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Others have tried blaming or punishing the cutters, compensating them or offering them new jobs, launching awareness campaigns using graphic photos and videos, and taking girls into care or opening refuges for them. These approaches yielded poor results. A Tostan programme — essentially a human rights class that moves into a village for two to three years — will typically be several months underway before there is more than a mention of FGM. An earlier topic, for example, might be the human right to a name, which leads the village towards the process of birth registration and so to the ID cards through which all of Senegal’s public services are accessed. Easy victories like these encourage trust in the programme.

Tostan does not criticise what it calls FGC on moral grounds — such an approach has no impact on a patriarchal, tribal society. Instead, it focuses on the indisputable fact that FGM is a health and hygiene catastrophe. Women who have been mutilated are vulnerable to infections and complications in pregnancy for the rest of their lives. So FGM is identified by the participants of the programme as a violation of “the human right to good health”. This is seen as the real drawback to FGM, by women and also, crucially, by men, who want to ­appear fertile by having as many healthy children as possible.

Later, Tostan trains some of the village’s inhabitants to go to other villages, particularly those linked by marriage, to introduce the new ideas. Hostility to change is met with a big show of respect, and Tostan has men, ex-cutters, village chiefs and imams trained to act as diplomats and address their often resistant counterparts. This process of “organised diffusion” is a key part of the method. The movement grows exponentially and becomes self-perpetuating: it is much more effective than white people and outsiders touring the country giving lectures .

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Cathy Trodd
November 8th, 2008
6:11 PM
Go, Louis! This is a subject that definitely needs airing, difficult to contemplate though it is.

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