now condemn it at community gatherings. Tostan’s work has helped 5,300 villages put a complete stop to the execution of this practice.

Tostan’s methods became replicated throughout Senegal and have led to surges of mothers speaking out for the cause. Following Tostan’s work, artists, rappers and other members of communities creatively engage in initiatives to spread awareness and promote discussion about the ramifications of FGM.

Looking Ahead

The progress in the fight against female genital mutilation in Senegal stands to teach international leaders and governments a lot. While regulation and legislation are important to stop this human rights violation, Senegal is showing how attitude and cultural shifts are the keys to real change.

Female genital mutilation in Senegal became illegal in 1999. However, this strong symbolic gesture only stopped medical professionals from administering the procedures. Determined parents were still able to cut their daughters, just without properly sanitized tools or medical care.

It is all the more important to educate communities of the very real and life-long ramifications of female genital mutilation, as well as empower women’s voices and grassroots movements to truly end this practice. Since many in Senegal still consider FGM to be a part of their cultural identity, the voices of women within communities, rather than external influence and legislation, are incredibly important to create change.

Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr