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Senegal: Ban on Female Genital Mutilation
Senegal: Ban on Female Genital Mutilation
Date distributed (ymd): 990104
Document reposted by APIC
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +gender/women+
This posting contains a short report, from the "Indigenous Knowledge"
section of the World Bank's Africa Region, providing background to the
December 1998 decision by Senegal to ban female genital mutilation (see
the BBC report at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/default.htm).
That decision, which follows a similar step by Togo in October 1998, was
in large part the result of local initiatives by Senegalese women described
in the report, as well as a worldwide campaign by UNICEF.
For additional background, and information on action on this issue by
African women in the United States, including a "Declaration of Values"
with a form to indicate your support, see the Rainbo web site (http://www.rainbo.org).
Summary background from UNICEF
ENDA SYNFEV - Synergy Gender and Development http://www.enda.sn/synfev/synfev.htm
And visit APIC's Africa Web Bookshop
for a short review of Do They Hear You When You Cry, by Fauziya Kassindja
and Layli Miller Bashir, the account of a young Togolese woman's case against
the U.S. immigration authorities on this issue.
IK Notes World Bank
No. 3, December 1998
Senegalese Women Remake Their Culture
IK Notes reports periodically on Indigenous Knowledge (IK) initiatives
in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is published by the Africa Region's Knowledge
and Learning Center as part of an evolving IK partnership between the World
Bank, communities, NGOs, development institutions and multilateral organizations.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and should
not be attributed to the World Bank Group or its partners in this initiative.
A webpage on IK is available at http://www.worldbank.org/html/afr/ik/index.htm
Letters, comments, and requests for publications should be addressed
to: Editor: IK Notes Knowledge and Learning Center Africa Region, World
Bank 1818 H Street, N.W., Room J5-171 Washington, D.C. 20433 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Although for decades the capital of French West Africa, Senegal, like
other countries of the Sahel, remains predominantly rural. And while 62
percent of the people reside in rural areas, more than 85 percent of the
wealth is in urban centers. As in many countries, disadvantage accumulates
at the level of women and girls. In 1995, female literacy countrywide was
just over half the rate for men (23 percent compared to 44 percent), and
the discrepancy was still greater in rural areas.
TOSTAN, literally means "breaking out of the egg" in Wolof,
the language spoken by the majority of Senegal's 7.9 million people and
is among a number of innovative rural development and women's education
initiatives that are addressing the problem at its source. It offers an
18-month learning program that combines basic education in national languages
with practical development issues, and provides rural people with the resources
to improve their standard of living while fostering increased confidence
in their way of life.
More than literacy, this breakthrough program offers participants the
tools to tackle such community issues as health, hygiene and the environment.
The program uses six modules that link literacy to life skills in a highly
participatory process of problem solving. TOSTAN successfully sustains
the link between basic education and rural development, giving adult learners
not only literacy and numeracy skills in their national languages but the
means to understand and solve local problems.
Several years ago, the TOSTAN NGO responded to the solicitations of
village authorities in Malicounda who had seen the impact of its training
programs on women in neighboring communities and helped this Bambara community
of west central Senegal to create its own center. The program placed special
emphasis on the identification and resolution of common problems, and one
of the last training modules in the series addressed issues of women's
health and sexuality. Its popularity among rural women participants broke
Shortly after completing their training, the newly literate women of
Malicounda decided that the problem they wished to address was the custom
of female circumcision a longstanding pattern in the Bambara/ Mandigue
and Pulaar communities. By informing themselves on practices elsewhere
and on the effects of circumcision on girls' health and sexual life, they
developed an arsenal of arguments that eventually convinced the village
council to abolish the practice officially. In the months May to July 1997
the traditional period for genital cutting on young girls no such operations
were performed in Malicounda for the first time in the community's history.
TOSTAN and UNICEF supported the women by organizing a visit from twenty
Senegalese journalists to interview them about their stand. The women performed
a play for the visitors to illustrate the reasons why they had made this
decision and the arguments they had used with other villagers. The visit
brought publicity to the issue, but also attracted some threatening comments
and criticism from surrounding communities of the same ethnic group. Saddened
but basically undaunted, the group from Malicounda decided to organize
a delegation to two neighboring villages to convince women there of the
importance of a local decision to abolish genital mutilation.
In one of these the community of Ngerin Bambara women who had just completed
the Tostan program decided to endorse the "oath of Malicounda."
The President of their Women's Association, herself the daughter of a traditional
circumciser, said that her own daughter had hemorrhaged seriously during
the operation and that it was time to change.
Inhabitants of the second community, Ker Simbara, decided that they
could not put a stop to the practice without consulting kin in a whole
network of neighboring villages. So for a period of eight weeks, two men
who had taken part in the TOSTAN program one a TOSTAN facilitator and the
other a 66 year-old Imam (a senior Muslim priest) traveled from village
to village to discuss the negative effects of female circumcision with
local people. The men originally had feared that they would be chased out
of many of the communities. Instead they discovered that the news of Malicounda
opened doors and hearts, and they heard shocking stories from women, speaking
out for the first time about what they had experienced.
The men returned convinced of the importance of what they had heard
and what they were doing. They assisted the women of Malicounda, Ngerin
and Ker Simbara in organizing a intervillage conference in Diabougou for
all those interested. In February 1998, three representatives the village
chief and two women representatives from thirteen different villages met
for two days to discuss the problem and formulated the "Diabougou
Declaration," an engagement on the part of 8,000 villagers to cease
henceforth genital circumcision of girls.
