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 .