Ending fgc in africa a look at four approaches
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Ending FGC in Africa: A Look at Four Approaches. November 6, 2000. Best source on this subject. 1999 World Health Organization report: “Anti-FGM Programmes in Africa: What Works and What Doesn’t” http://www.who.int/frh-whd/PDFfiles/Programmes. The approaches. Criminalization Education

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Ending FGC in Africa: A Look at Four Approaches

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Ending FGC in Africa:A Look at Four Approaches

November 6, 2000

Best source on this subject

  • 1999 World Health Organization report: “Anti-FGM Programmes in Africa: What Works and What Doesn’t”

  • http://www.who.int/frh-whd/PDFfiles/Programmes

The approaches

  • Criminalization

  • Education

  • Substitutive ritual

  • Intra-marrying pledge associations

  • Medicalization (On Wednesday)


  • In 1990s, growth in international pressure

  • modest growth in number of African governments banning FGC

  • of 24 countries with FGC, 8 have national bans

“Success” of criminalization

  • Criminalization supported by some anti-FGC groups as creating “supportive context”

  • PR offices and media highlight anecdotal “successes”: example of Burkina Faso’s National Committee on Excision

General governmental lack of will and means

  • 6 of 8 countries with national bans have no budget or special office to investigate cases

  • Burkina Faso and Ghana have budget and personnel, but few witnesses

  • Burkina Faso: since 1990, only 36 cases have gone to trial, only 10 are in jail

  • Ghana: since 1994, only 2 trials, both acquitted


  • Clandestinity

    • Drives FGC underground: night-time rituals, in forest instead of village; lookouts

  • Rashes

    • Kenya in 1992; Sudan in 1995; Gambia early 1990s

    • fears of new laws or enforcement lead to rashes

    • overall average decline in age of cutting (by 4-5 years)

    • decline in ritual (fear of discovery, disconnection from age)

Criminalization makes education more difficult

  • Hard to undertake thorough education in context of fear of jail

  • “How do you discuss something that isn’t supposed to be happening? The girls are afraid we will turn them in to the authorities.”

Educational programs

  • 70% of all anti-FGM work on NGOs is devoted to raising awareness of medical consequences

    • women’s health workshops

    • literature dissemination

    • media

The impact of such programs: a mixed bag

  • Education an essential precondition for behavioral change

  • But where the main activity is simply education, change is spotty and slow

    • Mali: in one study, only 2% of women exposed to workshops said they were convinced excision causes severe health problems

    • Burkina Faso: after 6 years of educational campaigns, only 19% of exposed women convinced of dangers of FGC

Information often irrelevant or inaccurate

  • Anti-FGC campaigns emerged out of heat of 1980s: used El-Dareer data

  • “This isn’t what we do here!” (Gambia)

  • “Bolokoli cannot obstruct menstruation!” (Mali)

  • “But no excisor forces herself on parents!” (Burkina Faso)

Information often abstract and time-consuming

  • “What do I care about all these numbers?”

  • “For this I gave up a morning in the market?”

Information often offensive

  • “Excisors do what they do from love and caring. Not to ‘butcher’ anyone!” (Egypt)

  • TV info-mercial showing old man informing on co-villagers (Burkina Faso)

But… educational programs can work

  • In some villages in Eritrea, up to 50% of girls now disapprove of FGC

  • In many villages and towns with high-quality programs, attitudes are changing: in Gambia, growth of anti-FGC sentiment in targeted villages, up to 60% (Association for the Promotion of Gambian Women’s Health -- AGPWA)

Features of effective educational programs

  • Up-to-date, accurate, realistic information

  • Hands-on projects for improvement of women’s lives

  • “Working” seminars

  • Work through pre-existing women’s groups

  • Based in learner-generated materials: proverbs, plays, etc.

  • Non-directive, non-preachy

But…attitudinal change is not the same as behavioral change

  • In Eritrea, good educational campaigns since late 1980s

  • 50% of girls and young mothers disapprove/have serious doubts about FGC

  • 95% of girls continue to be cut

Substitute rites of passage

  • About 20% of all anti-FGM programs are experimenting with these

  • Most successful: some villages in Kenya and Gambia

“Cutting with words” in Gambia

  • Format of traditional ritual

    • girls sit for 12 hrs/day

    • eat low to ground

    • elder women discipline and teach

    • girls dance, drum, feast, sing, make a pledge

Why it seems to be working

  • Framed as a “revival” of sacred traditions

  • Framed as a way to “discipline” youth

  • Anti-FGC message surrounded by lots of “secret” knowledge about women’s health

  • Excisers treated with great respect

Criticism of the new rituals

  • In Gambia: “What we need is not a new ritual that once again teaches girls obedience and their proper role. We need to teach girls to be themselves and to be free, not to be subordinate. . . I am against FGC not just because of the cutting, but because of what it represents: the same old patriarchal values!”

Intra-marrying pledge associations

  • Just starting in Senegal: perhaps the most promising initiative of all

  • July 31, 1997: village of Malicounda made a public declaration to abandon FGC

  • Today: 30 villages throughout Senegal have done this

How can they have done this?

  • Proximity to Wolof

  • Deep education program

    • village income-generating projects

    • broad health project (anti-diarrhea)

  • “Ritual” justifications increasingly seen as hypocritical

    • school at odds with seclusion

    • growing awareness that it is un-Islamic

    • declining age of girls cut: inconsistent with initiation

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