In the Northeast zone of Somalia where female genital cutting (FGC) is almost a universal practice, a public pledge to abandon FGC is making history .
According to Tostan, an organization whose mission it is to "empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights", 14 villages in Puntland became the first group of communities in the region to agree to abandon the practice.
Along with 2000 others, in a soccer stadium, the Minister of the Interior of Puntland, the UNICEF Somalia representative, the Director General of the Ministry of Women for Puntland, the Governor of Puntland and representatives of numerous women’s organizations joined together to unequivocally reject the practice of female genital cutting. Participants read poems and perfomed a play on the harmful effects of
FGC, depicting a father who was against practicing FGC on his daughter.
Two fromer cutters from Sunijiif also addressed the large audience and
shared why they had decided to stop the practice.
FGC is practiced in an estimated 28 countries in Africa and, according to Tostan, can result in serious health complications, including pain, hemorrhage, increased difficulties at child birth, infertility, incontinence, infections and even death.
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But what might be most note-worthy about this public pledge is just how much of an effect a quality, community empowerment and engagement program can have and how it all came about. Tostan’s Community Empowerment Program is an inclusive program that engages all members of society on this issue – men, women, children, religious leaders, and elders. The program organizes community members to create their own social awareness campaigns and then travel around to surrounding villages to encourage dialogue on this issue. But, also, the program uses Somali traditions like poetry, story-telling and theater as learning techniques.
Molly Melching, Executive Director of Tostan, calls this, "a critical new development in the movement for the abandonment of harmful social practices in Africa, led by community members themselves." Judith Warner of the New York Times calls Melchin’s methods a "radical new approach". Either way, it’s ending a practice that’s destroyed girls’ and womens’ lives for a long time.