In Kayes, Mali, nearly every woman experiences female sexual mutilation (FSM)—either having all or parts of her external genitalia surgically removed for cultural or non-therapeutic motives. However, Équilibres & Populations and Association Malienne Pour le Suiviet l’Orientation des Pratiques Traditionnelles (AMSOPT) are fighting the staggeringly high (98 percent) FSM rate, one community at a time.
Also called female circumcision or female genital mutilation, FSM has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding, problems urinating, cysts, infections, infertility and possibly complications in childbirth, according to the World Health Organization. FSM is a cultural practice that “reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women,” and can be deeply rooted in communities because of its implications for a women’s ability to marry and be accepted by her community. Most FSM is performed on girls ranging in age from infants to 15 year olds; an estimated 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FSM.
Recognizing that social change takes time, Équilibres & Populations and AMSOPT have spent the last seven years working with local villages in the Kayes region to change minds, practices, and—ultimately—futures. Using a health-based and right-based approach, the project’s objective is to create communities where no woman is ostracized, persecuted or shunned because she has not undergone FSM.
Doing this requires fostering trust with the community through long-term follow up and engagement. Équilibres & Populations and AMSOPT work primarily with communities that have expressed interested in abandoning FSM. However, they also engage new communities by identifying connections—such as through marriage—to new communities that may be receptive to their advocacy message.
The team includes a team of female facilitators trained to talk about the implications and consequences of FSM on girls, women and communities. This team uses focus groups, home visits, counseling sessions and community radio programs to share information about FSM. In particular, FSM informative talks are held for community and religious leaders, village chiefs, and women’s group representatives.
Although these activities have helped reach more than 20,000 people in the Kayes region, Équilibres & Populations and AMSOPT focus on building long-lasting relationships, so they may return to communities and continue to advocate against FSM. For example, one village leader told project representatives, “Last June, members of AMSOPT came to my village to present the project. After they left, I gathered my community and discredited everything they had said. I now admit I was wrong. By my lack of knowledge, I misled my people. From now on, this practice will be abandoned in my village and measures will be taken.”
A critical element of the project is the virtually free-medical care provided for health issues related to FSM. This helps the community clearly see the linkages between FSM and health, and also offers the project team the opportunity to work with local doctors and health professionals. This helps FSM victims receive better care, as well as help dissuade local health professionals from participating in FSM. According to the World Health Organization, health care providers perform more than 18 percent of FSM.
As a result of this program, 100 villages out of the 250 around Kayes have officially abandoned female sexual mutilation. In addition, the project helped treat 375 women for their FSM complications.
How you can help:
Équilibres & Populations is currently raising funds on catapult.org to help this program reach more communities in Kayes. Get involved and help!
View more than 70 other solutions to improve the lives of women and girls on Catapult.org.
Originally published on Women Deliver's blog.