Increased Awareness Signals the End of Female Genital Mutilation in Mali
Assa Togo, 75, is a female genital cutting practitioner who lives with her seven children and twenty grandchildren in the hamlet of Bougoulafara, Tingolé in Mali.
Sixty years ago, when she was living in the Republic of Sudan, she practiced cutting or female genital mutilation (FGM) for the first time. Back then, Assa was looking for a job so that she and her husband could survive; since that time, this job has been a choice, even after their return to Mali. Within her community, Assa commanded a great deal of respect by performing this traditional rite of passage on hundreds of girls each year.
Now, the prestige formerly associated with this practice and the practitioners, by association, is fading. Work of International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and health and rights advocates have raised awareness about the many negative consequences of FGM. Assa’s neighbors often talk about the consequences of her job; girls who have come close to dying under the knife or incidences that have left girls with dire health problems. Many parents no longer believe that this traditional practice is a benefit for their daughters and now practitioners, like Assa, are starting to be pushed out.
Parent’s change of attitude towards FGM is mainly due to a five-year awareness campaign launched by a local NGO called the Development Research and Support team, or “ERAD”, supported by Plan. Through discussions, debates, and dramas on the complications of FGM, the number of people speaking out against this traditional practice is growing stronger each day.
For Assa, it is clear that parents are beginning to turn away from her services.
“I receive few requests now,” she says. “I performed FGM a few times this year, unlike the hundreds of times a year in the past.”
The rapid change of opinion and positive results from the fight against the practice of FGM in the past three years are very positive, says Ms. Dicko Maimouna Diaby, a development worker. “The religious and traditional leaders help us a lot in raising awareness,” she says.
The hope of an early end of the practice of female genital mutilation in this part of Mali is closer than ever before.
In all 10 villages in the district of Tingolé, communities are no longer reluctant to address the issue of FGM. According to Imam, a religious leader, they are also ready to follow the example of the first two villages where the practice has simply been banned.