04 February 2011

Building Momentum for Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

Female genital mutilation/cutting has been illegal in Senegal since 1999. But that didn’t stop Dialyma Cisse‘s paternal grandmother from having her cut, against the wishes of the young girl and her parents.

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“They forced me to do it. They forced me. It really hurt,” Dialyma recalls in a recent CNN video (below) produced with support from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Her grandmother organized her cutting, following the custom of her tribe. “This goes back in time. If it hadn’t been the practice, I wouldn’t have done it. I found it here, and that’s why I did it.”

Once a social norm is established, even if it is a harmful one, it can be hard for individuals to opt out. Parents fear their daughters may be socially marginalized or face reduced marriage prospects. But in Senegal, and in many countries across Africa and the Arab States, communities are questioning the traditional ways and taking collective action in response.

Shifting social norms through collective declarations

Thousands of communities have made collective, public declarations announcing that they are giving up the practice. This can result in a rapid shifting to a new social norm, sparing the new generations of girls from submitting to the painful and sometimes debilitating practice. The buy-in of men and community leaders, as well as women and girls, is critical.


This kind of community-led social change is a key strategy for the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, which has the ambitious goal of ending the practice in a generation.

Thanks to many organizations that have helped initiate the process through a rights-based approach, Senegal may become the first country within the programme to be declared FGM/C free.

But much work remains to be done. The International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting, which calls attention to the issue, will be marked with an event in Geneva on February 7 featuring representatives of governments in Africa, Europe and Latin America, several United Nations agencies, other international groups and women who have undergone FGM/C, including a performance by Senegalese rap star Sister Fa, who has spoken out widely and performed songs calling for an end to excision.