Word of this initiative next traveled to the Casamance region of southern
Senegal, where another group of villages these all of Pulaar lineage, an
ethnic group practicing genital circumcision on 88 percent of girls banded
together for a similar conference and declaration. Their conference was
attended by representatives from 18 communities, by health workers and
by the highly respected Imam of Medina Cherif, who assured the women that
the Muslim religion does not require girls' circumcision and guarantees
women's rights to health and human dignity. Many women spoke of the harm
wrought by this practice. One lamented the death of her two girls following
the operation; and a traditional "cutter" admitted that a girl
had died in her village the year before. Other women spoke of problems
at childbirth and of painful sexual relationships. The group concluded
their meeting by issuing their own declaration renouncing the practice.
The initiative has continued to spread. Early in the process, President
Abdou Diouf of Senegal himself proposed the "Oath of Malicounda"
as a model for national adoption. On the heels of the meetings in the Casamance,
women in the St. Louis region of Senegal are now preparing for an inter-village
convocation of their own, to be held in February 1999. The sort of "active
learning" promoted among women by the TOSTAN program in Senegal seems
to have resulted in far-reaching cultural change. Elements that contribute
to TOSTAN's successful impact in education and sustainable development
are further examined below.
Cultural roots. Combined with the use of national languages,
a deep valuing of African culture is the foundation of TOSTAN's educational
program, exemplifying the practical and profound relationship between culture
National languages. Although French is Senegal's official language,
the government has increasingly encouraged the use of national languages
in literacy programs, recognizing that learning is easier and more effective
in the affective domain of one's own tongue and is likely to facilitate
the transition to international languages. Learning in the mother tongue
inspires pride, empowering women to speak up in their homes and communities;
and pride of place, encouraging men to invest in their community rather
than migrate to the cities. As well, it eliminates the dissonance that
children educated solely in French often feel within the village household,
thereby facilitating intergenerational communication and solidarity.
Problem solving is the program's backbone and provides a strong
motivator for literacy acquisition. Skills taught in this five-step process
include (i) identifying and analyzing the problem; (ii) studying adapted
solutions based on available financial, material and human resources, as
well as the time factor; (iii) planning the solution: what needs to be
accomplished? when do the steps have to be completed? who is responsible?
what human, material and financial resources are necessary? what are the
possible obstacles? (iv) implementing the solution; and (v) evaluating
the results: Did we solve the problem?
Participation. TOSTAN was developed with villagers in a highly
participative ten-year process. Curricular modules were based on the stories,
proverbs, songs, and cultural traditions of each place gathered by traveling
from village to village, listening and recording the oral tradition. The
instructional method maintains a participatory approach and learners often
involve their family and the community in the process of problem-solving.
Women. With a female illiteracy rate in 1990 of 74.9 percent,
women are the least-educated group in Senegal. Women particularly have
been benefiting from TOSTAN's whole language approach that begins with
concrete, relevant experiences from their daily lives rather than abstractions.
TOSTAN has become a training ground for leadership as women gain confidence,
begin to identify problems such as the retrieval of water, and start to
make changes in their communities. Yet men are not excluded: nearly one-third
of the participants are male, and as the story of Ker Simbara illustrates
they may take many of the initiatives critical to alleviating the burdens
that women bear.
Process of developing approaches
Besides the participatory processes mentioned, learners were also involved
in the development of the contents of the program through a method of testing,
dialogue and feedback. This was costly at the start but ultimately proved
cost-effective due to the success rate of adaptation by other NGOs. Basic
education, a UNESCO brochure on TOSTAN points out, "strikes a deeper
chord in peoples lives than a straightforward literacy project...Understanding
how each module will contribute to changing their lives and environment
is a powerful motivating factor for learners". The problem-solving
process is basic to the TOSTAN approach and easily adapted to varied environments.
In 1987 there were no basic education programs in national languages
in Senegal, and two government ministries shared responsibility for literacy
programs which often floundered. Existing programs were little connected
to practical life and functioned in a non-literate environment, where skills
learned and not practiced were soon lost. The TOSTAN basic education program
addressed another basic problem, boredom, by relating literacy to community
and personal life and developing attractive materials from local concerns.
Finding qualified facilitators was not easy at the outset, and there was
resistance from participants to the idea of paying the facilitators from
local resources. They preferred to use that money for materials or classroom
construction. TOSTAN graduates are now themselves trained to be facilitators
and provide the bulk of staffing.
Solutions and Conclusions
The problem-solving skills presented in the first module are used throughout
the following modules, which deal successively with hygiene activities,
uses of oral rehydration therapy and vaccinations, financial and material
management skills, management of human resources, and feasibility studies
and income-generating projects. Using these skills, women participants
have started a number of small businesses. The TOSTAN methodology has also
been used to reach out-of-school children with a curriculum that covers
reading, writing, math, problem solving, health and hygiene, nutrition,
family management, children's rights, history, geography, education for
peace, leadership skills and group dynamics. Using the participatory approach,
adolescents learn to produce their own texts.
The UNESCO flyer on TOSTAN draws an apt conclusion: "The availability
of a comprehensive program that offers participants problem-solving tools
and deals with the crucial problems of health, hygiene, and the environment
is an asset for many regions of Africa faced with high illiteracy rates,
especially among women. More focus needs to be put on implementing these
well-studied and tested programs rather than developing new ones...TOSTAN
has shown that individuals without any formal education, from villages
with minimal resources, can improve their lives and environment through
a solid program leading to greater autonomy and self-sufficiency."
This article is based on research conducted by Senegalese researchers
with the support and technical supervision of Peter Easton, Associate Professor,
Graduate Studies in Adult Education, Florida State University, and with
the active collaboration of the concerned African communities. The research
was carried out under the joint aegis of the Club du Sahel/OECD, the CILSS
and the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA).
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa
Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen
the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S.
role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.