Former FGM Practitioner Joins the Fight Against Female Genital Mutilation
Sawandim Sawo, 68, practiced Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for 18 years but has decided to give it up. She has now joined Plan’s FGM project to fight against this harmful practice through awareness-raising in the community of Sawocunda, in the Gabu region.
In Guinea-Bissau, about 49.8 percent of girls are victims of genital mutilation – partial or total removal of the external female genitalia – and a large proportion who go through the procedure need medical treatment due to the harmful effects of the practice. FGM prevalence varies between different regions of Guinea-Bissau, depending on the distribution of different ethnic groups that associate the practice with their ethnic identity and traditional or religious beliefs.
According to government indicators, the eastern region of Gabu has the highest number of FGM cases, with as many as 94.5 percent girls undergoing various forms of genital mutilation. A situation analysis conducted by Plan in 2012 in the same region also concluded that the violations of children's rights continue to persist at all levels.
Plan Supported by Communities’ Leaders in Fighting Against FGM
In Sawocunda village, 70-year-old community leader Nhambi Sawo and FGM practitioner Sawandim Sawo have decided to stop the practice and are eager to join Plan in raising awareness in the community and surrounding areas.
“I started the practice about 18 years ago at a time when many of the young girls you see in the village were not even born. I can’t even remember the number of excisions I carried out during this period,” says Sawandim. “In our culture, all FGM practitioners have a special status in the community and they are seen as professors or doctors of the community. I was very proud to be an FGM practitioner and didn’t know the serious health problems [FGM] caused to girls and women,” she adds.
Sawandim Sawo says Plan’s project helped her to understand the consequences of the practice and resulted in her decision to abandon it. “I stopped practicing FGM almost a year ago and I will never do it again. I hope everybody understands the dangers it poses to our health,” she says. Sawandim is now actively leading the drive to eradicate FGM and has played a key role in supporting Plan in involving other FGM practitioners in raising awareness to stop FGM across the country. “I am committed to raising awareness in my community and in other communities to ensure everybody understands the danger.”
Plan has also managed to secure the support of local community chief. “I am the head of the community! Nothing here is organized without my permission. My community is willing to work with Plan to ensure we will no longer practice genital mutilation here,” says Nhambi Sawo.
Sawocunda is generally seen as one of the most radical and traditional communities in the region of Gabu, and it was a long process to convince community leaders to abandon the FGM practice. According to Djenabu Sano, Plan’s FGM community worker, “At the beginning it was not easy to convey the message. It took me some time to make the community understand the objectives of the project and the danger of FGM. I think the best technique we used was to involve community leaders and practitioners.”
In 2012, Guinea-Bissau’s national parliament passed a law banning FGM practices, which was a significant step toward elimination of the practice in the country. However, enforcement of the new law has been inconsistent. Plan has been working with other strategic partners to advocate for the active enforcement of the law.